Early in the first quarter in Frankfurt, Germany, Miami down a fast 7-0, a friend texted me, “How do you say ‘can’t win a big game’ in German?”
(Rhetorical question I’m sure, but the answer is “Ich kann kein großes spiel gewinnen.”)
Fan humor can be harsh not to mention premature, but my buddy’s snarky text seemed all the more apropos as the Dolphins’ deficit grew to 21-0 by halftime.
Miami had not been shut out in the first half in 40 games, since the 2021 season. Where was the NFL’s highest-scoring offense? It seemed the team forgot to pack it for the nine-hour flight.
The Dolphins would rally in the second half to lose to the Kansas City Chiefs, 21-14, a respectable loss if there can be such a thing. Kansas City used Travis Kelce mostly as a decoy; he caught only three balls for a mere 14 yards. But the champions found a way to win like one.
And the result proved my buddy’s early text to be foretelling, and a valid question for midseason consideration.
Can the Dolphins win a big game?
The team at 6-3 remains in solid playoff contention but record breaks down to 0-3 vs. good teams with winning records and 6-0 vs. everybody else.
Miami’s losses have been at Buffalo by 48-20, at Philadelphia by 31-17 and now vs. Chiefs by a touchdown.
Fins coach Mike McDaniel praised his team’s rebound from a 21-0 hole, saying, “I’m really, really encouraged by our mental fortitude.”
But Bradley Chubb was spot-on in saying, “Making it close isn’t good enough for us anymore. So we just got to find ways to win.”
Patrick Mahomes touchdown passes finished 75- and 95-yard drives to make it 14-0.
Then came the killer.
With Miami driving late in the first half and positioned for a field goal (at least), Tyreek Hill — former Chief — had the football stripped from him after a catch, and Kansas City’s Bryan Cook returned the turnover 59 yards into the end zone after a lateral.
“At this point, it’s ourselves versus ourselves. We have to find a way to stop shooting ourselves in the foot,” said Hill, who had eight catches for a modest 63 yards. “It’s on me to make plays.”
The first half felt like the return f the bad old Dolphins. The team that couldn’t, faced third-and-long downs, had ill-timed penalties. (Granted, the second-ranked Chiefs scoring defense had something to do with that.)
The second half was the opposite.
Tua Tagovailoa’s 31-yard scoring strike to Cedrick Wilson Jr. put Miami on the board, then, after a Mahomes fumble recovered by Zach Sieler at the Kansas City 27, Raheem Mostert’s 13-yard TD run drew the Fins within 21-14 as the third quarter expired. Aiding and abetting the score: Chief Chris Jones’ personal foul on 3rd-and-20 giving Miami a first down in one of the stupidest fouls I have ever witnessed.
Miami had a chance late to tie it and force overtime. Mostert’s consecutive 26- and 19-yard runs helped move the Fins to the Chiefs’ 31 with 1:03 left, when a rather unimaginable ending was in store.
Tagovailoa in shotgun formation on fourth-and-10 saw a slightly errant snap glance off his hands, he fell on the ball, the Chiefs took a couple of knees and the game was over anticlimactically.
“I gotta catch the ball,” said Tagovailoa. “Can’t end the game like that.”
Was not a perfect snap, maybe one Tagovailoa should have handled, but that’s moot now.
The Miami Dolphins had a huge opportunity — an international stage vs. the reigning Super Bowl champions — to prove they can play with the biggest f the big boys.
They did not.
This felt like maybe the biggest regular season game of this century for a franchise that last won a playoff game in the year 2000.
If only symbolically, this was the Dolphins’ chance to show they had arrived as elite, as a Super Bowl favorite.
They did not.
The season is only half done, nine games in and eight yet to go. And yes, for Miami, this season could still end up in a Super Bowl.
But Sunday was a chance for the Dolphins to prove to everyone — to their fans, to the Chiefs, to the NFL, to the world — that Miami can beat anybody, anywhere, even the best.
They did not.
The postgame narrative from Your Friend the Media naturally was that Miami for a third time this season had failed in a major road test against a Super Bowl-quality opponent.
Such story lines are seen as negative and not liked by players who’ve just lost.
“I’m not paying attention to the narratives that are trying to be created against us,” said Christian Wilkins, for example.
But I liked, no, loved, McDaniels’ don’t-dodge-reality reaction on the matter.
“If you want the narrative to change,” he said, “change the narrative.”
The best if not only way to prove you are a really good team, Dolphins, is to start beating teams that are really good.