I know it’s hard to push the last game of the season out of your minds, but if you just set it aside for a bit, you can appreciate what was accomplished by our team in a very promising rebuilding season. Like Tim has said many times, the NFL season is divided into quarters. We lost the 1st quarter of the season. We finished the 1st QTR of the season 1-3 winning only against the Jacksonville Jaguars and losing 2 division games, one to the Patriots and one to the Bills. We let a game get away from us against Seattle too. Not a good start. First Quarter / 1-3
The 2nd Quarter of the season is where we started to turn some heads. We blew out and dismantled the SF 49ers in their house. We pummeled Niners QB Jimmy Garopplo sacking him 5 times and turned them over 3 times for an impressive blowout 43-17 victory. 1-0. The Dolphins then cruised to an easy 24-0 win over the hapless Jets to start this quarter 2-0. The Dolphins schedule was affected by COVID-19 and thus forced us to take our BYE week 6 weeks earlier, so Week 5 it was, rather than Week 11. This schedule change ended up causing the Dolphins to make an earlier change at QB as the Tua Tagovailoa era in Miami began. In a game that really opened up the eyes of the talking heads, the Dolphins gave the LA Rams the same treatment they gave the Niners and made Jared Goff look bad. Whispers were happening that this Dolphins defense just might be for real. We turned over the Rams 4 times in an impressive win over the 5-2 Rams. So far, 3-0 this quarter. The Dolphins then faced their second 5-2 NFC team in a row in the Kyler Murray led Arizona Cardinals. It was a back and forth affair but for the first time, the Dolphins actually had to lean on their young QB and he came through to lead the Dolphins to a 4th quarter come from behind victory, 34-31. This is where we made our hay. Second Quarter/ 4-0 (5-3 overall)
The Dolphins began the 3rd quarter of the season against the 2-6 LA Chargers. This was to be the highly touted matchup of rookie QB’s Justin Herbert against Tua Tagovailoa. As it turned out, Tua had the better game by a slight margin as the Dolphins defense picked off Herbert once and sacked him twice. The Dolphins won 29-21. 1-0. The Dolphins then traveled to Mile High. The Broncos defense confused and abused QB Tua Tagovailoa and made Tua look like a rookie QB. Both RB’s Melvin Gordon ran for over 80 yards and the Dolphins for the first time brought in relief pitcher Ryan Fitzpatrick. Tua got banged up and there was no Fitzmagic this day as the Dolphins went to 6-4 losing 20-13. 1-1. A welcome relief in sight, the Dolphins traveled to NJ to play the Jets again in another relatively uncontested game. Ryan Fitzpatrick cruised the Dolphins to a 20-3 victory. 2-1. Tua returned from injury to face the Joe Burowless Bengals and the Dolphins defense picked off both Brandon Allen and Ryan Finley for a 19-7 victory. 3-1. Third Quarter / 3-1 (8-4 overall)
The Dolphins started the final quarter of the season hosting the AFC Beast Kansas City Chiefs and we sort of gave them a game, we played a lot of catchup after the Chiefs got to a 30-10 3rd quarter lead. Tua rallied the Dolphins for 17 4th QTR points but it was too little too late as the Dolphins fell 33-27. Valiant effort really, but a loss nonetheless. 0-1. The Dolphins then hosted the New England Patriots for a much needed rematch and the Dolphins were up to the task. Although we had a sluggish first half and were down 9-7, the Dolphins took control in the 2nd half outscoring the Patriots 15-3 for a well deserved win. 1-1. The Dolphins traveled to Sin City to the Las Vegas Raiders beautiful new home, Allegiant Stadium. The Dolphins offense featured Tua Tagovailoa dinking and dunking through 3 plus quarters completing 17-22 passes for just 94 yards and 1 TD. 9:47 mark of the 4th QTR HC Brian Flores pulled starting QB Tua Tagovailoa with the Dolphins trailing 16-13 and QB Ryan Fitzpatrick makes his 2nd relief appearance, his first not due to an injury. You all know the story, the Raiders went up 22-16 with just 0:19 seconds remaining which led to the Fitzmagic drive that will always be an image we can remember as his head was twisted to the point where he couldn’t see where the throw was going but was complete to WR Mack Hollins at the LV 41 yard line and then the 15 yard facemask penalty spotted the ball at the 26 yard line which set up the Jason Sanders game winning 44 yard FG. 2-1. Then the wheels went off the track against the division bully Buffalo Bills. The wounds are still fresh so I’ll spare you, we lost badly, an unfortunate embarrassing end to what was a very promising season. Fourth Quarter / 2-2. (10-6 overall)
