The loss to the Green Bay Packers was a gut punch. To me, that bitter defeat has the potential to be a season-defining moment that sends the Miami Dolphins on a tailspin from which they might not recover.
So this week I am looking for signs this team is rebounding. I am searching for clues to see whether Sunday's loss will linger like a hangover after an all-night bender or whether the team is walking a straight line to the next assignment rather than being haunted by the past.
The Dolphins provided some of those clues on Tuesday. Oh, some players were honest. They said they still felt the sting of the loss a full two days after it was sealed.
"Even during practice I was kind of upset we lost the game," receiver Mike Wallace said. "I was still thinking about it. But once [Wednesday] comes, we've got a new gameplan. We got to let it go. It's tough to lose those type of games but we got to move forward. We'll be fine."
That's honest and expected. Let's face it, that game stung. And for many people the pain of failure is stubborn and hard to overcome while the satisfaction of victory is fleeting.
“I think it’s tough," cornerback Cortland Finnegan admitted. "I think when you had a good team right where we had them, it’s tough, but it’s the 24-hour rule. I think the Chicago Bears don’t give a rip what happened against the Green Bay Packers. So we’ve got to go out there and give them our best."
A football team is the united heartbeat of 53 individuals and a coaching staff. (Yeah, that's some prose). Anyway, even as there is only one heartbeat there are varying opinions and reactions. Some players said they had already moved forward.
The question is whether those players and the coaches will dominate over any lingering lack of confidence, or pain, or emotional bankruptcy in willing the entire group to pivot to the next game against the Chicago Bears.
Joe Philbin said he saw a tangible sign that the defeat is not lingering.
"I thought it was our best Tuesday practice of the year," Philbin said after a session that lasted approximately 90 minutes. "I know we had a tough hard-fought game the other day, but I thought our guys came out and really prepared extremely well. We’ve got a long way to go before the game and a lot more of the game plan to put in, but I thought we got off to a good start."
A good practice suggests the players were not sleepwalking. It suggests they were being professional and moving on to the next assignment.
But it is only one sign. It is still early in the week. Philbin and his coaches must be wary of a team liking wounds or picking at scars for too long. And so Philbin talked to the players about it.
“We talked a little bit in the team meeting." Philbin said. "We said look, ‘We’ve got to be tougher than that mentally.’ Really, as we all know, obviously it takes tremendous physical skill to be an NFL football player, but, once you get there, a lot of it is mental. So all of us, myself included, we all have to get back to work. This is an important game and we have to play well."
It is easier said than done.
"One hunderd percent honest, it's how bad you messed up or how great you did," defensive tackle Jared Odrick said. "Sometimes you want to move past a game, so you move on. Sometimes it's easier than others and sometimes it's harder than others.
"In terms of lingering and thinking of what you did, [a loss] will last through a good part of Monday. You're sitting there and thinking about what you did, what's going to be said when you go back into the building, what you're going to be corrected on or what you might be praised for. When it's a loss everything is going to be illuminated as much as when you win but either way, you have a game next week and you have to perform. You think about them. And part of you becoming a pro is forgetting about them. Learning from it, extracting the nutrients from a win or loss, but moving on to the next."
We'll see how well the Dolphins can move on to the next this week.