« November 2012 | Main | January 2013 »

73 posts from December 2012

December 05, 2012

It's on: Dansby-Burnett vs Willis-Bowman

This is what's going on at Dolphins camp today:

I spent some time talking with Karlos Dansby today. I can report that the brace he was using on his left upper arm during the time he's been playing with a torn left biceps came off today. Dansby says he will not be using it anymore in practice or games because he feels well enough to go without it.

This is a big deal to him because the brace restricts his arm mobility and, he said, was one reason he missed an interception at Buffalo a few weeks ago. He wanted to reach with his left arm but couldn't so instead had to try and snatch the football with only one arm.

Dansby said playing without the brace will be better for him and as evidence he said he had an interception in practice today.

As you know, Dansby had questions about whether Cameron Wake and Jared Odrick should have been in against the New England Patriots late in the game Sunday. I know that Philbin doesn't like being second-guessed publicly. Who does?

But despite being uncomfortable with the topic, Philbin said he did not cover the issue with Dansby today -- the first day the Dolphins reconvened since Dansby's comments.

"I've made my comments in regards to my feelings about the play-time earlier," Philbin said. "There's always decisions that have to be made in a game with regard to who's playing, who's not playing. Those sometimes change in the midst of a game based on a variety of factors. That's done and that's been over with and now it's on to San Francisco."

So, I pressed, did Philbin talk to Dansby about it?

"No," he said under his breath. "Again, I'm going to tell you the focus on mine and our football team is on playing San Francisco."

Fair.

Two things: Philbin did speak with the entire team when Chad Johnson was cut and several players, including Dansby, disagreed with that call. Also, it is possible Philbin will speak with Dansby either later today or later in the week about the topic. It's also possible it doesn't get addressed at all.

The coach clearly wasn't eager to discuss this anymore.

Dansby and Kevin Burnett this week believe there's an opportunity for them to make a lasting impression on the league because they expect comparisons between themselves and San Francisco linebackers Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman.

"Those guys are great, they really are, they do a great job," Dansby said. "So KB and I know this is a chance for us to play our game and show what we can do so people will see how we compare."

If Dansby and Burnett, who have been good contributors, decide a little rivalry with Bowman and Willis is good motivation, then have at it, gentlemen.

----------

Reggie Bush is expecting a hard-nosed game against San Francisco.

"It's going to be a tough game," he said today. "Make no mistake about it, this is probably going to be the most physical game we've played all year to date ... It's going to be a grind-it-out football game. It's going to be one by three points, seven points.

"We're going to have opportunities to make plays this game but it's going to come down to our effort, our ability to execute and how bad we want to win."

Bush went on to say the Dolphins will "have to play an almost near-perfect game to win."

As has been discussed countless times in this cyberspace, Bush is a mismatch against linebackers in the passing game. And yet, the Dolphins don't use him a lot in that role. Bush has only 28 catches on the season -- mostly on check-down passes.

You ever wonder why the Dolphins don't use him more in the passing game? Bush has.

"Yeah, I wonder about it," he said. "But it's not really my decision to make. The tape is there. The proof is there. If they need me to go run routes, I think they know I can do it. I've done it in practice. It's a matter of scheme and how they feel."

Through 12 gamess Moore was better than Tannehill

Remember when Joe Philbin, faced with a rebuilding year, staunchly refused to admit the Dolphins were rebuilding?

We all expected it to be a rebuilding season and knew for certain it was coming when rookie Ryan Tannehill won the starting job in the preseason. Let's face it, many rookies need time to acclimate and grow into the quarterback position in the NFL.

(Well, maybe not Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin III, and Russell Wilson but you get the idea).

The point is Tannehill has so far proven one thing this year and it is not that he's a future franchise quarterback. He's proven what everyone said before the draft was right. He's raw, he's inexperienced, he's a project.

The proof of this is not so much how Tannehill compares to the other rookie quarterbacks within his own draft class. It is how he compares with the veteran who played with basically the same cast of talent in Miami last year.

