It was a typical Miami Dolphins losing locker room Sunday, same as the previous six times it’s happened this season.
True to their word through victory or loss, this was just one of 17 regular-season games, no more important than any of the others. That’s why no one was loudly cursing, no one was visibly fuming, and there were no signs anyone lost their temper and threw stuff around after Sunday’s 26-20 loss to the Green Bay Packers.
If those sorts of theatrics and episodes are what you want to see, or need to see to become convinced this team is passionate about winning, or losing, you came to the wrong place. These Dolphins, who are experienced their first winless December since 1993, when they were 9-2 and missed the playoffs at 9-7, aren’t showing any outward signs of trouble.
Are these guys freaking out deep down inside? Are they worried their playoff opportunity that seemed guaranteed when they were 8-3 is slipping between their fingers now that they’re 8-7? Possibly. It’s only natural such a thought would occur.
But these Dolphins, perhaps taking a cue from even-tempered, wise-cracking coach Mike McDaniel, haven’t lost their heads all season. It didn’t happen through that three-game losing streak earlier in the year, and it didn’t happen after Sunday’s Christmas Day loss to the Packers, a game that served as a the second-coldest home game in franchise history with a kickoff temperature of 46 degrees and a wind chill of 40 degrees.
In fact, to hear veterans such as linebacker Elandon Roberts (four playoff appearances in six seasons, including two Super Bowl wins) and defensive tackle John Jenkins (three playoff appearances in nine seasons) talk about things, yelling and screaming aren’t signs of caring or being passionate about your job. Losing your temper is a sign of not having faith in yourself or your teammates to get the job done, it’s a sign of panic. And players say there’s no panic in this Dolphins locker room.
“You look at the big picture, man — it’s Christmas,” linebacker Jerome Baker said. “Your job, you didn’t get it done today. We’ll figure it out tomorrow and learn from it.
“Today is Christmas, man. You go home, and don’t dwell on it; don’t bring that home to your family, don’t bring that energy to your family and just come back tomorrow and learn from it. Get better next week.”
Don’t get it twisted. The Dolphins care. They care greatly. But the old-school image of angry players slamming their helmets into tables or standing in the middle of the locker room and making impassioned speeches with lots of gestures and profanity, well, that didn’t happen Sunday.
Special teams standout Justin Bethel, a former All Pro and Pro Bowl selection, has been through a few playoff scenarios with Arizona and New England. He’s been to the playoffs four times in 10 years. He’s not panicking.
“We’ve still got everything we want to do in front of us,” said Bethel, who has also spent time on the field from scrimmage as a safety. “We’ve just got to go correct our mistakes, stay together as a team and then we’ve got the Patriots in Foxborough next week.
“So, it’s all eyes on them right now. We’ve got to go there and do what we’ve got to do to try and handle business.”
Yes, the Dolphins, who had won 11 of their previous 12 home games, were incredibly frustrated after losing to the Packers (7-8) in a game that the Dolphins led, 20-13, shortly before halftime.
Edge rusher Bradley Chubb called it a “winnable game.”
It was a game that marked a missed opportunity in a season of now-dwindling opportunities. It’s a game that could have taken them one step closer to their first playoff berth since 2016.
But it was a sloppy, error-filled game. Four turnovers. Eight penalties for 62 yards. Two of 7 on third-down conversions.
The Dolphins offense, which has been (over)hyped for its ability to put points on the board, was scoreless in the second half and ended the game with six empty possessions of fumble-end of first half-missed field goal-interception-interception-interception.
The Dolphins defense, which had allowed an average of 15.3 points per home game, allowed 26.
The Dolphins special teams missed a field goal and allowed a 93-yard kickoff return that led to a field goal. Those six points, as it turned out, were crucial.
And Dolphins coaches didn’t seem to have answers on offense, defense or special teams.
So how does this get fixed in the next two weeks when the Dolphins visit New England (7-8) and host the New York Jets (7-8) in the regular-season finale?
They’ve got to keep their cool, that’s No. 1. And they’ve got to rely on their veteran leaders such as Pro Bowl left tackle Terron Armstead, who has five playoff appearances in nine seasons. He knows how to get through such troubled times.
“It’s a collection of leadership, especially guys with experience that have been through this,” he said. “But it’s really just an understanding of, ‘What does dwelling on the last four [games] do for you moving forward?’ Anything past doesn’t help your present or future, so learn from mistakes — the reasons we have fought going through this losing streak and then we build and move forward and get the next one.”
We’ll see if that works.
We’ll also see if the calm, cool, collected approach is effective. It’s been mostly working all season for the Dolphins. They say the same approach will work again.
“I don’t think it’s a time for us to blink,” quarterback Tua Tagovailoa said. “We just move on and we learn from it. We’ve got another tough team that we’ve got to go to and play.”
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