This loss should be a win later. That’s the way to see Sunday night, if you think this Miami Dolphins team is any good.
They stepped up in class Sunday night and were outclassed. Their vaunted offense looked exposed. Their defense gave up 31 points. It was such a thorough drubbing the easy conclusion is the Dolphins can’t beat good teams, how they’re a fun team but Philadelphia is a tough team. And tough still wins in the NFL.
But if you turn over the game details — if you see the big plays of this defense, if you understand the mounting injuries of this night — you understand this 31-17 loss either is the end of something small or the beginning of something bigger. We’ll see how this team handles it.
Good teams forever take bad losses and learn from them. Bill Belichick left a second straight, double-digit September loss in 2018 and said later, “I knew I could build something with that team.” He saw a glimmer of good in the rubble. The Patriots won the Super Bowl.
Belichick was saying what screenwriter Ron Shelton said best in the movie, White Men Can’t Jump: “Sometimes when you win, you really lose, and sometimes when you lose, you really win.”
Meaning, did the Dolphins learn anything in Sunday’s loss? And what do they now do with it? Do the young players digest what a big NFL stage feels like? Does this offense clean up detail problems that didn’t matter against bad defenses? Do they blame the refs for having 10 more penalties — 10-0, actually — than Philadelphia or see their mistakes for what they were? Do they understand why the homefield really, really matters come playoffs?
Because what they take from their Philadelphia experience is more important to this season than anything from routing Carolina and the Giants the previous two weeks.
The troubling news is this offense goes nowhere if the line doesn’t get heathy. It’s troubling because there’s no indication left tackle Terron Armstead can stay healthy. It’s also normal in the NFL to be down a couple of other linemen, as the Dolphins were Sunday with center Connor Williams out and guard Isaiah Wynn hurt early in the game. Can it do better than Sunday?
Philadelphia’s great defensive line bullied the Dolphins offense. It gave up just 45 yards rushing to the league’s top-rushing offense. It neutralized the Dolphins speed for the most part.
Oh, Tua Tagovailoa-to-Tyreek Hill was still lethal, as their 27-yard touchdown showed. But most everything else was a replay of the Dolphins’ game in Buffalo, where a pass rush wrecked the passing game.
Still, the Dolphins were driving for a tying touchdown in the fourth quarter when Darius Slay intercepted Tagovailoa at the goal-line. And why did he? Because the ball was underthrown and Raheem Mostert and Jaylen Waddle were in the same area, bringing double the Eagles coverage with them.
“We had some small nuance details of some plays that, hats off to the Philadelphia Eagles because they made us pay every time,’’ coach Mike McDaniel said. “Maybe our track was a little too tight, or too wide or an offensive lineman was a hair off.”
Now to some better news: The defense is coming on. It matched a great Philadelphia offensive line in physicality. And big plays? Bradley Chubb caused one fumble to set up a field goal, Jerome Baker returned an interception for a touchdown and Jaelan Phillips had the first sack against right tackle Lane Johnson since 2020.
Philadelphia still put up 31 points, but put the game away after safety Jevon Holland and linebacker David Long collided, knocking each out in the fourth quarter (Long returned). The secondary also played without an injured Xavien Howard and soon will get back Jalen Ramsay. In other words, Vic Fangio’s defense is tracking to be a force come December.
Who will the Dolphins be by then? That’s the issue. They lost to a bigger, stronger, bullying team in Philadelphia. Mainly, they lost to a team with more experience of knowing who it is in big games.
Take that “Tush Push” play Philadelphia used for four, fourth-down conversions. Other teams try to mimic that play of pushing their quarterback for a first down. Only Philadelphia has the muscle and wherewithal to do it. They know who they are.
“It’s first-and-nine as I look at it,’’ coach Nick Sirianni said. He showed it, too, going for fourth-and-1 from the Eagles’ 26- and 37-yards lines on their late drive that ended with the touchdown to make it 31-17.
At one point, the Dolphins looked like they didn’t know who they were at all. They smacked of such desperation when nothing was going right that McDaniel dialed up a double-pass from Tagovailoa to Cedric Wilson Jr. to some downfield target that was covered. Hmm.
By game’s end, McDaniel was spot on in his first statement after the game:
“You have to feel what it’s like to play such a good team on the road,’’ he said. “Your margin for error is so small, and it’s an important building block along your progression for the season. If you’re going to lose games, you want it to be against a really good team, and you want it to hurt.”
They lost to a really good Philadelphia tam. It seemed to hurt. The question becomes what the Dolphins do with that hurt and if Sunday’s loss becomes a win later on.