The proof is how Tannehill compares to what Matt Moore did with the practically same offensive group last year. And this is the perfect time for that comparison because Tannehill has started 12 games for the Dolphins. And Moore started 12 games for the Dolphins in 2011.

Tannehill has completed 210 of 363 passes (57.9 completion percentage) for 2,559 yards. He has thrown seven TDs and 12 INTs. His quarterback rating is 72.3. The Dolphins are 5-7.

Moore in the same number of 2011 games completed 193 of 321 passes (60.1 percent) for 2,330 yards. He threw 16 TDs and 8 INTs. His quarterback rating was 88.7. The Dolphins were 6-6.

The comparison is valid now because obviously the number of games between both players is equal. But the point is not necessarily that Moore was better.

The point is the Dolphins this year have taken a step backward in quarterback performance. Moore delivered better QB play than Tannehill but still was not deemed good enough because Miami drafted a quarterback in the first round and signed another accomplished veteran in David Garrard.

But now the Dolphins are accepting worse quarterback play with the expectation that today's pain will lead to tomorrow's gain. No one is saying that Tannehill should be benched -- even Philbin this week admitted he's not considered it at all this season.

And no is is suggesting the Dolphins will need to look for another (better) quarterback in the draft next year -- no one is saying it yet, anyway.

Why?

Because this is a rebuilding year. Tannehill is getting something of a pass this year.

Even if Philbin didn't want to admit it early on.

December 04, 2012

Jake Long done for the year: What now?

Jake Long's left triceps injury suffered Sunday against the New England Patriots means he's done for the 2012 season. The Dolphins placed Long on the injured reserve list today, effectively ending his season.

The Dolphins have signed offensive tackle Patrick Brown and safety Tyrone Culver, on the team the past three seasons, was also re-signed. Defensive back Andreson Russell was also cut.

And the moves as they pertain to Long create all sorts of questions for the Dolphins.

In the short-term the Dolphins must figure out how to replace Long and how to replace the man who is replacing Long. Rookie right tackle Jonathan Martin moved from his starting right tackle to left tackle on Sunday and played well enough.

"I was making mistakes I hadn't made since high school, but that can be cleaned up," Martin said.

Indeed, filling the void at left tackle might not be a huge deal. Martin played left tackle at Stanford and was a solid LT prospect when he was drafted by the Dolphins in the second round. But the move creates something of a hole at right tackle.

The Dolphins on Sunday used Nate Garner to fill in at right tackle. But the team might also consider moving John Jerry to right tackle -- a position he played last year -- and filling in at right guard with Garner or someone else. (The latter is a less likely possibility because all the shuffling would put new starters at three positions rather than just two).

The interesting thing about this is it comes in a week the Dolphins face one of the top defensive fronts in the NFL so anything Miami does to fill the void left by Long's injury will be severely tested this weekend by the San Francisco 49ers.

Those are the short-term issues. The long-term issues are more problematic. And intriguing.

Long, you see, is unsigned after this season. So the Dolphins must decide what to do about a formerly elite left tackle who is not playing at that high level anymore and, indeed, seems to be steadily but surely breaking down as the years pass.

Do the Dolphins re-sign him to a long-term deal?

Do the Dolphins place the franchise tag on him for one year?

Do the allow Jake Long to simply walk away in free agency?

A highly-placed team source texted me Monday and said "all options available" and on the table to the team. There has been no decision to sign or not sign, franchise or not franchise Long at this moment. All options are open and the Dolphins will consider all of them. None have been eliminated at this point.

So let's go through them.

The franchise option: It would cost over $15 million to put the tag on Jake Long. He is obviously not worth it, not at his current level of play and recent injury history.

So why is this an option?

Franchising Long keeps him in Miami for at least one year. It basically rents him rather than buys him or allows him to leave. That means the Dolphins, a team that already has numerous holes on the roster, do not have to worry about filling another hole -- be it at left tackle or right tackle if Martin is moved to left tackle.

