Okay, so I can’t show you what it would look like if the Miami Dolphins played a college football team. But I can show you what it would look like if the Miami Dolphins played in a college football game, and were the college team.
By that I don’t mean to imply that the Dolphins are so minimally talented for an NFL team that they could lose to a college squad, though that may also be true. If anything, their 30-10 loss on Sunday to the Los Angeles Chargers was a display of talent too good to be on the Dolphins much longer. DeVante Parker had 70 yards on four catches, scored the team’s only touchdown, and looked generally useful; Kenyan Drake, mothballed early this season in favor of the eminently tackleable Kalen Ballage, had a modest 44 yards on nine carries, but from an athleticism standpoint was the one offensive player in white who jumped off the screen. As anyone who has played fantasy football in the last three years is aware, both Parker and Drake are tantalizing and ultimately disappointing, but if they continue to look so much like... real NFL players... the Dolphins will surely try and trade them, if not during the season then after it.
It wasn’t the game’s talent that was reminiscent of college football, it was its rhythm. The Chargers were 8-of-13 on third downs, which sounds fairly normal but is nonetheless the most instructive stat for explaining how the Dolphins were mercifully reduced to 0-4 on the season. “8-of-13 on third downs,” in this context, means that the Chargers basically seemed to not be trying very hard until they really needed to complete a pass in order to avoid the embarrassment of punting to the fuckin’ Dolphins, at which point Phillip Rivers would throw the ball 12 yards to someone you’ve probably barely heard of. It was a day in which the heavy favorite sleepwalked through the entire game except for a handful of important plays, in the process turning a slim halftime lead into a comfortable victory. This is extreme “Michigan faces off with Indiana, next on ESPN2” energy.
The game went on and on like this. Answer: Third-and-3. Question: “What is a 13-yard completion to Lance Kendricks?”
Another third-and-4 with the game tied at 10 and the Miami “crowd” “roaring?” 16-yard completion to Keenan Allen:
Third-and-9 with the game still tied? How about a 15-yard pass to someone named Andre Patton?
These plays are all from the first half, when the game was ostensibly competitive. The Chargers blanked the Dolphins 20-0 in the second half, the second straight week in which Miami looked competent in the first two quarters before their opponent stepped on the gas (accelerated to like 15 mph) and left them chewing dust. Inevitably, this led to a postgame in which Dolphins coach Brian Flores told the media things like the team needed to “learn how to win” and “play all 60 minutes” (there’s no way of knowing whether I’ve actually made these quotes up). Of course, nobody is buying this, least of all the Dolphins media; after the game, longtime Dolphins reporter Armando Salguero wrote what was obvious to all: the Chargers simply weren’t trying.
Finally, let’s address the elephant in the room and that is Miami’s second-half struggles this year. Flores blames himself and his coaches for their adjustments and his players for their execution.
I blame the other team. Because what I’ve seen in those games against New England, Dallas and even against the Chargers, was teams not consistently stepping on the accelerator in the first half against Miami.
And that made the Dolphins look pretty good by comparison. But once the other teams see themselves in a fight, they bow their backs in the second half and put the Dolphins away. It wasn’t that the Dolphins collapsed.
It was the other teams simply took Miami more seriously.
Line: Chargers by 14.5
Margin: Chargers by 20
Dolphins 2019 record against the spread: 0-4.
Reshad Jones is in his 10th NFL season. All 10 of those years have been with the Dolphins. He is a “lifer” (captive). Few people on this planet know the shame of the Dolphins as intimately as he does, and it is palpable in his play. On the Chargers’ first touchdown drive, Jones was beaten on third down by Kendricks, and then again later in the drive when he charged at a scrambling Rivers, abandoning running back Troymaine Pope (real player) who promptly caught a pass and scampered into the end zone. On the Chargers’ second touchdown, Austin Ekeler ran past Jones on the sideline with minimal effort.
Nobody on the Chargers played particularly poorly, but the team did suffer the ignominy of giving the Dolphins their first lead of the season. It came on a 34-yard pass to Parker on Miami’s first drive of the game. Frankly, it’s hard to tell who exactly on the Chargers screwed up—King looked over his shoulder to his teammates as Parker ran into the end zone as if he expected someone else to be there. But King was lined up on Parker when the play started, and CBS did cut to him and zoom in on his back and name immediately after Parker scored, which is enough embarrassment, really. It is the Dolphins, after all.
Oh, hey, it’s halftime... Kids, I’m running to the store for some cigarettes. I’ll be back soon. (No, I won’t.)