Quick 7 p.m. note: The Dolphins released third-string tight end Gator Hoskins and promoted tight end Gerell Robinson, a second-year player from Arizona State, to the 53-man roster.
Joe Philbin declined to say Monday if he expects to return as coach, but one thing is clear:
Stephen Ross has told confidantes he plans to explore the possibility of luring Jim Harbaugh from the 49ers if the Dolphins do not make the playoffs. Though the Dolphins haven’t been officially eliminated, they’re obviously not going to the playoffs.
Even if Ross doesn't get a sense that he has a chance to land Harbaugh, Philbin is still very much at risk, though it’s not yet certain if Philbin could somehow survive 9-7.
If Ross cannot lure Harbaugh, there’s no obvious second choice.
Ross has high regard for Tony Dungy, but Dungy has made clear he’s not returning to coaching. Ross also very much likes Jon Gruden, but Gruden tonight said he has signed an extension with ESPN through 2021.
Ross is expected to solicit input from a small inner circle including his New York-based sports executive (Matt Higgins), his president (Tom Garfinkel), special assistant Dan Marino, team consultant Mike Tannenbaum, and perhaps Carl Peterson (who has been less visible this season) and others that he respects around the league. In the past, he has sought counsel from Tony Dungy and Bill Polian.
As I noted two months ago, it wouldn’t be surprising if Tannenbaum recommended any of the clients that his agency represents, a group that includes Seahawks defensive coordinator Dan Quinn, Falcons offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter and Bengals offensive coordinator Hue Jackson.
It also wouldn’t be surprising if Tannenbaum gives Ross some positive feedback on Rex Ryan, who is widely expected to be fired by the Jets after the season. Tannenbaum and Ryan worked together with the Jets.
The Dolphins’ past three head coaching hires have been assistants. If Ross cannot lure Harbaugh but wants to hire an experienced coach, appealing college options would include Texas A&M’s Mike Sumlin and Auburn’s Gus Malzahn.
Sumlin denied overtures from NFL teams last offseason, and Malzahn --- when linked to the Cleveland Browns opening last offseason – insisted he was committed to staying at Auburn.
Here’s where the franchise stands after prolonged mediocrity:
### They have just one winning season in the past eight years (11-5 under Tony Sparano in 2008) and are 60-82 over those eight seasons and this one.
### They’ve had only one playoff appearances in the past 13 years. The past five seasons, before this one, ended 7-9, 7-9, 6-10, 7-9 and 8-8. These Dolphins are 7-7 with home games left against the Vikings and Jets.
### Since the 2001 season, the Dolphins have gone 103-119, compared with 169-53 for the Patriots, who have won the AFC East 12 of those 14 seasons.
On Monday, Philbin declined to say whether his body of work warrants a return.
“What my focus is and the team and staff is, this week, this is game 15, this is the 2014 season," he said. "What’s happened in the past certainly at some point in time is relevant, but right now what’s relevant is getting our team to play up to their potential for 60 minutes against the Minnesota Vikings. That’s really all that is important to me right now.”
He said he spoke with Ross in the aftermath Sunday and the focus of the conversation was the Patriots game. “He and I talked. We’ll talk again a number of times throughout the course of the week. We’re both disappointed in how the team performed in the second half.
“We just talked in general about the game. Anytime you are down by one point and you end up losing by 28 (points), if that’s the final number, there were some things we didn’t execute well enough. We didn’t perform well enough in the second half. We were both disappointed. Players were disappointed. Coaches are disappointed. Owners are disappointed. I think that’s understandable.”
Philbin said he’s not surprised that several players rose to his defense after the game because “we have an outstanding locker room. I think we have an excellent working relationship, our staff, with the players and the players with the staff. It’s a mutual thing. I’m not surprised.”
None of the Dolphins’ seven losses are against teams that currently have a losing record. Asked if most of the teams the Dolphins lost to simply have more talent, Philbin said: “I don’t believe that.”
So has the team underachieved?
“I go into every game thinking we’re going to win every single game,” Philbin said. “So I want to win every game that we play. Part of my job is to get the team to play up to their potential each and every week. So to that degree, certainly I feel like we could do better. And that’s a fact. But I’m not sitting, again, the season still has got two more weeks. There’s still more football to be played and we have to see how this thing finishes out.”
Asked if it’s difficult to focus on the final two games with his future in jeopardy, Philbin said: “You’re a professional. I’ve been in this business for a long time. I’m excited about getting team read for Vikings.”
Philbin’s challenge now is motivating a team with very little to play for.
