clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Dolphins’ promising 2023 season ends with playoff cameo as Chiefs dominate in Wild Card

The Miami Dolphins once again find themselves on the losing end of a wild card round playoff game as the 2023 season comes to a crashing end.

AFC Wild Card Playoffs - Miami Dolphins v Kansas City Chiefs Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images

The 2023 Miami Dolphins finished the season with the number one offense, the number one passing offense, the number six rushing offense, and the number two scoring offense. The defense finished as a top ten unit, 15th against the pass, but sixth against the run. They led the AFC East for 15 of the 18 weeks of the season and they flirted with the number one seed in the AFC playoff picture.

They have the third-most Pro Bowl Games selection for the year, with six players scheduled to attend - before alternates start getting tapped, when Miami could have more all-star players added to the event in Orlando. Quarterback Tua Tagovailoa, running back Raheem Mostert, fullback Alec Ingold, wide receiver Tyreek Hill, tackle Terron Armstead, and cornerback Jalen Ramsey will all represent the Dolphins on February 1st and 4th and the multi-day event.

The Dolphins were selected to appear on the HBO and NFL Films production Hard Knocks In Season with the Miami Dolphins, with the advertising highlighting that Miami owned the most explosive offense in the league.

The 2023 season was a great one for the Dolphins. At least until it was not.

Coming off their Week 13 win at the Washington Commanders on December 3, Miami was 9-3 with a three-game lead over the Buffalo Bills in the AFC East and looking like a team that would cruise into the playoffs and have at least two home games in the postseason tournament. The team had averaged 33 points scored over their three games since their bye week, allowing just 13.7 points allowed. The Dolphins were on a roll and no one wanted to face them.

Well, no one except the Tennessee Titans. In a Week 14 Monday Night Football game, the 4-8 Titans faced the 9-3 Dolphins. According to the DraftKings Sportsbook oddsmakers, Miami opened the game as a 12-5-point favorite. By kickoff, the line had expanded to the Dolphins favored by 14 over the Titans.

Despite struggling to find their rhythm early in the game, Miami pulled out to a 14-point lead with 4:34 remaining on the clock and looked like they would dispatch the Titans and continue their march toward the AFC’s top seed and their first division title since 2008. In 2:45 of game time, the Titans scored a touchdown with a converted two-point attempt, forced a Miami punt, and scored a second touchdown. The Dolphins’ 14-point lead evaporated, and they were trailing by one with 1:49 remaining in the game. Six plays later, Miami turned the ball over on downs, leaving Tennessee to kneel once and kill the clock.

The Dolphins would respond the next week, beating the New York Jets 30-0 to complete a season sweep of their AFC East division rivals, then kicking a last-second field goal to beat the Dallas Cowboys, one of five field goals on the day for Miami kicker Jason Sanders. Things were right in the world, Miami was 11-4 and and had the AFC East title and the first position in the AFC within their grasp.

Week 17 featured the Baltimore Ravens demolishing Miami 56-19, locking the Dolphins out of the AFC’s number-one seed. Week 18 saw the Buffalo Bills finish the season sweep for the Dolphins with a 21-14 win, claiming the AFC East title with the win.

The most explosive offense in the league produced one touchdown against the Cowboys, two against Baltimore, and two against the Bills. The explosiveness was gone. The rhythm was gone. And everything they had worked to claim for the season was gone.

They made the playoffs, but the Dolphins looked like a team in a downward spiral.

It all led to a cold night in Missouri as the Dolphins visited the Kansas City Chiefs on Saturday in the Wild Card Round of the 2024 NFL playoffs. The two teams met in Week 9, with Kansas City serving as the host for a game in Frankfurt, Germany and coming away with a 21-14 win. On Saturday, the game never felt close. The Dolphins again struggled to find any rhythm, and the Chiefs did not have that issue.

Miami was unceremoniously thrust into the offseason with a 26-7 loss. Ending the season with a three-game losing streak, Miami averaged just 13.3 points scored over their final three contests.

“I think the entire thing about this team and a team sport is that we had goals that we didn’t accomplish tonight,” Dolphins head coach Mike McDaniel said immediately after the loss to the Chiefs. “We came here to win, and it didn’t happen. We fell short of our goals. We had very strong expectations of ourselves. One of the reasons a lot of people don’t put themselves out there and hold those expectations is because when you fall short from them, it’s emotional and gut-wrenching.”

