Reflection of the Season

The season finale against Pittsburgh was a microcosm of the season, as the Dolphins yielded "chunk" plays, including a 54-yard touchdown pass to Mike Wallace. It doesn't take a "60 Minutes" expose to figure out that the young secondary, featuring rookie starting cornerbacks Sean Smith and Vontae Davis, learned some painful lessons all season but should be better for it next year.

Also, one year after leading the NFL with a plus-17 turnover ratio, the Dolphins finished at minus-8. They had three giveaways and only two takeaways against the Steelers. Two interceptions thrown by third-string quarterback Tyler Thigpen ended any hopes of a comeback or a playoff berth (as did the scoreboard, which showed that the Texans defeated the Patriots).

And losing two more quarterbacks -- starter Chad Henne (eye) and rookie Pat White (concussion) -- also was a reflection of a season in which Dolphins starters were decimated. That injured reserve list included starting quarterback Chad Pennington, starting running back Ronnie Brown, starting cornerback Will Allen, starting nose tackle Jason Ferguson, and last week, starting middle linebacker Channing Crowder.

"I think the first thing that you have to look at is getting into those deficits, and one of the things we did early in the season is that we started fast, and I think when things got ambiguous, we didn't rise to the challenge," Henne said. "Coach said it, you have to expect to win, and I think we were just dipping our toe in the water.

"I think we still know that we are a very good team, and we know that with our front office we are going to be better. I think it's disappointing how the season ended, but we're a good football team."

Coach Tony Sparano expressed optimism Monday.

"In my heart of hearts, I really believe we are a lot closer right now then we were a year ago. That is what I believe," he said. "I got to get through all the stuff and take a good look at it, I really do. But I believe that. I just think the schedule, all those things, I don't really want to make excuses for all those things, I am not here to make any excuses, we just didn't do it well enough. We didn't do it well enough. It starts with me, and it goes right down to the players."

NOTES, QUOTES

-- Wide receiver Davone Bess had five catches for 85 yards and finished with a team-leading 76 receptions, tying him for fourth most in team history with O.J. McDuffie (1997). "Being out on the field, you have no choice but to grow and get better at reading coverages, knowing your opponent and get open," Bess said of his improvement after a solid rookie season.

-- Quarterback Tyler Thigpen, inactive all season, entered as the emergency quarterback after both Chad Henne (eye) and Pat White (concussion) were knocked out of Sunday's game. He immediately led Miami on two touchdown drives, going 4-for-8 for 83 yards, including a 34-yard touchdown pass to Davone Bess. However, he ended Miami's last two drives with interceptions. Thigpen is the fourth quarterback to play for Miami this season, joining Chad Pennington, Henne and White, something the Dolphins hadn't done since 1993, when Dan Marino, Scott Mitchell, Steve DeBerg and Doug Pederson saw action.

"Tyler came in and got us back in the game and made a couple of real heads-up plays, which was some of the stuff he did in Kansas City," Dolphins coach Tony Sparano said.

-- The Dolphins finished in a three-way tie for the 10th-worst record at 7-9, but they will select 12th in the upcoming draft because they had tougher schedules than the Bears and the Jaguars.

-- The Dolphins will face out-of-division opponents Baltimore, Cincinnati, Green Bay, Minnesota and Oakland on the road next season, along with AFC East brethren New England, Buffalo and the New York Jets. That's six road games against playoff teams. Besides those the Patriots, Bills and Jets, the home schedule will include the Titans, Browns, Lions, Bears and Steelers.

-- Linebackers coach Jim Reid is leaving to become defensive coordinator at Virginia.


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