Collapse ensures another idle January for Dolphins

Cleaning out his locker Monday, Miami Dolphins receiver Mike

Wallace briefly examined a pair of gloves and took a whiff before

tossing them in the trash.

The aroma of the Dolphins’ late-season collapse will linger,

however.

To make the postseason for the first time in five years, all

Miami needed was to win one of its final two games against the

Buffalo Bills or the New York Jets, two teams out of the playoff

chase. Instead, the Dolphins lost to both by a combined score of

39-7 to finish 8-8, ensuring another idle January.

”Definitely a bad feeling, one we’ve got to make sure we don’t

feel again,” Wallace said.

The holiday-season swoon raises questions about the future of

sixth-year general manager Jeff Ireland and second-year coach Joe

Philbin. A midseason bullying scandal still under NFL investigation

might also weigh in any decision by owner Stephen Ross.

Philbin said he was already looking toward 2014.

”I have a lot of faith and confidence in myself and the staff

and in our players that we can make the corrections necessary to

lead this team to play up to its potential and consistently compete

for championships,” Philbin said. ”That’s what I said the day I

got here. I stand by what I said the day I got here, and I’m

confident I can do that.”

When asked if he had received assurances from Ross that he would

return next season, Philbin said, ”We haven’t even talked about

any of that stuff.”

One option for Ross is to order changes in Philbin’s staff,

starting with offensive coordinator Mike Sherman, whose unit ranked

27th in the NFL in yards. The Dolphins scored once in their final

24 possessions.

Ross spent more than $100 million in guaranteed money last

offseason to upgrade the roster, and the investment delivered only

slight improvement from a 7-9 record in 2012. The Dolphins were

outgained this season by 743 yards and were wildly

inconsistent.

They had four wins over teams that will be in the playoffs, the

most for any non-playoff team since 2009, according to STATS LLC.

They also lost three games to last-place teams. They went 4-4 at

home, 0-2 against the woeful Bills and 2-4 within the AFC East.

Philbin said his team is close to contending for titles.

”It was Week 17, and we had an opportunity to get into the

playoffs,” he said. ”We’re not there yet, but we’re close. …

We’re not that far away.”

The Dolphins did receive one bit of good news Monday: Receiver

Brian Hartline was diagnosed with a torn posterior cruciate

ligament in his left knee that will not require surgery, a person

familiar with the situation said. The person confirmed the

diagnosis to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because

the Dolphins don’t comment on injuries.

In the wake of a franchise-record 58 sacks allowed, offseason

upgrades will focus on the offensive line, which was depleted by

the bullying scandal when tackle Jonathan Martin left the team and

guard Richie Incognito was suspended. Neither is expected back with

Miami.

The Dolphins might be in the market for a running back, too.

Lamar Miller scored two touchdowns, the lowest total for a player

leading the Dolphins in rushing since 1980.

There will also be changes on defense, where the Dolphins ranked

a disappointing 21st. Pro Bowl cornerback Brent Grimes, cornerback

Nolan Carroll, defensive tackles Randy Starks and Paul Soliai, and

safety Chris Clemons become free agents this offseason.

For the Dolphins, the offseason began Monday. Defensive end

Olivier Vernon surveyed the scene as players quietly packed up and

slipped out of the locker room.

”Horrible, man. Miserable,” Vernon said. ”We expected to be

game-planning for a team this weekend. I don’t think anybody was

expecting this.”

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