December was a tough month for the Dolphins as they finished the calendar year losing four in a row. However, with the team sitting at 8-7 heading into a pair of clashes with divisional rivals, everything is still out there for them to accomplish. Wins in the final two contests will secure Miami a playoff berth for the first time since 2016.
Before we turn the page to Sunday's upcoming clash in Foxboro, we look at where it went wrong on Christmas Day against the Packers.
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Here are the three takeaways from the Dolphins' 26-20 loss to the Packers.
1. Rough fourth quarter
Over the first two-plus years of his career, quarterback Tua Tagovailoa has delivered in the big moments, posting one of the NFL's best fourth-quarter career passer ratings. And just this season, Tagovailoa is in all-time territory with regards to his performance on both third downs and in the fourth quarter.
That's why Sunday's result was so jarring. Three interceptions in the fourth quarter, each on a possession in which Miami had the opportunity to take the lead. After the game, Tagovailoa explained that they were each caused by different errors – an overthrow, a miscommunication and just a bad ball.
For Tagovailoa and the Dolphins, the upshot is that there is in fact still a tomorrow. The team heads to a building this week that has produced two Dolphins wins in the last three outings. Tagovailoa is also unbeaten in his four career starts against the Patriots.
2. Losing in the margins
The players that touch the football get the headlines win or lose. The old cliché says the quarterback gets more credit than he deserves for wins, and more blame than is owed for the losses.
Instead of one player deciding outcomes, a myriad of variables contribute to what ultimately makes up the final score. The Miami defense did it's best to hold the fort. That included fewer than six yards per drop back from Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers and just 3.16 yards per rush in the game for Green Bay. Most importantly, Miami held Green Bay to just 26 points despite facing some challenging field position throughout the game.
The Packers had possessions that began at the Miami 9-, 14-, and 49-yard-lines. They also opened three different series with the football beginning at their own 36-, 38-, and 46-yard-lines. That's two possessions starting in the red zone and three more just a first down or two away from entering scoring range. Turnovers, penalties and big plays allowed on special teams afforded the Packers a comeback opportunity – one they seized to keep their season alive.
"Apparently we needed another gut check, and we've got to — there were critical errors, turnovers," McDaniel said postgame. "I mean, the percentages of winning games where you're — what were we, minus 3? You turn the ball over four times; yeah, you're not going to win the football game. I thought on top of all that, there was some uncharacteristic really, really controllable penalties that were absolutely devastating."
3. Everything remains in front of these Dolphins
What if I told you that Miami can punch its ticket to the postseason for the first time since 2016 as early as next week?
The path to the playoffs has had its rough spots, but the opportunity to make it so still remains. Beat the Patriots, and the odds of getting an extra game increase substantially. The Dolphins then get in with just a Jets loss at Seattle or a Dolphins win vs. the Jets in Week 18.
That fact alone should demonstrate, yet again, that every game carries nearly-equal weight, for all intents and purposes. Because of Miami's 8-3 start, they're still alive despite losing four straight.
For more analysis, takeaways and breakdowns, check out the Drive Time Podcast with Travis Wingfield, available on Apple, Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts.