As the 2017 season winds down for the Miami Dolphins, we are reminded once more that no great man is ever more than just a couple of missteps away from becoming a caricature of himself. After a rocky start to his head coaching career in 2016, Adam Gase condensed the offensive playbook down and opted for a meat and potatoes, run-first attack, and coupled with some timely bounces that went the Dolphins' way down the stretch, was able to right the ship and squeak into the playoffs as the sixth and final seed in the AFC.
Looking back now, with or without starting quarterback Ryan Tannehill's knee injury, we probably should have seen this coming. I read with some degree of amusement, a comment from a fan in the Miami Herald last week. He opined that it should be clear that without Tannehill's absence, the Dolphins would have been on cruise control toward another winning season and second consecutive playoff appearance. After all, Tanny had virtually the same supporting cast a season ago that the Cutler/Moore platoon has had this year. Of course, he failed to mention that Miami benefitted from a fourth-place schedule last year, courtesy of their 6-10 finish in 2015. Conversely, as of this week, the Dolphins have the toughest strength of schedule in the league at .552, tied with Atlanta and Chicago. Outside of Chargers kicker Younghoe Koo's miss of what would have been the game-winning field goal for San Diego back in September, the fluke plays and timely bounces that went Miami's way last year haven't materialized in 2017. As has been pointed out by our readers, defenses have had an opportunity to prepare for the Dolphins' offense this time around, which has made it much more difficult to duplicate the success they enjoyed during Gase's initial campaign.
This was probably the best thing that could have happened for Gase and the Dolphins this season, as Miami just simply didn't have the horses to compete with the top teams in the division, the conference or the league. Whether they can win one or two of their remaining four games, the Dolphins are destined to finish with a record similar to what they would have had a season ago, were it not for the Browns missing three field goals, Philip Rivers throwing an interception with the Chargers seven to ten yards away from a game-winning field goal try or the Bills lining up with ten men on the field when Jay Ajayi took off on his 57 yard jaunt to get Miami into field goal range at Buffalo on Christmas Eve.
One of the worst things an NFL team can do is finish with a .500 record; 8-8 is 'ain't and ain't' -- not good enough to qualify for the playoffs but not bad enough to be picking high enough in the draft to land some real studs. The Dolphins don't figure to have that problem this year, and will almost certainly be well positioned to improve themselves in the offseason, returning to play another fourth (maybe third) place schedule in 2018.
The other silver lining that comes from having a season like this one is that there will be substantial changes going forward, particularly on offense. Gase is finding out that if you wear too many hats, your head starts to get heavy after a while. I doubt whether he'll be calling the offensive plays next year; the front office must decide whether to let Clyde Christensen do the job they hired him for or if they'll have to try and find someone better. In sum, the team wasn't as good as their record would indicate in 2016 but they're also not as bad as they've looked this year, and with a few reinforcements at key positions, I think we'll see a much improved Miami Dolphins franchise, on and off the field, in 2018.