The return to Foxborough, Massachusetts, was not what Miami fans hoped for; another road shocker against the AFC East leading Patriots. And while the loss put the Dolphins at 3-5 for the season, there was much more to be said about Miami than their record.
The Dolphins have yet to defeat a legitimate team outside of the New York Jets and Buffalo Bills -one which is sporadic, another which is in shambles. They have competed with the San Diego Chargers, Indianapolis Colts, New Orleans Saints, and on Sunday the New England Patriots. In each of those games Miami had a chance to emerge on top, but failed to do so.
Simply put, almost does not cut it.
Fans realized that this Dolphins team is still young and essentially in a rebuilding stage on Sunday at Gillette Stadium. Two rookie cornerbacks struggling to cover an elite wide receiver duo. One sophomore quarterback failing to mount a late-game comeback, with no help from a fledgling wide receiving core. It all points to the reality that Miami still has much to learn before being considered contenders in the NFL.
With that said, the Dolphins still have an opportunity to make a playoff push this season. Heading back home to play a struggling Tampa Bay Buccaneers squad, then away to face two more shaky teams in the Carolina Panthers and Buffalo Bills, the opportunities to rebound are present. All the while the Patriots face the Colts, Jets and Saints in the next three weeks.
Miami's playoff hopes have not yet been destroyed with eight games left to play in the season. What has diminished is the expectations from a team that has been exposed against elite teams in the league.
Calling timeouts when none are available. Being exploited on defense with young cornerbacks and under performing veteran defensive backs. Dropping passes when the game is on the line.
Those were the factors that plagued Miami's chances to win against Bill Belichick and the Patriots, some of which are the very factors that stunted the Dolphins in crucial games against the league's top teams.
It is up to Bill Parcells, Jeff Ireland and Tony Sparano to salvage what's left of this season, extract as much positive from it as possible and retool for 2010.
The future is bright for Miami, but nobody ever said success would not come with growing pains. Soon enough the Trifecta project will come full circle and begin to pay dividends for the Miami community - in the form of victories (and maybe even Super Bowls).