The unexpected playoff talk surrounding the Miami Dolphins has quieted down over the last three weeks. After a three game winning streak had thrust them into the media spotlight, the Dolphins failed to take advantage of a New England Patriots bye week, falling to the Indianapolis Colts by just 3 points. Had Miami pulled out the win in Indianapolis, they would have been tied with the Patriots for first in the AFC East, and maybe the last two weeks would have turned out a bit differently.
Instead, they lost against Indy and the pieces began to crumble around them.
They were blown out at home by the Tennessee Titans. Reggie Bush was benched for his 2nd lost fumble of the season; a decision not well received among the Dolphin players. They lost to the Buffalo Bills on Thursday Night Football, their only primetime appearance of the season. The offensive line has looked like junior varsity cast offs, with constant pressure causing their young quarterback to lose his poise and rush his reads. This resulted in 5 Ryan Tannehill interceptions in two games.
A team cannot make a playoff run with issues like this. Over this three game slide, the Dolphins have dropped down to the bottom of the AFC East, tied with both Buffalo and the New York Jets at 4-6.
While the Phins have been losing, the Pats have been winning, taking their record to 7-3, and establishing a commanding lead in the division. The New England offense has been clicking, and it has been looking like the Patriots early season troubles were just a bump in the road.
Unfortunately for New England, Rob Gronkowski, the Patriots superhuman tight end, broke his forearm on Sunday during his team’s dismantling of the Indianapolis Colts. The injury reportedly happened during an extra point try late in the game, ending Gronkowski’s day with just 137 yards and two touchdowns on his stat sheet.
The significance of this injury in terms of the Miami Dolphins is the importance of Gronkowski within the Patriot offense. If the Patriots were to struggle, the way they did at the beginning of the season when Bill Bellicheck was moving Wes Welker up and down the depth chart, the Dolphins have a chance to take advantage.
This is a stretch, but a look at the AFC Playoff picture shows only the 5-5 Cincinnati Bengals between the 4-6 teams and the 6-3 wild card teams. The Patriots sit just one win above that. If the Patriots were to falter as a result of Gronk’s broken arm, any team that goes on a streak could find themselves either playing for a wild card spot, or possibly the division title.
The Patriots still have several weapons, including one of the best quarterbacks in the game. They are by no means out of the picture now that Gronkowski can no longer suit up, but losing Gronk for 4-6 weeks puts a ton of pressure on the offense.
Ignore his playmaking ability, and the on field production he provides, and look at the way teams are forced to account for him at all times. His presence on the field opens up holes for his teammates, creating opportunities for both the receivers and the running backs to make plays. With Aaron Hernandez still sidelined with an ankle injury, and Welker struggling with an ankle issue of his own, Tom Brady may not find it so easy to run up the score on opponents. This puts more pressure on their 28th ranked defense.
The Dolphins have yet to meet up with the Patriots, meaning that their two game series could come at just the right time. As unlikely as it sounds, a season sweep of the Pats would put them in prime position to steal a spot on the January game slate.
For their part, Miami needs to solve whatever it is that has been plaguing them and win games. They have shown they are capable of being a complete team. Now it‘s on Joe Philbin to get his team back to their winning ways.
The chances of everything playing out just right may be slim, but crazier things have happened, and it’s up to the Dolphins whether, or not, they will be ready should the opportunity arise.
Jeff Everette is a Featured Columnist for RantSports.com, covering the NFL and NBA. Follow Jeff on twitter @jeverettesports, like his page on FaceBook, or add his Google + to your circles for all of his latest articles, thoughts, and rants.