The Dolphins have graduated from team-with-no-chance awful to team-that-does-just-enough-to-lose-late bad.
So .... progress?
But remember this:
Good teams win.
Bad teams lose.
And despite how much progress they’ve made and how good they looked for three quarters Sunday, the Dolphins remain a bad team.
Their latest way to lose: Play your best first half of the season, and then turn the ball over twice in the second, including a pick at the goal line. And for good measure: Allow an onside kick to be returned for a touchdown in the game’s final minute.
That was the story here Sunday, as the Dolphins lost 31-21 to the Bills to fall for the sixth time this season, and the ninth-straight time stretching back to 2018.
So no, there was no FitzMagic this day, in Ryan Fitzpatrick’s return to the stadium he called home for four seasons.
His third-quarter interception, thrown on a sideline pass to Isaiah Ford, gave the Bills all kinds of momentum.
And Preston Williams’ fourth-quarter fumble two possessions later gifted the Bills a touchdown and ended any realistic chance for the Dolphins.
Bills corner Tre’Davious White made both of those plays, jumping Ford’s route on the first and landing a knockout blow on the football on the second.
Williams — the Dolphins’ best rookie to date — said he was “moving it up to a tuck” when White “punched it out.”
“Definitely felt the momentum,” added Williams, who had six catches for 82 yards. “Wish I could have had that back.”
Josh Allen made the Dolphins pay for both turnovers, connecting with John Brown on a 20-yard touchdown (with Ryan Lewis in coverage) to give Buffalo a fourth-quarter lead, and then with Cole Beasley, who found space in front of Jomal Wiltz, on a 3-yarder to put the game away.
A bit of perspective before we pile on:
The Dolphins aren’t going anywhere this year, of course. Never were.
So there’s no functional difference between 14 losses, 15 losses or 16 losses, except perhaps draft positioning. (They kept pace with the equally winless Bengals Sunday in the pursuit of the No. 1 pick).
But Brian Flores wants to show progress for all of this time and effort spent on the 2019 season.
And while things are better on the margins, he still has not figured out how to win the second half. The Dolphins have now been outscored by 93 points after halftime — the biggest reason why they’re 0-6 and a league-worst minus-148 on the season.
Flores told reporters after the game that “this team needs to learn how to win.”
A good start would be converting red-zone trips into points and not allowing 98-yard touchdown drives.
Both went the wrong way for Miami to start the second half.
Fitzpatrick directed a 16-play drive that took 9:59 off the clock coming out of the break. Flores even green-lit a fake field goal to keep the drive alive. But Fitzpatrick threw a pick at the goal line, and it was all for naught.
The Bills took over at the 2. Twelve plays and 98 yards later, they were in the end zone and ahead for good.
“The talent’s there,” Dolphins linebacker Jerome Baker said. “Just have to play better as far as execution. You can’t have those little holding calls. You can’t have defenseless, pass interference, whatever it is. You can’t turn the ball over. You can’t line up wrong. Those things you can fix. Just line up right. Simple things you can take care of.”
At risk of being accused of excessive negativism, it’s fair to point out the many things the Dolphins did well Sunday.
▪ Protect Fitzpatrick, who was not sacked once and given time to complete 23 of 35 passes for 282 yards and a touchdown to DeVante Parker.
▪ Unearth a good starting running back in Mark Walton, who rushed for 66 yards on 14 carries after vaulting past Kenyan Drake and Kalen Ballage on the depth chart.
▪ Play better team defense, holding the Bills to 305 yards of offense, including just 188 passing, and getting stops on seven of 10 third downs.
▪ And showcase Williams, who continued to show that greatness might await him in the years to come — assuming his ball-security improves.
“I’m getting better every week,” Williams said. “Just finding out different things every week about myself. The first game I was just raw out here, running around like a rookie. Every week I’m getting more comfortable.”
He was speaking for himself, but might as well been talking for the entire Dolphins locker room.
Comfort is good. Wins are better.