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Bitter loss ends Miami’s surprisingly successful season

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It was not supposed to end like that, but it was not supposed to happen either.

NFL: JAN 08 AFC Wild Card - Dolphins at Steelers Photo by Mark Alberti/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

“This was disappointing.”

Those were the sentiments from Miami Dolphins owner Stephen Ross in the locker room after his team lost their first playoff appearance since 2008 in a drubbing from the Pittsburgh Steelers 30-12 in the AFC Wildcard playoff game. The team Miami beat 30-15 in Week 6 came back with a vengeance on Sunday, and they made the Dolphins look overmatched, overwhelm, and, well, over.

Miami’s season came to an anticlimactic end with the loss, eliminating a team that has not won a playoff game since 2000.

Miami was thoroughly beaten on Sunday. They could not run against a defense they gouged for over 200 rushing yards in October. They could not tackle Le’Veon Bell. They could not cover Antonio Brown. They could not hold on to the ball. They could not time snaps correctly.

All-in-all, the Dolphins could not do a lot of things that they needed to do in this game.

Disappointing Sunday? Yes.

Disappointing 2016? Not by a long shot.

This team was expected to be battling for the top pick in the 2017 NFL Draft, not one of 12 teams who made it to the postseason. This team was expected to need this year to try to find itself and start conforming to Adam Gase. This team was expected to win four, five, maybe six games at the most.

Miami outperformed all of those expectations. They overachieved and they brought excitement back to a fanbase that has been without those feelings for a very long time.

The players - and the fans - are clearly disappointed by Sunday’s results. “It’s tough,” running back Jay Ajayi said after the game. “We put in all that work. It’s really the fact that this team won’t be together and it won’t be the same. We won’t be able to reach that goal that we wanted to achieve. That’s tough. I do not know anyone that is just content with being in the playoffs. We wanted to win the whole thing. I know I did. It hurts.”

Ajayi continued, “From a team standpoint, it is not a success. Individually, maybe later on [it will be seen as a success]. As a team we did not achieve what we wanted to do.”

Right guard Jermon Bushrod echoed the same sentiments, “Our goal was to be the last team standing, and we were not the last team standing. Where we came from earlier this season you have to be proud. I’m proud of everybody in this organization from the coaches down to the players. Things were not looking great for us. We were banged up. We were losing games but we found a way to look inside of ourselves and come out of a tough situation. This could have been a really tough season but like I said I’m proud. No, this is not where we wanted to be. We wanted to get into this dance and you never know what could happen. It is just unfortunate.”

The disappointment is obvious, but there also has to be recognition - again, from the players and the fans - about what this team accomplished this year. Asked after the game if a loss like Sunday’s takes anything away from what the Dolphins were able to do this season, Pro Bowl defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh responded, “No, I don’t think it takes anything away. I think we have been playing good games. We just have to get back to the drawing table. Understand that things will be different as every single season is different every year is different. Get prepared and get focused on what we have and get back to work.”

Miami is now on to their offseason, starting the long preparation for the 2017 regular season. It is not nearly as far into the calendar year as anyone had hoped it would be when the Dolphins were no longer playing.

But, it is later than it has been in a long, long time.

And, that makes 2016 a surprising success for the Dolphins.

No matter how the bitter loss on Sunday was.