The Dolphins woke up Monday two games out of the division, with their highest-paid player (Byron Jones) iffy — at best — for their next game and with just some 72 hours to prepare for their next opponent.
So no, things have not gone according to plan with an 0-2 start that has exposed Miami’s defense as one of the league’s worst. (That’s not hyperbole. They’re 32nd out of 32 in yards allowed per play and pass.)
And now they’re on to Jacksonville, which has a much-improved offense in Gardner Minshew’s second season. The Dolphins on Monday opened as 2 1/2-point underdogs, and that might even be generous; road teams historically struggle on short weeks.
But there’s a far more ominous historical trend working against Dolphins coach Brian Flores’ club not just this week, but for the rest of the season: Teams that start 0-2 have missed the playoffs 88 percent of the time since the NFL adopted a 12-team format in 1990. Expect that number to improve with the league expanding to 14 playoff teams this year, but the odds still won’t be great.
This is all a long way of saying that this season that began with such promise is already in the danger zone, and will be officially in trouble should the Dolphins lose to the Jaguars Thursday. Two losses to start the season is bad, but not unmanageable. Three would be disastrous — particularly with the Seahawks and 49ers up next.
“There’s a great sense of urgency in this building,” Flores said a day after he lost for the 13th time in 18 games as the Dolphins’ coach. “Guys want to be good, they want to win, they want to improve, they want to get better. There is definitely a sense of urgency. “
Good. Because time is running short already.
The Dolphins knew from the start that the road to the playoffs wouldn’t be easy with the league’s second-youngest team and third-hardest schedule. (The Jaguars, incidentally, as of Monday had the youngest roster by 29 days).
The Cardinals are an ascending team. The AFC West is tough top to bottom. And the Rams look like contenders again.
“The season is starting to turn sideways,” said Lee Sterling, a South Florida-based handicapper who runs Paramount Sports. “The schedule is challenging, and some of the games that looked like coin flips now appear to be tough games. Teams like the Rams and Chargers are much improved.
“At this point, [the Dolphins] would only be favored in two or three games,” he continued. “At the Jets would probably be a pick-‘em and then the next two games — the Jets after the bye and the Cincinnati Bengals both at home — they will be a favorite.”
Calendar check: Those games aren’t for another two months. So the Dolphins’ losing streak could be just beginning.
Granted, if the wheels truly come off to that degree, Tua Tagovailoa will almost certainly have replaced Ryan Fitzpatrick at quarterback by then.
And that’s good. Tagovailoa’s health is said to be great. The offensive line’s good pass protection — with four sacks and 15 quarterback hits surrendered in 89 drop-backs — is one of few Dolphins bright spots.
Plus, the Dolphins could use the evaluation. They have been impressed by what Tagovailoa has done in practice, but coaches still don’t know for sure how he will perform in a game.
He won’t start Thursday on a short week. But if two losses become three, it’s not out of the question that Tagovailoa takes over for Fitzpatrick in Week 4, which would give the Dolphins 13 weeks to get a true feel for his game.
If Flores was considering such a move Monday, he wasn’t saying. Instead, his focus was on simply getting a win.
“0-2 is tough,” Flores said. “... We’ve got to finish. There are some things we have to build on and the thing that we have to do is we have to finish. That’s something we’ve talked about, something we’ve learned to do as a team, as a unit. We need to learn how to do that. That’s kind of where my focus is right now.”