Also, Miami can afford it. If the Dolphins do not franchise Long and carry over their unused salary cap room, they will have over $40 million in cap space for 2013. That is a ton of cap room even for a team with 19 unsigned free agents. The projected cap figure is according to former NFL agent and National Football Post cap expert Joel Corry. Follow Joel on twitter (@corryjoel).

If the Dolphins franchise Long, they would have $25 million in salary cap space for 2013. That also is a lot of space.

Now, you might think of the $40 million number as Christmas because you envision signing Mike Wallace and Dwayne Bowe and Greg Jennings and then re-signing Brian Hartline and doing three or four other things. Stop. You know the Dolphins are not going to go nuts in free agency. They will add players. They're not adding a high-priced All-Star team. The philosophy Joe Philbin abides by is improving through the draft. General Manager Jeff Ireland would have to run directly counter to that to sign the All-Star team. And I'm not even sure Ireland believes in building a team through free agency.

The point is franchising Long -- regardless of what you think of the idea -- remains a possibility the Dolphins will weigh.

How about re-signing him to a long-term deal?

Well, Long is 27 years old. And he is established here in South Florida. He is a leader in the locker room. He's still a solid player even though he is no longer elite. He has value. He isn't a piece of scrap.

So it might be wise to offer him a bargain long-term deal. That is defined as something in the $6 million a year range. Yes, that would mean Long would have to take a nearly 50 percent pay cut. But it would also give him security for the next several years while also giving the Dolphins comfort about having Long for a while longer despite his recent injury history.

What seems totally out of the realm of possibility is the Dolphins signing Long to a record long-term deal. They did that once already when he was drafted No. 1 and immediately became the NFL's highest paid offensive lineman ever. And, as you see, Long is crawling to the end of that contract barely healthy.

Miami will not commit that mistake with a player showing signs of decline. (If they do, someone needs to be fired).

Long would certainly like this option. But the Dolphins would look foolish doing this if Long continues his decline and cannot even make it to the end of the deal. The Dolphins made this mistake with Vernon Carey and it didn't work out well.

The Dolphins could also let Long walk. There is precedence for letting the former No. 1 overall pick simply walk away once his rookie deal expires. The Houston Texans did exactly that in 2012. They survived quite well.

But the Dolphins don't have Houston's depth. The fact is letting Long walk creates a need in the draft or free agency. We shall see in the coming four weeks where that hole would be. If Martin plays well in that span, then the void won't be at left tackle.

Indeed, if Martin plays well, I'd say the chances of Long being back next season would be very small because it's much easier finding a right tackle than a left tackle. In many way, Martin has Long's future in his hands.

But what if Martin flubs? What if he shows he's probably not ready or suited to be an NFL left tackle? 

Do you still let Long go? Do you have faith, trust in confidence in your personnel department to the point you believe you can find a new left tackle in the draft or free agency? Decent LTs are not easy to find. So you're going to let one walk?

The next few weeks will give us clues. As for Sunday, that Long injury that ended his season accomplihed only one thing:

As a Dolphins source told me, "it didn't help" matters at all."

Karlos Dansby disagrees with Philbin and Coyle

You already know that Dolphins defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle had both Cameron Wake and Jared Odrick, both starters, out of the game in the fourth quarter on Sunday against New England when the Patriots got the ball with seven minutes left to play.

And the Patriots began a march that sealed the victory for them and during that march, Cameron Wake tried to get in the game at least once that I know of, but was told to stay out.

Coyle defended the move of having his best players out of the game by saying the team had plans of shuttling defensive linemen to keep everyone fresh and that was part of the plan. And Joe Philbin agreed with the strategy.

Well, defensive captain Karlos Dansby disagrees. During his weekly appearance on the Jorge Sedano Show on WQAM today, Dansby said he didn't even realize Wake and Odrick were not there because he was in the heat of the moment.

But told that was the case, Dansby obviously didn't like the idea.

