4th straight loss leaves Dolphins reeling

STEVEN WINE (AP Sports Writer)
The Associated Press

DAVIE, Fla. (AP) -- The Miami Dolphins had little time Monday to dwell on their most dreadful day yet this year.

After blowing a two-touchdown lead at New England to lose their fourth game in a row, the Dolphins must regroup quickly to face first-place Cincinnati on Thursday. The quick turnaround might be for the best, because the latest defeat was one to forget.

''Obviously we aren't at an all-time high right now,'' quarterback Ryan Tannehill said. ''But we've got to get back on track. That's the only option we have with a short week. We've got to put this one behind us, learn from it and get ready to face a good team Thursday.''

Regrouping won't be easy after the collapse at Foxborough. Miami (3-4) was outscored 24-0 over the final 24 minutes to lose 27-17, accelerating a tailspin that began after the Dolphins won their first three games.

''If you don't have a strong locker room, if you don't have good character individuals, I think it could be a concern,'' coach Joe Philbin said. ''I have a lot of faith in our guys. I believe in them. I think we'll get this thing right and fixed. We have to do it quickly; this is a good team coming in here on Thursday night.''

The Dolphins have gone more than five weeks without a victory, and they'll be hard-pressed to end the drought against Cincinnati (6-2). The AFC North leaders extended their winning streak to four games Sunday by drubbing the Jets 49-9.

Sacks and turnovers were again the most glaring problems in the Dolphins' latest loss, but there's also a new, troubling trend. They had a shot at winning in the fourth quarter in each of the past three games but were outplayed each time.

''We've been a really good first-half team, but we're not a really good second-half team right now,'' receiver Mike Wallace said. ''We have to do a better job to close out games. We just have to step on their throat. We can't let up, that's all - the whole team, in all three phases.''

Tannehill's play has regressed in recent weeks, and the second-year quarterback has been especially erratic late in games, with a passer rating of 60.9 in the fourth quarter this season.

Poor protection remains part of the problem, despite the acquisition of left tackle Bryant McKinnie, who started Sunday after three days of practice with the Dolphins. The Patriots blitzed relentlessly in the second half, and Tannehill was sacked six times to tie his season high. His 32 sacks lead the NFL.

At times the Dolphins seemed ill-prepared to block blitzers, while receivers struggled to get open despite one-on-one coverage. The result was a sorry flurry of turnovers.

Tannehill lost a fumble on a sack and threw two interceptions, all after halftime. He's tied for third in the NFL with 14 turnovers - five lost fumbles and nine interceptions.

The Dolphins ran for a season-high 156 yards, but their run-pass balance again drew second-guessing. Offensive coordinator Mike Sherman is calling pass plays two-thirds of the time this season, which is fourth-highest in the league.

Compounding Miami's offensive problems, receiver Brandon Gibson was sidelined by a knee injury that may be season-ending. He has three of the nine touchdown catches Tannehill has thrown to wideouts in his 23 starts.

Newcomer Wallace, meanwhile, has only one score this year. Acquired last offseason to stretch defenses, he's on pace for career lows in receiving yardage and touchdowns.

Rookie kicker Caleb Sturgis is in a slump, too. He made his first 10 field-goal tries but is now 11 for 15, with one attempt blocked Sunday and another bouncing off the upright.

The defense hasn't been good enough to win lately, either. Miami ranks in the middle of the NFL pack in run defense, pass defense and takeaways, and has allowed 20 points or more in six consecutive games.

But while the Dolphins' woes are numerous, Wallace said the solution is simple.

''We go to work. That's all you can do,'' he said. ''Sitting here and saying that isn't going to get it done.''

The Dolphins are in danger of finishing below .500 for the fifth consecutive season, but even by their recent low standards, the current losing streak is a long one. Only one other time since 2007 have they lost four games in a row.

''I don't feel like the season is starting to slip away, because we have a great team,'' safety Jimmy Wilson said. ''We lost four in a row, so now we got to win four in a row.''


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