ARLINGTON, Texas — As the blowout losses continue to pile up, the Miami Dolphins (0-3) are approaching their nightmare start to the 2019 NFL season with a combination of frustration, concern and prideful confidence that it will get better — eventually.
How Dolphins players are handling the team’s extreme rebuild varies by player but the consensus is they do not want sympathy. They don’t want to be handled with kid gloves based on their talent dearth or status as the NFL’s worst team. They want you to judge them by their results, even if it takes a while for those to turn positive.
In a 31-6 loss at the Dallas Cowboys Sunday, the Dolphins played their most competitive game yet thanks to an initial spark from quarterback Josh Rosen in his first start and thanks to strong first-half defense before the team fell apart.
The Dolphins’ game looked like a tiny sign of positive progress for those who have watched the first three losses. But, a 25-point loss is still a 25-point loss.
“We work too hard. We don’t take moral victories. The situation is we are 0-3,” running back Kenyan Drake said. “We are going to continue to improve but we have to win games. This league is built upon results. The result is 31-6. You can write whatever about this team looks better than the last two weeks, but it’s still 0-3, and that’s the ultimate thing.”
Fellow running back Kalen Ballage added: “I’m seeing progress, but at the end of the day, it doesn’t go on the schedule as progress. It’s a win or a loss.”
If the Dolphins want to be graded by wins and losses — a noble request, right? — then they will be hard-pressed to earn anything higher than an F this season.
Miami has reason for optimism with regard to the long-term future, based on the team’s war chest of draft picks and copious salary-cap space in 2020 — likely to be more than $100 million. But there isn’t much we have seen with the Dolphins’ current team that gives much reason for hope (yet).
“The results are not what we want them to be, but in time it will turn,” coach Brian Flores said.
Rosen’s play on Sunday led to more aggression and excitement for a cold Miami offense, including four Dolphins drives deep into Dallas territory. The Dolphins, averaging 192 yards a game entering Week 3, eclipsed that average in the first half alone with 218.
But six points is an indictment on the Dolphins’ mistake-prone offense, which was stung by several drops and an untimely Drake fumble, among other errors. Also, it’s troubling to see how far away the Dolphins’ offensive line is from the league average, particularly because the team identified rebuilding the trenches as one of its top offseason priorities. The O-line held up OK for some of the Dallas game, but it was primarily because of the blocking help provided from tight ends, backs and receivers.
“As an organization, we are just trying to find our identity,” Rosen said. “We are all a really determined group of guys that are really prideful and just want to put a good product of football on the field, something that we feel proud about. I think we are getting there. I just don’t think we’ve quite hit that hump.”
The Dolphins are not close to that hump. The next step is to find a way to keep a game within single digits. Miami’s -117 point differential through three games is the worst in the Super Bowl era.
The most alarming issue of the Dolphins’ bad start is the defensive woes. We knew Miami’s offense would struggle, but the young defense — headed by Pro Bowl cornerback Xavien Howard — was supposed to be a strong nucleus for the team to rally around.
Miami ranks last in total defense, scoring defense and run defense through three NFL weeks. The Dolphins also rank in the bottom-five in pass defense and sacks.
“I am concerned with the defense. Run defense, pass defense, it doesn’t matter,” safety Bobby McCain said. “We give up 31 points, we give up  points, that is what I’m concerned about. It’s not one phase of the game. Defensively, we got our ass whooped.”
This isn’t just a player execution issue, either.
The Dolphins’ coaching staff was outschemed in their season-opening 59-10 loss to the Baltimore Ravens where they seemed shocked at Lamar Jackson’s throwing ability. Miami has also been outscored 68-0 in the second half of games, a sign whatever is being said or done at halftime isn’t working.
“As a staff, we’ve got to do a better job with our second-half adjustments,” Flores said.
It’s a good sign in accountability that the Dolphins want to be judged by their results, not simply by slight positive progress, but Miami is still far away from hitting the hump Rosen & Co. are striving to get over.