"That's though, man. That's tough," Dansby said. "You have to go into the game with players that are going to have impact. That's how you got to look at it. I'm saying, they're starters, they need to be in the game. Period. That's how I look at it. You have to fight, but like I said, I'm not the coach. I can't make that decision."

Dansby plays every play every game. So does Kevin Burnett. How would he react if he was taken out for rest purposes?

"I know if it was me on the sideline, I'd be raising hell trying to get back in the game personally," he said. "That's just me."

The sound:

Karlos Dansby disagrees with Joe Philbin

 This is what Philbin said on the subject Monday:

"When you play the New England Patriots, it’s important with the way they play the game, the tempo that they have, it’s important to have guys that are fresh and ready to roll, and guys that can play hard every single snap. So that was our plan throughout the course of the game and we stuck with that plan and we were rotating guys throughout the course of the game. And we were doing so in that drive as well."

Well, it didn't work. But does Philbin stand by the decision?

"Absolutely," he said.

A couple of things went right against New England

I admit it. Sometimes after a loss it's hard for me to focus on what went right. I'm a results oriented person. The NFL is a results oriented league. If the Miami Dolphins lose, I want to know why and I want to expose those reasons.

But sometimes guys play well even in a loss.

So allow me a couple of moments to pick out a guy on offense and a guy on defense to write about here because both played well against the Patriots.

Defensively, Reshad Jones was outstanding.

He had the interception and the return for a touchdown that was nullified by a penalty. He also had 10 tackles, including a sack, had a quarterback hurry, and a pass defensed. And it was not necessarily a surprise.

Jones has been coming on strong for a few weeks now. Sunday marked the second time in three games he's had double-figure tackles. The guy is playing well and is fast emerging as a fine safety.

"I think I’ve mentioned this throughout the season, I’m seeing a young player that’s becoming one of the better players at his position in the league right now," defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle said. "I think he is making plays in the pass game. The interception he made was exceptional. The run back was terrific. He had the sack. He had, I think, 10 or 11 tackles in the game, but he’s consistently starting to put one game after another together and he’s got a very high ceiling.

"I think he’s going to be a very, very good player for us."

Yeah, Jones was solid when Tony Sparano put him in the starting lineup last year. He's maturing. And Sunday was part of that process, perhaps the best part so far.

I also want to highlight the game Brian Hartline had.

To look  at his statistics, Hartline was merely good. He had five catches for 84 yards (16.8 yard per catch average). But if you watched the game you understand Hartline was the best receiver on the field for either team.

He was open by five yards on a deep shot down the middle of the field in the first half. The pass did not connect because quarterback Ryan Tannehill overthrew the pass.

He was open, again by a couple of yards, on another deep pass in the second half. Hartline read the defense and turned what was supposed to be a hook route into a deep attempt to blow the top off the defense.

And the play was there. But the pass from Tannehill was underthrown this time and so, again, no completion.

One thing I know: The Dolphins had better be wary of the New England Patriots trying to poach Hartline in free agency. I know it is a possibility because I know Bill Belichick likes Hartline and, more importantly, respects Hartline.

Perhaps that's the reason the Patriots put their best cover corner, Aqib Talib, on Hartline the entire game. And throughout the game, Hartline was open anyway. I expect that will get Belichick's attention. That's right, the same guy that had his sights on Wes Welker might be going back to the well in the offseason if Miami isn't careful.

Anyway, Hartline's statistics don't suggest it. But he also had a very good day against New England.

December 03, 2012

Special teams negatively affecting chance to win

The Dolphins special teams has had some great moments from Marcus Thigpen this year and got excellent all-around games from the entire unit, particularly at New York, this season.

But lately, the special teams have had to fight to merely keep from hurting Miami's chances of winning games. And on Sunday, special teams fully hurt Miami's chances to win the game.

Three weeks ago, special teams set the tone for the game (in exactly the wrong fashion) when Leodis McKelvin returned a first quarter punt 79 yards for a TD and a Bills lead.

