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by Chris Shashaty, Phins.com Columnist

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Shock and dismay permeates Dolphinland in the wake of the worst loss since last season’s dumper against the Cleveland Browns.


There was no shame in losing the opener, on the road, to the world champion Pittsburgh Steelers. That was a tough draw for any team. The Dolphins seemed to play hard. We tipped our caps and moved on.


But this, losing at home to the crappy Bills, is an entirely different matter. Each and every Dolphin player and coach ought to be ashamed and just angry at themselves for an effort that was, quite frankly, appalling.



There’s just too much talent on this team, especially on offense, to be dominated by the Bills, one of the worst teams in the NFL.


It’s easy to take aim at Daunte Culpepper as the primary culprit. He is the starting QB and, as such, draws a high profile for what’s good and bad with this team today. But I found myself nodding in violent agreement with Bills LB London Fletcher during his postgame interview when he noted that Culpepper doesn’t look to be 100%.


''He is not healthy, not the same guy I've seen. He didn't have the mobility he usually has.''


And it’s not just his mobility. Far too many of his passes are missing the mark, the result of bad footwork and poor balance. The good news is that these things should come back to him; it’s just going to take time.


Remember, this is a guy who is still recovering from a very serious knee injury.


Nevertheless, it is now fair to question whether the Dolphins saw a healthier player in preseason than they truly had.


As it is with a major league baseball pitcher who wants to keep playing when his stuff just isn’t there, it is a coach’s job to know when to defer to prudence and give the football to someone else. As such, would it be better to give Joey Harrington the job until such time that Culpepper can protect himself better and get his game back up to par?


It is also fair to wonder whether Culpepper, so eager to wash away his bitter Minnesota exit, is pressing too hard and playing too tight. That pick he threw towards the end of the first half was a careless, desperate pass that defies any rational explanation.


Were his eyes even opened when he let that ball go?


The hard reality to consider is that the Dolphins will have a tough time winning games given Culpepper’s current level of play.


Meanwhile, there’s a lot of self-reflection that’s needed by other players and coaches as they face a must-win game versus the Tennessee Titans.


Next to Culpepper, perhaps the poster boy for the disaster on offense is Randy McMichael, one of the NFL’s most talented tight ends, getting beat in pass protection, committing stupid penalties (again), and dropping easy passes (again).


This was yet another game where he failed to show up, failed to live up to his contract. No one should be embarrassed today more than he, allowing two rookie safeties and second tier linebackers to handle him. A player of his ability should have had a monster day, been the difference-maker in this one.


Instead, he was invisible.


McMichael is too talented, too good, for that. He needs to decide right now whether he is truly the stuff of a champion or destined to finish his career elsewhere.


The same goes for many others. Indeed, there are other players that richly deserve to be called out, pages and pages worth of admonition that could be written.


However, keep in mind that much of the blame of where the Dolphins are today also rests with their stellar roster of highly paid coaches.


When you think your team is ready to play, and they’re not, something is wrong.


Nick Saban and Dom Capers, two of the most brilliant minds in defensive football today, outthinking and overloading their players with schemes that have clearly yet to be mastered, need to seriously question the speed of their approach.


There are just too many defenders too consistently out of position. At times, it is almost unwatchable.


On offense, things are worse. Mike Mularkey, Miami’s new coordinator, looking more and more like his old Bills self, may not have been the right man for the Dolphin job. Not that Mularkey isn’t capable, because he is, but one wonders if his philosophy can be spliced onto Scott Linehan’s system in just one offseason.


The offense seems to be a confused mess, totally lacking in identity or purpose right now.


If Saban were reading this he’d probably waive it all off with an admonition to focus on the process, not the results. And, to a large extent, he’d be right. But, as a teacher, he has to question whether some of his pupils are being left behind.


Look, Saban knows he doesn’t have the right personnel to do all that he wants. He knows that the production on the field has not been commensurate with the talent. He also knows there has to be a balance between learning and winning.


The players know they must bring outstanding effort and passion each and every week or nothing else matters.


Knowing and doing are two separate things. They’d better get it together soon or September will be the month that the music dies for the 2006 Dolphins.




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