This was a harsh reality check anyway you look at it. As good as the Dolphins looked winning five in a row, we saw on Sunday the flipside. When the defense can’t stop the run. When Tua struggles. When the offensive line can’t protect him. This in a nutshell is what happened in Sunday’s 20-13 loss to the Denver Broncos.
But it’s no time to cast an ominous shadow over this team. This was one game. One lousy performance. The big picture still says the Dolphins are 6-4 with the Jets and the Burrow-less Bengals up next. They have a chance to right things in a hurry.
But at the same time we can’t ignore the reality of what transpired a mile above sea level. Every weakness we feared this team might have was certainly amplified. The Broncos did a number on the Dolphins offense. This is when they could have used some more playmakers, exactly what I’ve been saying even in the best of times.
The Dolphins need an elite running back and another elite receiver. They have gotten by with what they have, but you just felt it would catch up to them against a formidable defense, a defense like the Broncos. That’ll be the concern moving forward.
Now for the story behind the story. Coach Brian Flores pulled Tua in the fourth quarter in favor of Ryan Fitzpatrick. It was not, Flores said, injury related. It was performance related. Tua had struggled and the offense had produced very little. Flores believed Fitzpatrick could provide a spark and he certainly made things interesting before an end zone interception sealed the outcome.
I don’t agree with Flores’ decision. I would have left Tua in there. I believe in order to grow in the manner we believe he can, he needs to experience every possible situation and in this case that meant trailing by 10 points in the fourth quarter on the road. I don’t see how that move can expedite his growth.
I understand Flores knows these players far better than any of us. I also believe that he has done little wrong in his 26 games as a head coach. He is the right coach for now and for years to come. But that doesn’t mean a decision of his can’t be second-guessed and this one certainly falls into that category.
Tua will start next Sunday against the Jets. There is no controversy when it comes to that. He remains the centerpiece of this team. I firmly believe that as much as we try to judge him this season, we won’t be able to totally judge him until he is equipped with more talent around him. That’s how he thrived in college at Alabama and that’s how he’ll thrive in the pros.
The immediate concern is addressing the problems that surfaced against the Broncos and the list was long. I don’t believe the offensive line is as flawed as it appeared in this game and I know the defense can play a whole lot better, especially against the run. It is days like this when the quarterback needs to make a difference and this just wasn’t one of those days.
So we swallow hard, accept the reality of what happened, and move on to the Jets. Sunday was a sobering bump in the road. Whether it was an aberration or a sign of things to come will have everything to do with how this season plays out.