Two weeks ago, the Dolphins fought to tie the game against Seattle in the fourth quarter and on the ensuing kickoff Leon Washington returned the kickoff 98 yards to give the Seahawks the lead again.

In fairness, it must be said that Thigpen eventually answered McKelvin's blow with a kickoff return TD of his own. And the Dolphin overcame the lapse against Seattle by rallying late.

But Sunday, there was no bailing out of the special teams by Thigpen or other units.

Yesterday, long snapper John Denney delivered a bad snap to punter Brandon Fields after Miami's first possession. And Fields didn't field the snap and then didn't cleanly grab the ball on the ground, having instead to snatch it twice. The hesitation was a killer so Fields decided to run to get himself daylight and a position to kick.

He was tackled at the Miami 12 yard line.

And the defense, put in a tough spot, could not save the Dolphins. They gave up a touchdown.

Seven points.

In the second quarter, the Dolphins apparently stopped Tom Brady and company on downs at his own 29 yard line. But when the Patriots punted, Jimmy Wilson rushed headlong into Zoltan Mesko's thigh. Roughing the punter. Fifteen yards.

The Partiots drive had new life at their own 44 yard line.

And, again, the defense wasn't able to bail out the special teams. The Patriots drove the rest of the way in 11 plays for another touchdown.

Fourteen points.

Obviously, it was not the special teams that gave up the points. Obviously the defense didn't provide heroics on the first New England opportunity and basically caved in giving up 56 yards more on the second New England opportunity.

But the Miami special teams cannot give up such opportunities.

As center Mike Pouncey said, "We have a low margin of error."

And the special teams lately has been hurting that margin.

 

Some curious coaching decisions on Sunday

I do not blame the Dolphins defense for Sunday's loss. I do not blame the coaching. I don't blame the special teams even though they cost the Dolphins points. I put the blame for Sunday's loss to the New England Patriots squarely on the collective shoulders of the Dolphins offense and its paltry touchdown production.

Ryan Tannehill cannot blow two easy TD throws as he did when Brian Hartline twice got behind the New England defense. Can't happen. I'll have more on that later.

But having said all that, I do see some curious work being done by the coaching staff.

My first issue is the manner in which the Dolphins use their running backs:

I do not understand the love affair with Daniel Thomas. I do not understand the underuse of Reggie Bush. I do not understand or like the shelving of Lamar Miller.

Firstly, let us establish that Bush is Miami's most productive running back. He averages 4.4 yards per carry and he gets the most carries practically every game. But why only a dozen carries or so?

Through 12 games Bush is averaging 13.75 carries a game. That's one carry less per game than last year on average so that doesn't seem to matter, but the thing that bothers me is there seems to be no room made for feeding the hot back and keeping the cold guy on the bench.

Yesterday, Bush was running well. He was averaging a healthy 4.3 yards per carry. Thomas was averaging 2.0 yards per carry. Yet, on several occasions, Bush came out and Thomas got to tote the football.

By the time the game was over, Thomas had five carries for 10 yards. Oh yeah, he also blocked the wrong guy on a blitz inside the red zone and it nearly got Ryan Tannehill broken in two. Nonetheless, the Dolphins insist Thomas is the next guy up and they continue to feed him when his stats suggest he is not on par with Bush while playing behind the same offensive line, in the same condidtions, in the same games, against the same opponents.

This year Thomas has gained 3.6 yards per carry. That's almost a yard less per carry than Bush.

Look, I'm not saying shelve Thomas. He has a place in the offense. But when things aren't working for him, or when the game situation dictates Bush is doing better, give Bush the carries Thomas would ordinarily get. Trust me, Bush isn't tired. He's in better shape than practically every guy on the team and he's healthy.

Then, of course, we have the continued non-use of Miller. I would understand not giving Bush enough carries if you're spreading them out to a guy who has proven in college that he can be dynamic. That is Miller. He was a 50-yard TD run waiting to happen at the University of Miami.

