KANSAS CITY, Mo. — With two minutes left in the second quarter, Miami Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa dropped back to pass on a third-and-13. On the left side of the play, Kansas City Chiefs star cornerback L’Jarius Sneed jammed Tyreek Hill so hard that Hill damn near became a frozen artifact stuck in the tundra of Arrowhead Stadium.
On the right side of the play, Tagovailoa attempted to find an open receiver to convert for a first down, but was quickly ensnared in the grasp of a polar bear, otherwise known as Chiefs defensive end George Karlaftis. The Dolphins punted, leading to a Kansas City field goal right before halftime.
That drive encapsulated the game for a Dolphins offense that was essentially invisible for the most crucial stretch of Miami's season, a campaign that ended Saturday night with a 26-7 loss in the AFC wild-card round at Arrowhead Stadium. Over their final three games against the Ravens, Bills and Chiefs, the Dolphins managed to score only 40 points for an average of 13.3 points, well below the standard they had set for themselves in the 2023 season. The frigid elements of playing in the fourth-coldest game in NFL history can’t be blamed entirely for the Dolphins’ misfortunes on offense. The Chiefs moved the ball fairly easily throughout the night, which started with a game time temperature of -4 degrees. Kansas City reached the red zone six times (albeit, only two touchdowns).
The Dolphins just flat out didn’t play well.
“It sucks, brotha!” Tagovailoa succinctly said following the game. “I mean, losing sucks, in general. So, it doesn’t feel good, I can tell you that.”
Outside of a bomb to Hill that was converted for a 53-yard touchdown, the Dolphins didn’t have much by way of success on offense. Miami failed to log a single play in the red zone, didn’t attempt a field goal all night and had two drives end on fourth down in the fourth quarter.
“It’s a team sport,” Tagovailoa explained. “We didn’t come together the way we wanted to, offensively, and it showed tonight. As the leader of that offense, it really started with practices. That’s how we should’ve got things going, in practice. With the communication and knowing where we should be going in this loud environment.”
That lack of communication seems to be a consistent issue with what has largely been a productive, high-octane offense for the majority of the season. Tagovailoa and head coach Mike McDaniel brought up communication issues after their 31-17 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles earlier this season, but at least in that game they were missing a host of offensive linemen to potentially use as an excuse. This time around its starting to feel like a trend, particularly with how much success the Chiefs had blitzing later in the game.
“I would attest that to the communication errors that we’ve had,” Tagovailoa said about the Chiefs being able to disrupt their timing with blitzes. “Am I hearing the right formation? We’re getting out, but we have two motions that we have to use. So, it's maybe nine seconds left on the clock. We’re motioning, it’s about five seconds. We don’t have time to change. Now we gotta play and we gotta throw where our hots would be, where they pressured. [Chiefs defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo] had a great plan.”
Sneed was certainly part of that plan, saying "putting hands on their guys" was important in limiting chunk plays. Teammate Nick Bolton told NBC's KSHB that Sneed deserved a Pro Bowl nod, not the snub he received this month.
The Dolphins really just had no chance against the well-prepared, physical Chiefs defense. Outside of a 14-yard Tagovailoa scramble, the Dolphins were unable to log a single run over 10 yards. Without the explosives in the running game, the Dolphins, once again, were stuck in the worst game script.
“We can’t just be a bunch of frontrunners,” Hill said.
Do yourself a favor and watch Sneed wreck Tyreek here pic.twitter.com/qSXwzX3jvH
— Cody Tapp (@codybtapp) January 14, 2024
McDaniel and Tagovailoa were unwilling to speak on the future of the franchise, which now has several question marks heading into a pivotal offseason. Tagovailoa is entering a contract season in 2024 with increasing doubts on whether or not he can be the quarterback who eventually leads the Dolphins to a Super Bowl title, let alone their first playoff victory since the 2000 season. Star defensive lineman Christian Wilkins is slated to be an unrestricted free agent. And clearly, McDaniel has to find tweaks within his offense that can allow it to get past the tougher teams in the league. Right now, McDaniel doesn’t have much to say following another game where his team got punched in the mouth.
“It’s a tough time for me to give real feedback towards big picture questions,” McDaniel said. “We were thinking about one game at a time and trying to deliver to what we all wanted to deliver to the fan base which was a long-awaited playoff victory that we fell short of.”
McDaniel’s offense is a proven monster in the regular season and against the fodder non-playoff teams the league has to offer. The next step in his evolution for the Dolphins’ offense will be performing and not getting jammed up when it actually matters.