For Miami Dolphins fans, Sunday’s game put them through a full gamut of emotions, from utter despair at the beginning, to hope in the second half, to resigned disappointment at the end. Things felt pretty much the same for the players as well.
“I'm disappointed,” said a resolute Cameron Wake. “This league is not a league where you can spot points. You can't go out there and start slow and then kick it on. We played well at times, but that's not going to get it done in this league, especially as tough a game that those guys played on the other side.
“You can't go out there and play catch up. It would've been nice to play the way we played in the second half in the first half … but that didn't happen."
When the Dolphins found themselves down 24-0 midway through the second quarter, most fans hung their heads and settled in for what was sure to be a long day. Against a team that was without their starting quarterback or starting tight end, plus had three first-time starters on the offensive line, this wasn’t how anyone expected the game to begin.
But as Wake points out, players don’t typically look at second-stringers as lessor players, and the Dolphins weren’t all that surprised by New England quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo’s stellar play.
“No, it's the NFL,” says Wake. “I don't know anybody in this league who's not confident or you wouldn't be in this league. Everybody in this league should have pride or else you probably wouldn't be taking snaps. So, whether it's him or the fourth-string quarterback, anybody that puts on a jersey on Sunday, I would expect that you would have a certain level of pride about yourself, so that's not going to be surprising to anybody.
"(Garoppolo is) a football player like any other. I think people - generally - people fail to realize how small the difference is between a number one, and a two, and a three, and a four. This is the NFL; everybody here is the best in the world. So, I don't know (why) people think that the number two guy is going to be a bum. That would be silly. I don't think our number two guy at any positon is a bum, and it's probably the same thing across the board of any team that's in this league. To expect that he would've come out and laid an egg, I don't understand that."
With a disheartening start to the game, and even after falling behind 31-3 in the third quarter, it was encouraging to see the players stay positive.
“We just kept fighting,” said safety Reshad Jones. “And we were fighting against a good football team in their home. We just put our head down and kept fighting.”
“We didn't quit,” Jones emphasized. “This team (the Patriots) could put 50 points on you any time they get a chance. We were down 24-0, and it shows the kind of guys we have in this locker room. (The Patriots) made plays and you have to give credit to them. They ran their offense and they made plays. We didn't make enough plays early on and it took us until the third quarter to wake up."
Center Anthony Steen chimed in, “We just went to a no huddle, speed tempo, and it really got us into gear. We got in a rhythm and moved the ball. I really don't know (the reason for the slow start) … A lot of teams would have given up, but our team didn't.”
And quarterback Ryan Tannehill caught on fire. After completing just one of four passes for 4 yards in the first quarter, Tannehill finished with 389 passing yards and two touchdowns, and added in another 35 yards rushing, including a bruising 17-yard run up the middle late in the game.
"He was awesome,” said tight end Jordan Cameron of Tannehill. “He definitely had control in the huddle. He was making plays, and we were moving fast, and got the ball rolling. You got to see what we are capable of doing in the second half.”
But it turned out to be too little too late, as the Dolphins left a tuckered out defense on the field far too long, and couldn’t stop New England from driving the length of the field. Although the ensuing field goal was pushed wide right, the Patriots chewed time off the clock and forced Miami to use all their time outs, and when the Dolphins finally got the ball back, they simply ran out of time.
As the Dolphins look towards their next game, the home opener against the Cleveland Browns, Tannehill knows what needs to happen if the Dolphins want to avoid an 0-3 start.
“We want to get off to a good start, establish our home field advantage, and get a win,” said Tannehill. “We've had to fly across the country and play a tough team on the road and now at New England. We've had a tough go.”
But Tannehill says the players are staying positive. They aren’t happy with the outcome of this game, but they look forward to improving in the next game and hopefully righting the ship.
“We've had our opportunities, and we're right there,” said Tannehill. “There's no panic. Obviously, we're disappointed and upset about how we let this one get away, but we're right there. There's no panic. We've just got to keep working, keep our heads on, keep grinding and we'll be in good shape next week.”
As for head coach Adam Gase, he’ll review tape on Monday and then begin working on the game plan for the next game. As usual he took full responsibility for the outcome, but reminded folks that the NFL is a marathon, not a sprint.
“We have 14 (games) left, he said. “Go thru the tape Monday, go back to work Wednesday. We played two good football teams, so (we’ll) come back, figure out a way to get better, clean some things up. We’ve got to start faster, but this is the NFL, man. This is what it is about, it's hard.”
Could there be changes on the horizon, as the Dolphins try to find ways to kickstart things, and get off to a faster start? Possibly, as Gase did throw out one ominous message in his post-game press conference.
“The tape don't lie,” said Gase. “We will find out who played hard. And some of the guys that didn't, we’ll move on.”
This story was written by Eldon Jenson. Follow him on Twitter @EJFootball
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