What Went Wrong?

Barring a minor miracle, the Dolphins are going to miss the playoffs in 2009. That was to be expected after they started the season 0-3, but it's not like they didn't have chances in the last month. Now, it's not so much about the 0-3 start, but rather about the horrible starts at Tennessee and against Houston. So what happened?

How could the Dolphins allow themselves to fall behind 24-6 and 27-0 in two games that could have put them in position to not have to rely on anybody else on the final weekend?

Was it a case of self-destruction, such as the missed tackles, dropped passes and that costly tripping penalty? Or is it simpler, as in the Dolphins simply aren't as good as other teams in the AFC?

Sadly, we're inclined to believe the latter caused the former.

Yes, the Dolphins made a game of it on Sunday after falling behind 27-0, but an argument could be made that Houston played the clock in the second half and that allowed the Dolphins to make the score respectable.

Really, despite the fairly close seven-point margin, didn't Houston look like a much better team than the Dolphins on Sunday?

Let's face it, the Dolphins are a team with major deficiencies.

The wide receiver situation has been beaten to death already, and it might not even be the biggest problem anymore, given the way Greg Camarillo and Brian Hartline have stepped up in recent weeks.

Again, though, the Dolphins aren't explosive enough to overcome dropped passes, like other teams are. It's one thing for Andre Johnson to drop a pass because he can come back on the next play and go for 50 yards, but it's not the same when Davone Bess drops a pass.

The Dolphins' margin for error on offense all season has been microscopic because they just don't get very many "chunk plays," and that just makes things harder.

A great example came after the Yeremiah Bell interception in the third quarter after the Dolphins had pulled to within 27-10.

He returned the pick to the Houston 33, but Chad Henne was sacked on first down for a 7-yard loss. A potent offense would have been able to overcome that setback, but the Dolphins followed with an incomplete pass and a 4-yard completion to Lex Hilliard that forced Dan Carpenter to try a 54-yard field goal attempt.

Carpenter missed and the Dolphins still had a 17-point deficit to overcome.

On defense, the problems in the secondary have been obvious all season. One of them comes with playing two rookies at cornerback, so there are growing pains the Dolphins have to endure.

Another is at free safety, where Gibril Wilson has just had a miserable season. It goes worse Sunday when he somehow couldn't hang on to a gimme interception after a Matt Schaub pass had been tipped away by Sean Smith.

Lately, though, the run defense also has become an issue. That's been a result of Jason Ferguson's season-ending quad injury.

Since he's been gone, the Dolphins have gone from a top five run defense to one that ranks 12th. Against Houston, the Dolphins allowed rookie free agent Arian Foster to rush for 97 yards, which was 63 more yards than his previous career high.

That's not what playoff-caliber teams do. Yes, the Dolphins missed a ton of tackles on Sunday and, no, they didn't look ready to play.

But does anyone really believe the Dolphins couldn't get up for a game that meant so much to their playoff hopes? Sorry, not buying it.

Remind the Bill Parcells saying: The Dolphins are what their record says they are. They are a 7-8 team with obvious flaws that's been able to stay in the playoff picture because there's so much parity in the AFC this season.

Let's just not try to overanalyze their situation and come up with excuses why they got beat by the Titans and Texans. If the Dolphins belonged in the playoffs, they would have beaten one or maybe both of those teams.

Given the injuries they've had to overcome, given the fact they've had to play rookies or almost rookies (Chad Henne) at key positions, there's no shame in their season. It's not like the Dolphins underachieved this season, they just had to take a step back before they can take two or three forward.


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