So the Dolphins finished the season with a 10-6 record, 2nd in the AFC East. Even the most optimistic fans didn’t see this coming. I think the defense really surprised us, there were many things that despite the last game letdown, lead you to believe this team is not too far away from having a great defense. Like the great Dolphins defenses of the 1970’s, this is also a no name defense. CB Xavien Howard is likely the one player that casual NFL fans know, and maybe Kyle Van Noy because the Patriots were so visible. Our defense is young, really young, and guys that we drafted last year and this year are already cornerstones of that defense. DL Christian Wilkins drafted last year, DL Raekwon Davis drafted this year, LB Andrew Van Ginkle (last year) and to a lesser extent, DL Jason Strowbridge who was part of the rotation on the D-line. The guys we brought in in free agency solidified the defense. LB Kyle Van Noy was a great leader on the field, DE Emmanuel Ogbah had a very strong 3/4 of the season but faded out late in the season. OLB Shaq Lawson was also effective but less so than Ogbah. #55, Jerome Baker had his best season as a Miami Dolphin LB. If you give a good player better players around him, you will see his play rise with the talent around him.
This brings me to the offense. The one place where I believe all Dolphins fans should be thrilled about is the offensive line. This unit made great strides this season, comprised of mostly rookies. Rookie LT Austin Jackson started most of the year when he was healthy, and so did rookie OG’s Solomon Kindley and T/G Robert Hunt. Swingman Jesse Davis played every position but C on the O-line this season and is a keeper for his versatility and selflessness. Veteran C Ted Karras did a nice job this season but will be a free agent in 2021. Do we re-sign Karras, or Is Michael Deiter ready to man the C position, do we draft a center or do we go free agency again?
We need playmakers. We have a few guys that can be considered playmakers but one such player like DeVante Parker has once again proven he can’t be counted on for 16 games during the season. He played in parts of 14 games, but was hampered by injury and ineffective in a few. When he was healthy he was fantastic as always, but he still finished with a rather pedestrian season, 63 catches for 793 yards and 4 TD’s. Mike Gesicki is another one, and I wish I knew whether it was Gailey, Fitz or Tua or a combination of all 3 that sometimes just completely ignored him. Gesicki had a nice season with 53 catches for 703 yards and 6 TD’s but I think he can do so much more. I think he’s nearly as talented as LV TE Darren Waller who saw nearly DOUBLE the targets Gesicki got. We will be drafting WR’s in the 2021 NFL Draft, make no mistake. We need to build and give QB Tua Tagovailoa legitimate WR’s to throw to. At RB, I think Myles Gaskin is a really nice #2, like an Austin Ekeler type of player. He could be a #1 if necessary but I think we need more of a downhill runner who can push the pile and run more with more physicality. So often I saw both he and Salvon Ahmed downed by first contact.
The nice thing is the Laremy Tunsil trade has afforded us two more great picks in the 2021 NFL Draft, #3 in RD1 and #36 in RD2. We have 9 picks in all, two 1st RD picks, two 2nd RD picks and then 5 more distributed in the next 5 rounds. Building this offense is paramount to making Tua Tagovailoa a better QB. As I mentioned earlier with Jerome Baker, good players play better with better talent around them. He needs reliable receivers, a RB that can carry the load and pass block and stout OL, which I feel we’re well on our way with the O-line. Keep building that defense, AVG may be a star in the making and I really liked Elandon Roberts but I feel like he’s more of a 2 down player. A guy like Micah Parsons could really elevate this LB corps and the defense as a whole.
We have such a young nucleus on this team. I think we will add another nice veteran or two in free agency. Draft strong and just use free agency to fill in spots, not as a crutch. I think we have that formula down now. We have about $32M to spend but we’re not going to be big spenders anymore. We’re building, and I think we could be in the top 10 teams of 2021 and should be in the playoffs. In 2022, who knows? 1 year at a time, and for us Dolphins fans, 2020 was a good one!
GO DOLPHINS 2021!!!