"What I told the team yesterday is what we really have to do is keep our minds focused on playing a 60-minute football game because it’s obvious, we’re disappointed at the way we’ve played in the second half the last couple of weeks,” he said. “We certainly have to play 60 minutes…. That’s certainly one thing the last few weeks have proven. Winning in this league, I think we all know this, we haven’t demonstrated it enough this year, is playing a full game.”
On the motivation issue, defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle said: “You are dealing with professionals, guys that have a great deal of pride in what they do. We’ve got a great group of guys. I still believe in those guys. Hopefully we can play better and not make some of the mistakes we’ve been making down the stretch.”
Offensive coordinator Bill Lazor, asked if he has begun to reflect on the future and the uncertainty of this staff’s status, said “No. We’ve all done this too many times to let this thing affect us. We have to win a game this week. We are moving on – giving everything we have to the Minnesota Vikings. When they walk in the door, they will great our greatest effort to help get a W this week.”
### Among other things that troubled Philbin about Sunday’s 41-13 loss and in recent weeks: “There has been too much inconsistency, that’s for sure. When you look at yesterday’s game, in the second half, we went out there and obviously we had played relatively well on defense in the first half, but the opening drive we gave up a couple of explosive plays, big plays.
"We didn’t respond well on offense, we went three and out and I think we came up a yard or two short. Then they drove the ball down and kicked a field goal if I’m not mistaken. Then we had an interception on one play. So pretty quickly things turned against us, we got down by 18 and didn’t respond well offensively. We’ve got to find a way to make more plays. We didn’t complement each other as a football team in the second half the way we needed to. We didn’t make them work hard enough for some of their points.... [With rund defense], we had a couple fundamental things we didn’t do well the other day, schematically, certain things that need to be fixed.”
Two questionable strategy decisions during Sunday’s game:
### Why did Bill Lazor call a handoff to Lamar Miller on a third and six on the Patriots’ first possession, which preceded a blocked field goal, and on a third and three early in the second half, which also failed?
“I thought earlier in the season we ran the ball a little more on third down than at the midpoint in the season,” Lazor said. “When you find runs that you think are going to convert third downs into first downs, you should use them. The third and 6 run, third and 3 run at beginning of second half, we felt great about them. Both of them failed. That was disappointing.”
Also, considering Dion Jordan had success covering Rob Gronkowski in the past, why wasn’t he given that assignment more Sunday? Jordan played just 18 of Miami's 65 defensive snaps and just four or five with coverage on Gronkowski, according to Coyle. Jason Trusnik, Philip Wheeler and Jimmy Wilson were all beaten by Gronkowski in the second half.
Coyle said much of Gronkowski’s success came on early downs when “we don’t have substitution defense in. Deon did a very good job [when matched up with Gronkowski]. As I’ve tried to explain, situations explain who you have in the game based on what a team’s tendencies are."
### Miami’s depleted linebacker unit was shredded in pass coverage. Overall, Tom Brady completed 4 of 5 passes for 55 yards against Trusnik, 3 for 3 for 62 yards against Wheeler and 2 for 2 for 19 yards against Sheppard.
“They did a good job. They competed,” Coyle said. “Kelvin in his first real action did a good job. He was very active, tackled well. He was calling the defense."
### Wilson, who replaced injured Louis Delmas at safety, allowed four of four passes thrown against him for 74 yards and a touchdown.
### Tannehill completed 3 of 7 passes that were thrown 20 yards or more, for 104 yards. He entered the game 8 for 35 on those throws.
“Ryan had a number of deep balls as good as any we’ve seen him throw in games,” Lazor said. “It was a boost to hit one [to start]. He had some good ones. We thought we would have some opportunities for them. We have seen improvement in practice. We felt like it should be showing up in the game."
### Where in the world has this team’s pass rush gone? The Dolphins had no sacks “and we didn’t get to [Brady] enough," Coyle said. "We have to a do better job. He has only been sacked 18 times in the season.”
### Lazor, on Jarvis Landry: “Jarvis is rare. He’s exceptional in his approach for a young guy. This week, he proved he could learn to study particular DBs. The sky is the limit for Jarvis. I wasn’t surprised” that the Patriots often had Darrelle Revis on Landry.
### Lazor: For three quarters, “I thought we protected pretty well” before it fell apart. All four sacks were in the second half. “It’s our responsibility to keep the game the way we wanted. We started the second half poorly. Offensively, that’s where we failed.”
### Jamar Taylor, coming off a separated shoulder, did not play in the game, but Coyle indicated that was a coach's decision, not a health-driven decision.