Yet, he is usually inactive and even when he is active -- like yesterday -- he often does not get any carries.

What makes Thomas better than Miller? Oh yeah, nothing. If he's missing blitzers, if he's averaging 2-yards a carry, what is the point?

And, with the season in its final month, why not trot out Miller more? Give him work. Let's see what he's got.

My point? Either ride Reggie Bush more or split the carries between Bush and Miller. Thomas? To me, he's running third in a three-horse race. To Miami coaches, he's a close second. I don't get it.

I also don't get the coaching decision on Cameron Wake in the final quarter.

With 8:28 to play and the Patriots protecting a tenuous 20-13 lead, New England got the ball at their own 20 yard line. Cameron Wake was on the Miami sideline -- not injured, not tired, standing by coaches with his helmet on waiting to be let in the game.

Then the Patriots ran off eight plays and churned three first downs with Wake on the sideline. Then Miami called a time out. And Wake remained on the sideline. Then New England ran two more plays, putting them at the Miami 18 yard line. And Wake was still on the sideline.

Finally, Miami called another time out and Wake was sent back in the game.

So at a pivotal juncture the Dolphins had their most productive defensive player on the sideline as the Patriots marched 62 yards and took over four minutes off the clock.

“They were running the ball," Philbin said, explaining the reason Wake wasn't playing. "We have a play count that we want to keep guys to [in order] to keep guys fresh."

Three things:

So a hard-and-fast play count determined in an air conditioned room during the week supercedes in-game situational needs that is before your eyes on the field on Sunday? 

Also, keep them fresh for what? The fifth quarter? Next week? Next year? It's the last chance the Dolphins had to stop New England. Try to do it with your best players on the field.

Also, the Patriots passed the ball during the drive. Brady completed passes of 8, 6 and 10 yards before Wake got back in the game. Think maybe Wake, among the league leaders in sacks, might have provided a bit more pressure on those plays?

[UPDATE: Philbin was questioned about having Wake on the sideline again during his noon Monday press conference. He repeated that the team has a plan about keeping players fresh and having a snap count for each player and that was the reason Wake was out. Asked if he sticks by that decision, Philbin said yes.]

Look, I think the Miami coaching staff generally is doing a good job with a flawed roster. They get it absolutely right about 85 percent of the time.

But turning Cameron Wake into a spectator in the fourth quarter when the game's on the line? Not using Reggie Bush or Lamar Miller more? Using Daniel Thomas like he's really good?

That's part of the 15 percent.

 

December 02, 2012

Dolphins fear worst as Long MRI Monday

Publicly, coach Joe Philbin barely acknowledged the Jake Long injury, saying after the game he had no update on the matter. And players who have been told not to comment on injuries towed the line. "Can't comment on injuries," Jonathan Martin said.

But privately?

Two players told me they heard Long tore his left triceps and one staffer said that's the early diagnosis. Long had an X-ray after the game whose results were inconclusive. Jeff Darlington of the NFL Network is reporting Long will have an MRI on Monday to get a clearer picture but that, "It doesn't look good."

If what everyone fears is reality, Martin is expected to take over at left tackle for the Dolphins. He played the position throughout the game Sunday. He was a left tackle at Stanford.

Long, meanwhile, will go into the offseason unsigned and uncertain of his future. The Dolphins can obviously try to sign him, franchise him, or let him test the market in free agency.

I doubt they allow him to test the market. Dolphins general manager Jeff Ireland has said in the past that Jake Long will finish his career with the Dolphins but, as you know, things can change in the NFL.

One never knows.

 

Patriots defeat the Dolphins 23-16

The defense played well but ultimately that salt-the-gane away drive that took 7:18 off the clock was a dagger.

The offense?

Brian Harline played well. Jonathan Martin was good enough in replacing the injured Jake Long at left tackle. Nate Garner was not terrible at right tackle.

Everyone else?

