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AC In The AM: Tough Second Half On Both Sides Of Ball

So the offense gains 234 yards and produces 14 first downs in the first half of Sunday's game against the Giants, the most yards by any Dolphins' offense in a first half since October of 2015.

And they got just 10 points out of it.

That should have been an ominous sign of things to come in what turned out to be a 36-20 defeat, the Dolphins clearly not playing as well on either side of the ball as they have for most of the past couple of months. 

The offense that moved so well in the first half just couldn't keep that going. The defense that held the Giants to just one touchdown in the first half had little success in the second half, a three-interception day by that defense proving far too little.

With the exception of a pair of Ryan Fitzpatrick to DeVante Parker touchdown hook-ups, both outstanding throws and catches, it was an afternoon wrapped in disappointment and frustration.

Like so many of the losses this season, it wasn't just one player or one area of the team. It was a running game that produced very little until the outcome had been decided. It was a rushing defense that couldn't do much to slow down Saquon Barkley in the second half. There were breakdowns in pass protection, mistakes in the secondary, dropped passes on offense, far too many penalties and a failed fourth-and-one in the red zone. Need to know more?

If only those two touchdown connections from Fitzpatrick to Parker could have been enough to steal the day. Parker had just come off concussion protocol. But you wouldn't have known it, his second scoring catch in the fourth quarter one of those highlight reel plays where he positioned his body perfectly. That's two touchdowns in two of the past three games for Parker and eight for the season. I'm convinced. I've seen enough.

And then there was Fitzpatrick, putting together a 9-play 89-yard touchdown drive in the second quarter that was vintage FitzMagic. He completed all seven of his passes, the last one a laser throw to Parker for a 20-yard touchdown. A couple of catch and runs by Albert Wilson produced key first downs, but perhaps the most memorable play was orchestrated by who I'm now calling Fleet-Footed Fitzpatrick.

It was just a 13-yard scramble, but it was how Fitzpatrick got there that stood out. He was harassed in the pocket, about to go down, when he pulled off a spin move that a 37-year-old man just isn't supposed to do. That got the room he needed, and a quick sidestep of a Giants' defender – Fitzpatrick has that move too – got him a few valuable extra yards.

It also brought him to the top of the team's rushing list for the season, a remarkable accomplishment if not tempered by what has been a season-long lack of production from the running backs. That, however, shouldn't take away from what Fitzpatrick has been accomplishing. In fact, it should make us appreciate it even more. How he buys time. How he never hesitates taking off. How he maneuvers so well up the field. You know opposing defenses are preparing for that facet of his game. Hasn't seemed to make much of a difference.

But like the rest of this team everything unraveled in the second half, at one point the Giants turning a 14-13 lead into a 23-13 cushion, getting a safety and a touchdown in a span of just over a minute.

"We just didn't play very well," said coach Brian Flores. "We beat ourselves in a lot of areas."

As we watch this season wind down, we can't lose focus of the big picture. It is clear that the Dolphins will continue to shuffle this roster until they no longer can. More than 10 players have come and gone over the past two weeks alone. The talent search is about exploring all possibilities and about identifying players who are worthy of an invite to next summer's training camp.

The downside of all these late-season roster changes is that it's difficult to maintain much continuity with so many moving parts. When you change about 20 percent of your team in December, the on-the-field product has to be affected in some way.

There was certainly evidence of that Sunday against the Giants, particularly in the defensive backfield, which has probably undergone more changes than any other position group. Look at the names back there. Read the bios. You'll see a group of undrafted rookies, many of who were on other teams when this season began.

Cornerback Nate Brooks who joined the team on Tuesday, started against the Giants. One week on the Patriots practice squad, the next week starting against the Giants. That's what you call a quick turnaround.

All of this movement is a reminder that this season isn't about wins and losses as much as it is finding players to build around, hoping some of the seeds that are planted can begin flourishing next season. Yes, there is pain that comes along with that. Pain such as back-to-back losses to the Jets and Giants at MetLife Stadium. Pain in the form of a 3-11 record.

And now we move on, the end of the season rapidly approaching, a home game next up against Cincinnati and yet another measuring stick for this coaching staff and another opportunity for so many of these young players to prove they belong.

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