Quarterback Tua Tagovailoa said of the season after the game, “I would say there’s been a lot of ups and downs. There were a lot of guys that started out the season with us and weren’t able to finish the season with us. A lot of ups and downs with injuries. For our team, we never want to use any of those things as an excuse. We’re not going to use that as an excuse. That’s what I would say for how the year went, ups and downs.”

Wide receiver Tyreek Hill spoke about the state of the locker room after the loss, saying, “It’s tough. Especially with the type of team that we got. Obviously, there are high expectations of everyone. We hold ourselves to a standard. We were definitely expecting us to be a really good team this year. We definitely weren’t expecting a first-round exit. Also, the message in the locker room was simple. Whenever you’re working out, take this loss with you. Remember this feeling. Because it’s not fun being on the other side of a loss, especially when you know the season is over for you.”

Injuries played a factor in the crashing end to Miami’s season. Running back Salvon Ahmed, linebacker Jerome Baker, linebacker Bradley Chubb, cornerback Keion Crossen, wide receiver Erik Ezukanma, linebacker Cameron Goode, linebacker Jalean Phillips, linebacker Zeke Vandenburgh, linebacker Andrew Van Ginkel, center Connor Williams, and guard Isaiah Wynn all finished the year on injured reserve. Miami used all eight of their allocated IR-return designations during the year, bringing back Baker, running back De’Von Achane, tackle Terron Armstead, running back Chris Brooks, wide receiver River Cracraft, guard Robert Jones, cornerback Jalen Ramsey, and running back Jeff Wilson, Jr. Baker, who was on IR for a knee injury, returned for the Dolphins’ Week 18 game against the Bills only to sustain a wrist injury and land back on IR after undergoing surgery.

Miami started 12 different offensive line combinations during the season. Wide receivers Jalen Waddle and Tyreek Hill, cornerback Xavien Howard, running back Raheem Mostert, and safety Jevon Holland were among the starters who missed games due to injuries.

Every team is banged up during the season, and injuries are never an excuse, but for the Dolphins, they can be a part of explaining what happened down the stretch to a team that looked poised to be among the NFL elite.

“Yes, we lost some great players,” linebacker David Long, Jr., explained on Saturday night. “I hate to put that out there like that was the reason. This is the NFL. We have guys that can come in and do the job. Even out there we had [Justin] Houston and [Bruce] Irvin. They made plays for us. I’m not saying we didn’t get to where we wanted to be because of injuries. We had enough here to get it done, we just didn’t make it happen.”

Defensive tackle Christian Wilkins echoed Long’s sentiments, saying, “[Not having played like linebackers Bradley Chubb and Jalean Phillips] was tough, but it is what it is. Injuries are part of the game, and we’re not going to make excuses for that. As much as we’d love to have those guys, it’s just part of the game. You don’t make excuses for that. You still fight and play hard no matter what. We still went into every game as confident as ever and didn’t make any excuses and we just kept it running.”

Fullback Alec Ingold was also asked about the team’s injuries and how that impacted the game. “The injury rate in the NFL is 100%,” he replied. “We lost some key guys, but I think it is a collection of the team, right. Champions are able to overcome the circumstances of the season and that was our challenge this year. That was our piece of adversity, and we couldn’t overcome it. It just hurts, as a leader of the team and as somebody that wants to contribute in these biggest games and the biggest moments. You don’t really think about injuries as much as wishing you could have been there for the guys that were suited up and the guys who couldn’t go and be able to put your best stuff out there. It was a tough one today.”

Miami now heads into an offseason where there seem to be more questions than answers. The team is projected to be $40 million over the salary cap, though no official cap projection has been given by the NFL this year. They are one of 12 teams who will need to shed salary, either through cuts or contract extensions, just to be able to operate next year.

The Dolphins will also have to monitor the rehabilitation of their injured players. Will they be available by training camp? The start of the season? Will Miami need a starter for early in the season, knowing someone may not be back until mid-seasson?

And what happened with the offense’s explosiveness? Why did a team that averaged 29.2 points per game struggle to score 13 in their final three games, including just seven last night?

Will there be changes to the coaching staff? System changes?

What happens with the contract situations of players like Wilkins and Tagovailoa?

Crashing out of the playoffs suddenly brings with it so many more things that the Dolphins now have to start considering. How to not simply be a playoff cameo team next year needs to be the dominating question all offseason.