Dolphins a class below, can't keep up with Bucs in 45-17 blowout
The Dolphins were a class below, maybe even multiple classes below, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in a 45-17 blowout loss at Raymond James Stadium, a fourth consecutive defeat that drops Miami to 1-4 ahead of a trip to London to face the winless Jacksonville Jaguars.

The team's season began with potential, potential that has been woefully unfulfilled through five games. And Sunday's loss to the defending champions was another painful reminder of how far the Dolphins still need to go and perhaps how short they've fallen in Year 3 of a rebuild.

The Dolphins were relatively competitive, trailing 24-17 at the end of the third quarter, before running back Leonard Fournette scored on a 5-yard run that started a string of 21 straight points from Tampa Bay to close the game.

"I know the score didn't reflect it," cornerback Byron Jones said, "but I saw a lot of guys making good plays here and there. It just wasn't consistent and it wasn't throughout the entire game." The Dolphins offense's search for cohesiveness continued, using the fifth starting offensive line combination in as many games. Austin Jackson shifted inside from left tackle to left guard, Liam Eichenberg went from right tackle to left tackle and Jesse Davis moved from left guard to right tackle.

Coach Brian Flores acknowledged after the game that the team "streamlined" its play-caller structure, allowing co-offensive coordinator George Godsey to relay the play instead of feeding it to quarterbacks coach Charlie Frye first. And the changes provided fleeting tangible results. Quarterback Jacoby Brissett, playing through an injured hamstring, completed 27-of-39 passes for 275 yards, two touchdowns and an interception, his best outing in his stint as starting quarterback.

Running back Myles Gaskin was more involved, catching a career-high 10 passes for 74 yards and two touchdowns. The Dolphins scored on their first two drives and averaged 5.2 yards per game, an improved showing for a unit that ranks among the league's worst offenses. But they couldn't keep up with a Buccaneers offense that entered the game with the top-ranked passing game. "I thought [Brissett] did a lot of good things, put us in some good positions," Flores said. "But we need a team effort to beat a team like that."

Tom Brady completed 30-of-41 passes for 411 yards and five touchdowns, unfazed by Miami's high-priced cornerback tandem of Jones and Xavien Howard. Brady targeted Howard on a pair of second-quarter touchdown passes to wide receiver Antonio Brown, part of 17 consecutive points as the Buccaneers took a 24-10 lead at halftime. Brady then found Jones covering wideout Mike Evans on a 34-yard touchdown pass that put Tampa Bay up 38-17 in the fourth quarter.

Howard and Jones' struggles were emblematic of a Dolphins defense that has struggled to stop teams on third down, issues that were no different against the Buccaneers. Tampa Bay converted 8 of 11 third-down opportunities as the Dolphins' streak of 26 games with a takeaway came to an end. The 558 yards allowed was the most under Flores since the Baltimore Ravens totaled 643 in Week 1 of the 2019 season, Flores' first game as head coach.

"I'm concerned," Flores said of the defense. "We're out of sync in a lot of ways. Run defense, pass defense, pass rush. We're a little bit of a step behind, I would say. We've got to make a lot of corrections. [There's] a lot of things we need to address, and we'll do that. We've been doing that. We've addressed some things, but we're not seeing the production on Sundays.

"Really, that's all that matters." Brissett said after the game that despite the early season results, "we actually are getting better." "I think we have the right group of guys that understand, ‘Hey, we didn't sign up for an easy task. It's not like everybody was saying that the Miami Dolphins might win the Super Bowl," he continued." But I think we have the right guys, the right men, the right coaches."

While the Dolphins may not have been considered Super Bowl contenders this season, the more pressing concern is that they've reverted to play that resembled the early stages of their rebuild, the darkest days of which were supposed to be behind the organization. And the more the team continues to lose, the longer questions about whether they have the right guys - from the decision-makers to the players - continue to percolate.

Quarterback Tua Tagovailoa's potential return from fractured ribs next week - Flores said the No. 5 overall pick in 2020 threw on Wednesday and Friday - could be a potential boost to a team that hasn't been able to recapture the magic of a surprise 10-win finish last season. But tight end Mike Gesicki acknowledged the offense's issues aren't solely linked to the quarterback, a statement that could be applied to the entire team.

"I don't think it's a one-guy thing," said Gesicki, who caught four passes for 43 yards. "I think it's 11 guys out there so we all have to come together and do our jobs and make plays when our opportunities present themselves. It doesn't matter who is back there. I think it's a lot more than one person and one guy. It's collectively a unit and a team."

Daniel Oyefusi, The Miami Herald, published 11 October 2021