We’re only five weeks into the NFL season and the Miami Dolphins season has reached a crossroads.
The Dolphins lost to the New York Jets on Sunday, 40-17. And that of itself should be kind of unsettling for the Dolphins because it was a blowout and it marks only the second loss to New York in the last 10 games.
It was also the first time the Jets won an AFC East game since 2019, ending a 12-game skid. And it was the first time second-year quarterback Zach Wilson won back-to-back games.
“It’s exciting …” Wilson said.
None of that is good news overall for the Dolphins but the context of all this is best understood by this fact: The Jets enjoyed their largest lead of the Robert Saleh era in this one.
“I feel like we get stronger as we go,” Saleh said.
But none of all that is the most disturbing issue for the Dolphins.
Most Disturbing Issues For Dolphins
These things are:
This is Miami’s second consecutive loss so now rookie coach Mike McDaniel, whose unique vibe and approach captured fan imagination the first three weeks of the season, has to keep his team’s attention amid a losing skid.
The Dolphins started the day tied for the AFC East lead and now find themselves in third place — yes, with the same 3-2 record as the Jets but obviously behind the team they just lost to on tiebreakers.
And the Dolphins are beat up. Significantly.
The team started the day with backup quarterback Teddy Bridgewater as the starter, which seemed manageable because Bridgewater has been an NFL starter previously in his career — including last season when he started 14 games for the Denver Broncos.
But Bridgewater lasted all of one pass before he was knocked from the game by the NFL’s new concussion protocol.
And then left tackle Terron Armstead left the game with a toe injury, which he was nursing all week and, indeed, been managing since the season opener.
And, of course, the club was without cornerback Xavien Howard, who was inactive with twin groin injuries, and cornerback Byron Jones, who has not played this season while recovering from an Achilles’ injury suffered last season.
So rough injury stuff for the Dolphins.
Dolphins Defense Needs Improvement
But here’s another problem:
The Jets didn’t win because of Miami’s QB situation or CB situation or the LT situation.
The Jets blistered the Miami defense because running back Breece Hall rushed for 97 yards on 18 carries with a touchdown. And he caught 2 passes for 100 yards because the linebacker assigned to cover him busted coverage and left him wide open.
The Jets scored 4 TDs on Sunday. All of them were rushing touchdowns. The Dolphins yielded 135 rushing yards.
The Jets outscored Miami, 21-0 in the fourth quarter. The offense was inconsistent, the club missed a key field goal on special teams and obviously the defense wilted.
“To say the wheels came off would be fair because it happened to all three phases,” McDaniel said.
So where does that leave the Dolphins?
Well, they need to straighten out a defense that came into this game 31st in the NFL in pass defense and 16th in points allowed.
And they need starting Tua Tagovailoa back to possibly rescue the season.
It’s going to be interesting because that is the exact opposite opinion McDaniel has right now.
“I don’t think our team in general looks at it like we’re a one-man savior at any spot,” McDaniel said.
Tagovailoa missed this game because he suffered a concussion in the loss to the Cincinnati Bengals on Sept. 28.
The Dolphins got what you would expect from third-stringer Skylar Thompson (19 of 33 for 166 yards and 1 interception) and Bridgewater’s status is unclear going forward with his concussion history.
“Losing is not what we’re about here,” Thompson said afterward.
So it’s obvious the Dolphins need to get back to what worked for them in victories over Baltimore, Buffalo and New England the first three games — that being, Tagovailoa making receiver Tyreek Hill and Jaylen Waddle perhaps the most dangerous wide receiver duo in the NFL.
Without Tagovailoa to do that, the Miami offense is obviously not the same.
Hill caught 7 passes for 47 yards and Waddle had 3 catches for 23 yards.
“I felt like we got the ball to them in certain situations,” Thompson said. “I know there’s plays I left out in the field and that’s always tough.”
Miami’s next two home games are against the Minnesota Viking and Pittsburgh Steelers so that homestand needs to lift a team currently facing a crossroads.
Follow on Twitter: @ArmandoSalguero