For the past forty-plus years, the Miami Dolphins have done one thing consistently well—let down their fans.
The ending to their 2013 season was no different.
In a game they had to win, the Dolphins showed absolutely no desire or motivation to win anything. Facing the New York Jets at Sun Life Stadium, the Dolphins needed just to win to reach the playoffs for the first time in five seasons. The once-proud franchise that can boast of the only perfect season in NFL history desperately needed the win to show fans that it can actually do more than disappoint.
However, true to form, that’s exactly what they did. The Jets came out on Sunday and completely dominated the Dolphins in every phase of the game. Quarterback Ryan Tannehill was intercepted three times, Jets quarterback Geno Smith methodically led four scoring drives, and by the time the game ended, Dolphins fans had already angrily left Sun Life Stadium, their high hopes dashed once again.
It was without a doubt a strange season in South Florida. The Dolphins endured a four-game losing streak, their locker room was rocked to its very core by an ugly bullying scandal that sidelined two important members of the offensive line for the rest of the season, and they gave fans false hope by rattling off a three-game winning streak to start the month of December.
But Sunday’s loss, combined with last week’s ugly shutout loss in Buffalo, was a stark reminder of the fact that this is a team that is just simply—well, mediocre.
And they’ve been mediocre for decades.
Monday came and went without Dolphins owner Stephen Ross making any sweeping changes. That doesn’t mean it won’t happen. Head coach Joe Philbin is well aware that the responsibility for the team’s failure falls on his shoulders.
''You have to earn your way into the playoffs. Clearly we didn't do that,'' Philbin said. ''The results start with me. The head coach is responsible for the results. The offense, the defense, the special teams, the record - it starts with me. Let's not stand here and blame the players.''
While Philbin certainly can’t go out and play all 22 positions on offense and defense, he is responsible for providing the motivation for his team to win. Sunday’s mission was simple—win and they’re in. No help was needed from other teams, simply winning would suffice.
And winning against a team that had nothing to play for, other than to keep Miami on the sidelines during the playoffs. Jets coach Rex Ryan had already been assured of his job status before the game, with owner Woody Johnson telling his coach that he indeed would be back in 2014.
So, Ryan wasn’t coming into the game knowing that he needed to win in order to save his job. Johnson already took care of that. He didn’t need to provide extra motivation for his Jets to beat the Dolphins.
Philbin did receive a high-profile endorsement from no less than Don Shula, a legend in South Florida.
"I like (Philbin) a lot. He's a heck of a guy and comes from a great program, so he's been with a winner," Shula said before Sunday's game. "You can see the imprint on what's happening here, and the people he's hiring and the way that they're playing.
"I think that he's the right man for the job."
That’s likely to help Philbin in the eyes of Ross, who regards Shula as nothing less than a deity. But for the Dolfans who have suffered through decades of disappointment, they’ll simply view the 2013 season as another opportunity that got away.
Their Dolphins let them down again, and it’s becoming old habit.