MIAMI GARDENS — It is one thing to talk of tanking as a concept.
The reality of it?
That was the atrocity on display Sunday when the Dolphins offered the resistance of tissue paper in a 59-10 walkover by the Ravens.
In their inaugural season in 1966, the Dolphins lost 58-24 at Buffalo, the most points allowed in a regular-season game in franchise history before Sunday.
The only loss more one-sided and humbling than this one was the 62-7 playoff thrashing at Jacksonville in Dan Marino’s final game.
Ironically, two decades later they are still trying to replace him and have sold their soul for the chance to draft another magic quarterback. Or so they hope.
No question, the Dolphins were in need of a major overhaul, a radically different approach than has failed miserably over the past two decades.
The debacle Sunday showed what tanking looks like, what happens when you take a stripped-down roster into games that count.
Disaster on defense
It looks like giving up a 49-yard run on the first play and never being competitive in the game.
It looks like having such a talent deficit with the opponent that you fall behind 28-0 just over a minute into the second quarter, as the Dolphins did.
Dolphins icon Larry Csonka tweeted, “New personnel. Unrehearsed. This is tough to watch. “
Particularly on defense, which is coach Brian Flores’ forte. Obviously, he is not directing the Patriots defense anymore.
Nonetheless, all of the scheming and attention to detail and punitive dashes to the TNT (Takes No Talent) Wall were supposed to yield a unit that knew what it was doing out there, albeit limited in talent.
But this Dolphins defense look disorganized, clueless, lost.
It was a total pushover. It had no answer to Lamar Jackson and the Ravens.
Jackson produced the best passer rating (158.3) in Ravens history and rookie Marquise Brown debuted with 147 yards receiving, including touchdowns of 47 and 83 yards on his first two catches.
I didn’t think there was a scheme issue,” Flores said. “There was an execution problem and we weren’t getting aligned. We’ll be better next week.”
Seriously? Next week, Flores’ former team, the defending champion Patriots, come to town.
Trade fallout lingers
There may well be a morale problem, stemming from trading away Laremy Tunsil, Kenny Stills and other veterans at the end of the preseason.
The Tunsil trade seems a reach too far into the tank. Left tackle is one of the cornerstone positions and he was a rising star still on his rookie contract. Sure, they got three high draft picks in the deal, but those will be late in the round from a good Texans team.
And they will need to draft someone to fill the void of Tunsil, which will be a reach.
Meanwhile, Sunday was no isolated bad day for the home team. Be prepared for a month of NFL Sunday’s like it.
For the aqua-clad people in the stands, it means little return in entertainment value on those pricy season-ticket plans.
That is what tanking the season is all about. It was on display in all of its teeth-gnashing splendor.
“We’ve got problems on offense, defense and special teams. We’ll try to fix them all,” Flores said. “Schematically from a personnel standpoint, we’ll try to fix them all. We’ll try to put our players in the best position to win. We’ve got a lot of work to do from that standpoint.”
Problem is, there is no immediate fix for this season.
Dolfans can point to a huge cache of future draft choices as hope for the future. But this game illuminated how much talent will have to be mined from upcoming drafts to field a competitive team, and gave an indication of how long that could take.
Let there be no mistake, the Dolphins will be picking near, if not at the very top next April.
But there’s no guarantee the strategy of suffering through losing seasons and stockpiling draft picks will work.
Look at Cleveland, which endured a 1-31 stretch in 2016 and 2017. This is supposed to be the Browns’ year. They started it with a dud in a 43-13 loss to the Titans.
Imagine how their fans feel today. Probably worse than Dolfans.
Roster turnover hurts
There were some boos early from the home crowd at Hard Rock Stadium. They had one highlight moment to cheer when DeVante Parker made a leaping 49-yard catch between two defenders.
Quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick, who made history by starting for his eighth NFL team, led a spunky touchdown drive before the half, with undrafted rookie Preston Williams punctuating his first NFL TD catch with a resounding spike.
By halftime, with the Dolphins trailing 42-10, fans were sitting dumbfounded in their seats or retreating up the aisles, presumably to a bar.
The big question about the Dolphins going into the game wasn’t could they find a way to win?
It was, who are those guys?
I counted only 20 players who were on the roster last season. A dozen joined the team since the final preseason game. Fifteen hadn’t appeared in an NFL game before Sunday.
Two who had just joined the team started on the offensive line, Danny Isidora at right guard and Julien Davenport at right tackle. Jesse Davis, who played all preseason at right tackle, moved to left tackle.
An offense that aspires to be successful running the ball had 21 yards rushing, averaging 1.8 yards a carry.
Josh Rosen created a mild stir from those still watching when he entered late in the third quarter and threw a short completion on his first pass. His second pass was intercepted.
“He told us, let it sink in, remember this feeling,” said cornerback Eric Rowe, a former Patriot who was victimized on Brown’s first touchdown catch, said of Flores’ message to the team. “I think everybody is going to remember this feeling because that’s just going to motivate us to push harder in practice.”
“We’re going to let it sink in. Let that [expletive] hurt. Let it hurt, let it hurt, because it does,” safety Bobby McCain said.
Get used to it, folks. These are your 2019 Miami Dolphins. And it’s going to hurt. A lot.
Craig Davis has covered South Florida sports and teams, including the Dolphins, for four decades. Follow him on Twitter @CraigDavisRuns
(Photo of Ryan Fitzpatrick by Jasen Vinlove for USA Today)
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