The 2012 rendition of the Miami Dolphins was a surprising and scrappy bunch that continually put forth strong effort each and every week, regardless of the score or the situation. However, if there was one word that was the defining term of the season it would be inconsistency. The Dolphins season could be broken down into four distinct segments, and so since we are talking football and for the sake of a clean review, let’s call break the season up into four quarters.
In the ”first quarter,” the Dolphins came out of the gate with a tough battle on the road against the Houston Texans. While the game was a blowout and everyone remembers the disastrous three turnover in three play stretch, with the exception of the second quarter, the Dolphins actually played quite well. They followed it up with an impressive victory against the Oakland Raiders at home which established the Dolphins as a team that no longer represented the NFL’s doormat. Kicker Dan Carpenter struggled against the New York Jets and Arizona Cardinals in Weeks 3 and 4, but the overall team performance was strong and plenty capable of winning the games.
The Dolphins carried this momentum into their next three games, putting together their only three game winning streak of the year and ending the “first quarter” of their season at 4-3. This also marked the only time all season which the team was above.500. They appeared in position to make a surprise playoff run with solid, consistent football as the prototypical “good bad team,” a squad capable of taking care of business against inferior opponents but whom would struggle against the league’s elite.
But the team opened their “second quarter” with an early season surprise showdown in Indiana against the Indianapolis Colts, whom were also at 4-3. Most pundits thought the Dolphins were the team more likely to have staying power, but the Dolphins weren’t their solid selves, making small mistakes throughout the game before ultimately falling to the Colts. They had a chance for redemption and to get their year back on track at home against the Tennessee Titans, but instead laid one of the biggest eggs of any team in the NFL this season, getting walloped by a poor Titans team.
Unfortunately, the team’s bad stretch wasn’t over yet. With a quick turnaround in Buffalo against the Bills on the subsequent Thursday, the same crappy Dolphins team showed up for the first three quarters, before the solid Phins returned in the fourth quarter of that game, but were too little too late. This stretch was so uncharacteristic of the “first quarter” of the season, and certainly was a debilitating factor in any playoff hopes.
This version of the Dolphins was not without a little spunk however, as the Seattle Seahawks came to Miami to open our “third quarter” of the season, and they were not met by the same pillow fight the Dolphins had been putting up in our “second quarter.” The Dolphins hung tough with the Seahawks before putting together what might be their most impressive quarter of the season in the final quarter of the game, culminating in a game winning field goal. The team followed it up with two difficult matchups against the New England Patriots and San Francisco 49ers, and while the team lost both, they continued to look solid, remaining within reach of their superior opponents throughout the game.
Following their toughest two game stretch, the Dolphins got to beat up on two of their easier opponents of the year, finishing up the “third quarter” of their year by dishing out as much of a beat down as an offensively challenged team can at home against the Jacksonville Jaguars and Buffalo Bills. The team had righted the ship, and looked primed to go into their Week 17 showdown against the Patriots capable of putting up another solid fight and possibly giving the team some momentum to head into the off season.
With the Texans losing early in Week 17, the game between the Dolphins and the Patriots was primed as a very meaningful battle for the Patriots’ playoff positioning. The Dolphins were faced with an opportunity to challenge a league juggernaut at their best. Instead, they opened the “fourth quarter” of their season by laying another complete egg in New England, putting up a bagel on the scoreboard and never threatening the Patriots on either side of the ball. While expecting the Dolphins to beat the Patriots is probably a bit overzealous, expecting a better performance is certainly not.
And so the Dolphins completed their season at 7-9 with many promising signs but also frustrations of a season that could have been even more successful with a little more consistency. Of course, the history books are filled with young teams full of inconsistencies. What separates the teams who succeed from those whom are in a perpetual state of rebuilding is that the good teams grow out of their inconsistencies. The Dolphins need to improve their talent in the offseason, and then get to focusing on consistency in season in order to make a playoff run in 2013.