Now things get interesting.
As the Dolphins (8-5) prepare for Saturday’s game at AFC East leader Buffalo (10-3), a game that’s forecast to be played in frigid temperatures and snow, conditions not ideal for a team that can’t run the ball, they’re staring at the possibility of a three-game December losing streak.
All of a sudden, a season that had so much promise a few weeks ago is dangling precariously on the edge of a pressure-packed finish that could be decided by a winner-take-all season finale against the New York Jets.
That’s what happens when you lose back-to-back games at San Francisco (33-17) and the Los Angeles Chargers (23-17), such as the Dolphins.
The challenge for coach Mike McDaniel, quarterback Tua Tagovailoa, who is coming off arguably the worst game of his career, and the rest of the team leaders is getting everyone ready for the Bills and quarterback Josh Allen.
Coach Mike McDaniel is finding reasons for the 49ers and Chargers losses.
“I think part of where we’re at, sitting on a two-game losing streak, has to do with certain guys possibly pressing, playing outside of the scheme to a degree to try to make plays,” McDaniel said.
No names were mentioned.
McDaniel didn’t make it sound like a careless thing, rather something done out of an accelerated sense of urgency. But also something that must be corrected.
On another matter, McDaniel didn’t make it sound as though philosophical changes were coming on either side of the ball, or that he was about to overreact to the back-to-back losses. He sounds as though the Dolphins need to be better at what they’ve been doing.
“I’d be very worried if within the framework of the things that we’ve been working on since August, if there wasn’t answers through technique,” McDaniel said.
The Dolphins defeated the Bills, 21-19, earlier this season in a game that saw Bills offensive coordinator Ken Dorsey, the former University of Miami quarterback, throw a fit, as well as a headset, at game’s end.
McDaniel said weather (temperatures could be in the 30s with snow on the ground) won’t be a factor.
“If we’re trying to win a divisional game we’re going to have to deal with elements in that,” McDaniel said. “That comes with the mindset. And everyone’s going to be experiencing the same temperature. So I don’t plan on using that as an excuse in the slightest.”
It would help if the Dolphins could run the ball if there are snowy conditions in Buffalo. The Dolphins are 29th in rushing at 89.8 yards per game; Buffalo is eighth at 133.7 ypg.
The Dolphins rushed for 92 yards against the Chargers, their best output since rushing for a season-high 195 yards against Cleveland four games ago. But it wasn’t good production.
“That was tough film to watch,” McDaniel said, noting the missed opportunities.
The Dolphins will be hard-pressed to win at Buffalo for a number of reasons, one of the primary reasons being they haven’t played well against teams .500 or better.
The Dolphins’ last road win against a team currently .500 or better, was against Baltimore, the second game of the season.
The Dolphins’ last victory over a team currently .500 or better was against Buffalo, the third game of the season.
The Dolphins’ only remaining game against a team .500 or worse is against Green Bay (5-8) on Christmas. Of course, that could change depending on what New England (6-6) does against Arizona on Monday Night Football.
As things stand now, Green Bay is just short of a must-win home game.
But that’s getting too far ahead of things.
The focus right now is on Buffalo, and getting ready for one of the NFL’s best teams on a short week with lots of corrections to make from the previous two weeks. McDaniel said it’d be nice if the Dolphins could get on some type of late-season roll. McDaniel is hoping these recent losses can turn into momentum for the, ahem, playoffs.
“If you’re able to make the playoffs you don’t want to be going in there limping into the tournament,” McDaniel said. “It’s been very, very valuable experience, specifically the last two weeks against some playoff-caliber teams. Whether or not that benefits us moving forward is for the team to determine.”
Not counting on Jones
When asked for an update on Byron Jones, McDaniel said he’s comfortable with cornerbacks he has on the roster, and would consider it a bonus if Jones plays this season.
“I’m more focused on that and I see Byron as a bonus, McDaniel said. “I don’t rule out anything but my expectations — I’m a lot less, at this stage of the season, that would be an awesome addition. But I’m really not counting on it. I’m more focused on the guys that we do have.”
He added that Jones, who has been on the physically-unable-to-perform list all season following offseason leg surgery, has been involved in cornerback meetings during portions of year.