The Miami Dolphins did not show up against the Buffalo Bills on Sunday, ending what is actually a successful season for a rebuilding franchise, in a miserable fashion. The Dolphins had a chance at making the playoffs just a year after finishing 5-11, but they saw all paths to the postseason crumble away throughout the day. As the season ended Sunday night, Miami was a 10-6 team on the wrong side of the playoff cutline.
In a season where the NFL expanded the playoffs, somehow the AFC still ended up with a ten-win team not making the playoffs. Meanwhile, the NFC has a team below .500, and another team at .500, making the tournament. It was an odd year.
The Dolphins 56-26 loss to Buffalo was epically bad - and the overused hyperbolic term “epic” may still not be enough to express just how bad a performance it was. That said, there were still some good things to happen in the game, and it should not change seeing this year as a successful step in the right direction for the franchise.
Stock up: Xavien Howard and Byron Jones, cornerbacks - Before the season, the strength of Miami’s defense was expected to be the secondary. It struggled early, especially as Jones and Howard dealt with injuries, but when they both reached 100 percent, they became a dynamic duo. Howard finishes the year with 10 interceptions, including one against the Bills, the first time a player has reached double-digit interceptions since 2007, and in a strong position for Defensive Player of the Year consideration. Jones had not recorded an interception since 2017, but he finished the season with two, including one on Sunday, and he looked like the perfect compliment to Howard. There are secondary issues that have to be addressed, but Howard and Jones showed again against the Bills that they should be a force in Miami in 2021.
Stock down: Isaiah Ford, wide receiver - Ford gets the focus of Dolphins fans ire toward the entire wide receiver group on Sunday. There were just so many drops. Unofficially, the count was something like 11 dropped passes. Drops are a part of football and no receiver is perfect, but there were just so many on Sunday. There were some that looked horrible - including Ford’s jumping one when the ball hit him in the chest - but were actually good defensive plays (including that Ford one where the ball was deflected just before it got to him). But there were just so many bad drops. It just reinforced the Dolphins need to upgrade the receiver position next year.
Stock up: DeVante Parker, wide receiver - Parker was not immune to the drop issues for Miami on Sunday, but he still came on in the second half to record 116 yards on seven receptions. Early in the game, the passing attack seemed to be focused on Lynn Bowden, Jr., with the rookie tallying 12 targets and eight receptions on the day, but Parker was re-established as the team’s top receiver in the second half, and the offense actually found some success. He finished the year with 63 receptions for 794 yards with four touchdowns, all down from last year’s 72 receptions for 1,202 yards with nine touchdowns, but Parker is clearly the best receiver on the team and will likely be either the number one or number two receiver in a position group next year that includes several new faces.
Stock down: Nik Needham, cornerback - Needham’s play on Sunday is one of those secondary issues that has to be fixed. An undrafted free agent signed in 2019, Needham has been thrust into a role most undrafted players do not see, and really do not see this early in their career. The Dolphins moved Needham to the slot as the nickel cornerback once Howard and Jones were healthy, and it is a position where he needs time to learn and grow. On Sunday, he could not keep up with Isaiah McKenzie, and the Dolphins got torched because of it. The Dolphins should not give up on Needham, as he has shown flashes of talent and has the potential to grow into the role, but they should not be against looking for an upgrade here either.
Stock up: Andrew Van Ginkel, linebacker - The Dolphins have found their next do-everything player. Van Ginkel was everywhere on Sunday - at least until the defense disappeared as an entire unit. He recorded five tackles with a sack and a pass defensed. He is simply a player who makes things happen whenever he is on the field.
Stock down: Tua Tagovailoa, quarterback - Stop. Just stop. Tagovailoa is the Dolphins quarterback of the future. They are not going into the 2021 Draft looking to select a quarterback with the third-overall pick. It just makes no sense. The offense needs talent - offensive line, wide receiver, and running back all need additions - not another quarterback around whom you do not build because you are busy chasing Amy. That said, Tagovailoa struggled to move the offense again on Sunday. When he could use the top level talent Miami has - Parker and tight end Mike Gesicki - to their maximum, Miami went 75 yards in nine plays over 3:52 to score a touchdown. When Tagovailoa was throwing bubble screens to Bowden on seemingly ever third-down play, the offense struggled. Give Tagovailoa a full offseason, a normal training camp, a normal preseason, and some better protection and weapons, and maybe we can start to see this offense move.
Stock up: Miami Dolphins - It was a miserable day, but we will finish this stock watch on a positive note. The Dolphins are a 10-6 team with a (usually) great defense and some young stars in the making. They have four picks in the top 50 in the upcoming draft and they will be able to build around the young core they have. The 2020 Dolphins missed the playoffs by tiebreaks - a year after people were calling them the worst team to ever play the game. Miami is moving in the right direction, and they should continue to improve heading into 2021.