Tua, Dolphins unravel vs. Packers, putting playoff hopes in doubt

MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. – Miami Dolphins first-year coach Mike McDaniel loves to say adversity brings opportunity. But the Dolphins’ prime opportunity to reach the postseason might be slipping away.

Quarterback Tua Tagovailoa threw three interceptions on consecutive drives in the fourth quarter, and the Dolphins fell at home 26-20 to the Green Bay Packers on Sunday, spoiling Christmas for some in Miami.

“Just very unfortunate. It was just terrible how everything ended,” Tagovailoa said. “Like I told the guys, that’s on me. I will definitely get better from that.”

The Dolphins (8-7) might need to do some soul searching after this one, although many players insist they remain confident heading into their final two games.

They’ve lost four in a row (to the San Francisco 49ers, Los Angeles Chargers, Buffalo Bills and Packers) and have been embarrassed for the third straight time in a marquee game. And they’re clinging onto the No. 7 and final playoff seed in the AFC by a thread after a 0-4 December.

Follow every game: Latest NFL Scores and Schedules

Just look at how poorly Tagovailoa squandered Miami’s opportunity late against Green Bay:

After Aaron Rodgers threw an interception to Dolphins rookie Kader Kohou early in the fourth quarter of a 20-20 game, Tagovailoa overthrew Tyreek Hill on the first play of the ensuing drive.

“On the first one, I tried to throw it over a defender, but I ended up really throwing over the defender and Tyreek, so that one got away,” Tagovailoa said.

NFL WEEK 16: Scores, recaps and higlights from all the games

PLAYOFF PICTURE: Jaguars move into playoff field, Bills win AFC East

The second one was even more disappointing. The Dolphins held the Packers to a field goal, and 23-20 lead. And Tagovailoa was surgical on the ensuing drive.

He threw a 16-yard bullet high enough for Jaylen Waddle to secure. He threw a 10-yard pass down the middle to Trent Sherfield to convert on 3rd and 7. And he found Hill streaking in the middle of the field for another first down to move the chains.

But Tagovailoa did not see Packers linebacker De’Vondre Campbell waiting over the middle as he tried to hit Mostert with a pass down the seam.

“The second one, I might have said the wrong play. I’m not too sure,” Tagovailoa said. “But there was just some communication errors on that.”

And with the Packers padding their score only with a field goal at 26-20 with 2:02 left, Tagovailoa saw Packers cornerback Rasul Douglas jump in front of tight end Mike Gesicki for the final blow on Christmas.

“Then, the third one was just not a good ball for my receivers to have been able to make a play on that,” Tagovailoa said.

“You know, it’s tough. You get an opportunity to play on Christmas Day against a really good team, and I go out there and really — not being able to put my best foot forward for our team.”

It was a horrible ending on the second coldest game in Dolphins history, with the game-time temperature at 46 degrees. The coldest was 40 degrees against Kansas City in 1989.

Miami has seen all three phases of the game deliver big plays worthy of playoff contention, while also providing the type of plays that will end their postseason hopes before they even reach them.

“No. I don’t think we have any soul searching like that,” Dolphins cornerback Xavien Howard said. “It was a good game. The ebbs and flow of the game. It was up and down.”

Sunday’s boom-or-bust day was a prime example for the Dolphins.

Waddle’s 84-yard touchdown in the first quarter, where he reached 21.68 yards, according to ESPN’s Next Gen Stats, was the highlight play of the day for Miami that gave the Dolphins a 10-3 lead early.

Hill’s 52-yard catch down to the 1-yard line set up Jeff Wilson’s touchdown and helped the Dolphins take a 20-13 lead into halftime.

The defense showed up, too. Miami allowed a 93-yard kickoff return after their first possession, but a sack by Dolphins linebacker Elandon Roberts of Rodgers forced a field goal.

Mostert’s fumble near the two-minute warning in the first half prevented Miami from running away with this one. The Packers pulled within 7 with a field goal and a 20-13 lead at halftime.

Tagovailoa and the Dolphins simply beat themselves in the second half.

“We’re very confident. I feel like we all know we’re a better team than what we’ve been showing,” Waddle said. “It not showing up on Sundays, obviously that’s not what we want, but we have to keep going, keep working, just keep playing.”

Losing to the Packers was disappointing, yes. But not entirely detrimental to Miami’s playoff hopes.

Just look at the field of teams behind them:

The New England Patriots, who they’ll travel to face next week and are sitting at 7-8, might be due for a win after losing two straight games in the final moments.The New York Jets are also 7-8 and have a quarterback crisis, with former No. 2 pick Zach Wilson struggling as backup Mike White recovers from a ribs injury.The Tennessee Titans are also 7-8 and just lost their fifth straight game Saturday — to the lowly Houston Texans — and allowed the Jacksonville Jaguars to take possession of the AFC South.And the 7-8 Pittsburgh Steelers edged out a wintery comeback win over the 6-9 Las Vegas Raiders on Saturday to get back in the mix.

The Dolphins don’t want to lose the Patriots or the Jets in their final two games, but they could still be in playoff contention if they lose one more game. But certainly not two.

The Dolphins still have everything to play for right in front of them. But this Christmas performance was certainly a disappointment.

“Our young team is having to learn the very, very hard way,” McDaniel said. “And so, nothing has really changed moving forward except for the fact that we were really expecting to cleanse ourselves of this feeling, and we’re going to have to wait another week to try to get right.”

This post appeared first on USA TODAY