MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. (AP) — As the Miami Dolphins won all three of their November games, coach Mike McDaniel preached the importance of playing their best football in December.
The Dolphins have done the exact opposite, putting together terrible performances against the 49ers and the Chargers.
“There’s a lot of investment,” McDaniel said after Sunday's 23-17 loss to the Chargers. “And it’s not good enough.”
Miami’s dismal offensive output against San Francisco in Week 13 was thought to be an uncharacteristic one off, but Tua Tagovailoa was inaccurate for the second straight game and the Dolphins had no answers for the physicality of the Chargers' defense, which was playing with a handful of backups.
The Chargers pressed the Dolphins in man coverage and took away the middle of the field, disrupting the timing and effectiveness of Miami's passing attack. Dolphins receivers also were not getting separation, and Tagovailoa misfired when he did have open targets.
Tagovailoa entered Miami’s California trip as the NFL’s top-rated quarterback with a 112 passer rating, but had just three completions in the first half Sunday. He finished 10 for 28 with 145 yards, his fewest since Week 4.
Tagovailoa said the struggles have come down to poor communication and execution, as defenses aren't doing anything that the Dolphins didn't see on film in their preparation.
“They played to what they’re good at, and we just didn’t execute,” Tagovailoa said. “It’s very disappointing for us to go out there as an offense and kind of show what we showed. That’s not up to our standard. That’s not how we play football here.”
McDaniel said the blame starts with the coaching, which was just as questionable.
On a Chargers third-and-goal at the 17, Miami questionably lined up most of its defenders in the end zone. Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert dumped an underneath pass to Austin Ekeler, who had room to take the ball to the 1-yard line. The Chargers scored on fourth down to take a 17-7 lead to the half.
The Dolphins will need to prove their early season success was not a fluke against a tough Buffalo opponent that likely has Saturday's upcoming game circled after blowing a lead against Miami in Week 3.
McDaniel said he will likely have to “tone it down a little bit” in practice this week as the Dolphins get reacclimated with the east coast after spending the past 10 days in California.
“No one’s in the business of feeling sorry for us. No one should,” McDaniel said. “We have tremendous opportunities moving forward to play to our standard.”
The Dolphins' defense kept them in the game by getting pressure on Herbert. He was successful because of his ability to extend plays for so long and improvise, but Miami’s defensive front kept the Chargers from pulling away early on. The Dolphins sacked Herbert four times and recorded seven quarterback hurries.
WHAT NEEDS HELP
The deterioration of Tagovailoa’s connection with his receivers over the past two games has been puzzling. On a second down early against the Chargers, Tagovailoa lofted a throw over the middle of the field toward Hill, who couldn’t even locate the ball.
For the second straight week, defensive tackle Christian Wilkins made a huge imprint on the game with his ability to disrupt plays and generate pressure. Wilkins was dominant Sunday even when the Chargers sent double teams at him. He finished with nine tackles (six solo), two tackles for loss and a sack.
Hill also deserves credit for his two electric touchdowns, including his 57-yard touchdown run after recovering a fumble.
Despite McDaniel’s attempts at deflecting blame to the entire offense, Tagovailoa simply has to play better in order for the offense to turn things around.
“To have gone out this week and played the way that we played, especially on my part,” Tagovailoa said, "that is unacceptable.”
Hill (ankle) and running back Jeff Wilson Jr. (hip) were injured during the game. Hill played through his ankle injury until late, but Wilson was carted off in the second quarter and ruled out afterward. McDaniel said after the game that both are a “legitimate” concern given the short turnaround to their next game on Saturday, but neither player has been ruled out yet.
4 — The number of targets receiver Jaylen Waddle had. He caught his first pass in the fourth quarter and finished with just two receptions a week after catching one pass against San Francisco — not a promising sight for Miami's No. 2 receiving option.
The Dolphins will need to bury their disastrous California experience quickly, with a trip to frigid Buffalo on a short week up next. Miami, two games behind the AFC East-leading Bills, will face Buffalo (10-3) Saturday night.
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