They were either bad, like Ryan Tannehill was. Or they were ghosts such as Anthony Fasano and Davone Bess.

Tannehill had 113 passing yards before the desperation drive in the final two minutes when New England was playing prevent defense and merely trying not to give up anything deep.The rookie finished with 187 passing yards on 13 of 29 passing.

As I said, the defense fought hard.

Brady only threw one TD. The same New England team that was averaging 450 yards per game the last month gained 323 yards

The Dolphins are 5-7.

Pats continue to lead Dolphins 17-10 going to fourth quarter

The Dolphins defense is playing its heart out.

The Patriots have had four possessions in the third quarter. And until Miami forced punts on three consecutive possessions and were fighting to do the same on the fourth as the quarter ended.

Unfortunately for the Dolphins, the offense has failed to move the ball. They failed to take advantage of remarkable field position at their own 49 yard line on the last possession.

The score remains 17-10.

The live blog continues in the comments section.

 

Patriots lead Dolphins 17-10 going to third quarter

For a couple of minutes there, this one looked like it was going to be a blowout by halftime.

Jake Long suffered a left triceps injury and is out -- leaving Jonathan Martin at LT and Nate Garner at RT. Ryan Tannehill was sacked and fumbled. The Patriots turned it into a TD.

And the visitors led 17-3 with Miami getting the ball on its own 3 yard line.

But the Miami Dolphins drove the length of the field, getting key runs from Ryan Tannehill and Reggie Bush, and a couple of good completions to Brian Hartline.

So it's 17-10. The game is still interesting.

The Dolphins are averaging 4.3 yards per carry and have 73 yards for the half. That's good. The Patriots are averaging only 1.3 yards per run. That's a problem for them.

There's still hope for Miami.

The live blog rolls on in the comments section. Join me there.

Patriots lead Dolphins 7-3 going to second quarter

It was a strange first quarter.

Brandon Fields got a bad snap from center, bobbled it, tried to run with it and got tackled inside his own 20 yard line. That eventually cost the Dolphins a TD.

They got that score back when Reshad Jones returned an interception for a TD. But an illegal block wiped that out. The Dolphins settled for a FG.

Patriots lead 7-3.

The fact Tom Brady threw an interception was news. He only has four for the season.

Brady is off so far today. Gives the Dolphins hope. But Ryan Tannehill is also off. He missed an easy long TD throw to Brian Hartline.

The live blog continues in the comments section.

The price of mediocrity? It's going up for the Dolphins

The Dolphins call this a measuring stick game.

And I would tell you that most observers who measure the Dolphins see them as a mediocre team -- at best. So what does a mediocre team do with starters that aren't quite stars but are good enough to threaten significant attention in free agency?

Whatever the Dolphins do it means the price of doing business with these players is going waaaay up after this season.

Whatever you think of Brian Hartline or Sean Smith or Randy Starks, all of them are going to get significant pay raises after their contract expire this year and heading into free agency. All of them. I tell you here the contract neighborhood those players expect to be after 2012.

I tell you where the contract talks are with those players. I also tell you here which player has had no contract negotiations with the Dolphins and is likely to be done playing for Miami after this season. (Hint: He plays running back).

Back to the measuring stick issue, today will offer comparison between the Dolphins and a team with championship aspirations. The Patriots, as you may know, are 18-0 in the second half of seasons since 2010, including 2-0 this year.

They're good.

So if the players we discuss above have a great game against New England or help the Dolphins beat the Patriots today, they will argue they're worth their high asking price. Fair.

But what if Miami loses? Does that mean those guys aren't worth it? I don't think so. The truth is the Dolphins can't really lose ground this offseason. They lost ground before this season in dealing away Brandon Marshall and Vontae Davis and now wide receiver and cornerback are team needs.

So they're going to lose Sean Smith or Brian Hartline -- a cornerback and wide receiver -- and make a hole a bigger hole? It's an interesting situation.

By the way, there's a live blog today. Starts in the comment section. I'll be there around kickoff.