The Dolphins fell to the division-rival New England Patriots on Sunday, 28-0, finishing the season with a 7-9 record.
The sting of missing out on the postseason shouldn’t linger too long, though, because throughout the year there were plenty of signs that the Dolphins are a team on the rise.
As the Dolphins head into an important offseason, here are my four key takeaways from the 2012 season.
- What If’s?: The Dolphins end the season with a final record of 7-9, a game below .500. That’s probably better than the local media had predicted, and it’s certainly better than the national perception prior to the start of the season. It was a year with plenty of close calls as the Dolphins lost four games by a total of 14 points (at Arizona; vs. New York; at Indianapolis; at Buffalo). It’s not a stretch to say the Dolphins had an opportunity to win those games as much as they lost them, especially the overtime games against Arizona and New York. Although Miami isn’t satisfied with missing the playoffs, I’d say this team exceeded expectations and bettered much of the preseason prognostications of where they would finish in the always-competitive AFC East.
- Building Blocks: There were a number of rookies, second- and third-year players that played a major role for the Dolphins this year and should continue to for years to come. It all starts at quarterback. Ryan Tannehill received great on-the-job training for 16 games in 2012 and it should benefit him greatly heading into year two. As the season moved on, Tannehill looked the part of an NFL quarterback, displaying a strong right arm and running the offense efficiently. He never really looked panicked or out of control, and his athleticism helped the Dolphins offense move the football. All Dolphins fans are certainly looking forward to year two and what the future may hold for the talented young signal caller. Another rookie starter, offensive lineman Jonathan Martin, played a significant role this year and his progression may be just as important in 2013. Other youngsters like running back Lamar Miller and wide receiver Rishard Matthews, both of whom received a bigger workload in the latter part of the season, should see extended playing time in their second seasons.
- Future Is Bright: There are a number of players on this team who should be the pillars of this organization in the years to come. Playmakers don’t always play quarterback or wide receiver Mike Pouncey proved that this season, His play was Pro Bowl-worthy on a consistent basis. He’s one of the guys coach Joe Philbin will look to for production and leadership going into his third season. That also holds true for Reshad Jones, a breakout defensive player for the Dolphins in 2012. The safety’s playmaking ability was outstanding both in coverage — a team-high four interceptions — and in the open field–Jones finished with 95 total tackles. He should thrive in year two of defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle’s system.
- Wants and Needs: Obviously, coach Philbin is going to make a thorough evaluation of this entire football team. Two of his goals moving forward are to create more explosive plays on offense and finding ways to take the football away on a more consistent basis. It’s obvious to me that this offense needs a playmaker at wide receiver to help the young quarterback and also to make it easier for Miami’s established receivers, Brian Hartline and Davone Bess. Defensively, it might not be as clear cut, but my gut tells me that Cam Wake needs a threat on the opposite side of the line who can draw some attention. That could open things up for the entire defense in 2013.