Dose of Reality

So maybe we should hold off on making those playoff plans. The Dolphins are much better than they were last season and they've become fun to watch again, but as Sunday's game in Houston demonstrated, they're not there just yet.

The Dolphins were lauded, and rightfully so, for the way they closed the door in the game against San Diego. But they did just the opposite against Houston, allowing the Texans to drive 76 yards for the game-winning touchdown.

Along the way, they missed several opportunities to make a game-clinching play, whether it was allowing a 20-yard completion on the play after Joey Porter sacked Matt Schaub, whether it was Yeremiah Bell failing to knock down the ball on the fourth-down completion to Andre Johnson or whether it was the secondary allowing Kevin Walter to run free deep down the middle for a 30-yard gain.

Forget about the final drive for a second, the whole game exposed the Dolphins' shortcomings once again. They are deficiencies that never disappeared, only they were overshadowed by the successes against New England and San Diego.

They're also well known by now: a mediocre wide receiver corps, a shaky secondary and shoddy special teams.

Just look at who scored the Dolphins touchdowns against Houston: Patrick Cobbs had two, and Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams had one apiece. Other than Greg Camarillo, the wide receivers were absolutely invisible, starting with increasingly disappointing former first-round pick Ted Ginn Jr.

The Dolphins have been very effective on offense in recent weeks, but one wonders just how good they could be if they actually had decent wide receivers.

As far as the secondary goes, yep, it produced two picks against Houston and Will Allen forced a fumble, but that was overshadowed by the failure to even slow down Andre Johnson and the breakdowns on the final drive. In addition, safety Renaldo Hill handed Houston three points when he dropped a tipped ball that floated in his direction.

Those two areas have been problems from the start of training camp, so it's sadly not a shock that the Dolphins have issues at wide receiver and defensive back.

But the special teams is another matter. That unit was supposed to be much better with Tony Sparano coming in as the head coach, but it has been just as bad as it was last year.

Sunday's game at Houston turned around after the Dolphins allowed a 70-yard punt return for a touchdown that cut their 14-3 lead to 14-10.

The Dolphins, meanwhile, aren't getting any big plays whatsoever from their own return game because the coaches obviously don't trust Ginn enough to have him back there and rookie Davone Bess just doesn't have the speed to break long returns.

He did have one good punt return on Sunday, but of course that was nullified by a holding penalty.

So the Dolphins remain a work in progress, and who knows when the problem areas will get solved. The secondary, at least, had a couple of good weeks before the problems of Sunday, but the receivers and special teams have been too consistent in their struggles.

Who knows how long before that changes. When it does, the possibilities become very interesting for this team.

In the meantime, we'll just have to be satisfied with the strides the Dolphins have made. They'll win their share of games because of their running game, because of Chad Pennington and because of their front seven, but the big jump to contender status might have to wait a while.

That much is obvious after Sunday's game.

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