The funny part — the strange part — is some people don’t want to listen to how the Miami Dolphins are losing. They don’t want to hear Jaylen Waddle talk softly with a blue towel draped over his head as if to conceal the pain of his fumble with three minutes left Sunday.
“Tried to make a play, the ball came out, they recovered it,” he said after a 24-16 loss to Minnesota. “Wish I could have that one back.”
These people don’t want to hear coach Mike McDaniel remember the Dolphins’ second possession Sunday where five penalties erased 65 gained yards and two dropped passes negated another uncounted total.
“It became a flag-fest,” he said.
There’s a natural movement continuing on after Sunday’s starting quarterback, who was Skylar Thompson this time, again got hurt and again was replaced by the backup, who was Teddy Bridgewater in this game. It’s the, “They’re losing because they lost their starting quarterback three straight games” movement.
That doesn’t help, obviously. Nor does it help to have your two starting tackles out or be down three cornerbacks by the second half. But look at the statistics sheet. The Dolphins had winning numbers like 23 first downs to Minnesota’s 11 and with 458 yards of offense to Minnesota’s 234 yards.
Injuries don’t explain how the Dolphins defense held Minnesota to 15 yards of offense in the first quarter, without a first down until late in the second quarter and still had cornerback Xavien Howard saying, “We’ve got to be better.”
There’s two simple reasons the Dolphins lost Sunday and it wasn’t injuries:
1. They had 3 turnovers to Minnesota’s 0. ” When you’re minus-3, you’ve got to be pretty epic in other ways to try to come out on top,” McDaniel said;
2. They had 10 penalties for 97 yards to Minnesota’s two for 20 yards. “That’s pretty good to have two penalties in that environment,” Minnesota coach Kevin O’Connell said.
This, then, is either staggeringly good news as the Dolphins are set to get back to Tua Tagovailoa at quarterback next Sunday and the schedule turns squishy soft because these are fundamental and correctable mistakes.
Or it’s staggeringly bad news because these are more than fundamental problems. They’re who this team is. Like losing the weekly special-teams battle is who this team is. Like having quarterbacks running for their life from opposing pressure is who this team is.
Remember that Dolphins team that had a plus-three turnover margin after the opening New England win? It’s minus-five after six games. That’s how a 3-0 start becomes 3-3.
Waddle was responsible for two turnovers Sunday. Besides the late fumble at the Minnesota 28-yard line that ended the Dolphins’ hopes in a 17-10 game, he dropped a pass that was intercepted in the first half. That gave Minnesota the ball at the Miami 25-yard line that resulted in a field goal just before half.
“Kudos to the Vikings,” Waddle said. “They made the plays when they need to make them and came up with turnovers.”
Here’s the good news: If told in August the Dolphins came through this opening stretch at 3-3, you’d take it. The schedule bends their way now. They didn’t play a losing team in the first six weeks and don’t play a winning team over the next six weeks (five games and a bye).
The schedule reads Pittsburgh (2-4), at Detroit (1-4), at Chicago (2-4), Cleveland (2-4), bye and Houston (1-3).
Such perspective matters. Winning turnover battles and curbing penalties matter more. It doesn’t matter who the quarterback is if a possession has five penalties and two dropped passes, as it did for Thompson.
Poor Thompson. He came out throwing Sunday and then hit his thumb on a Minnesota helmet. That was it. Bridgewater came in and, after some initial rust, led a touchdown a drive and was leading another when …
“Can’t make those mistakes,” Waddle said.
They made fundamental mistakes Sunday. The revolving quarterbacks and other injuries didn’t help. But clear up those mistakes and the season will straighten out just fine over this coming stretch.