Dolphins need to make sure collapse against Titans doesn’t turn into a late-season skid



In the moments after the AFC East-leading Miami Dolphins blew a late 14-point lead to the Tennessee Titans, quarterback Tua Tagovailoa shook his head at the thought of the past.

Just last year, the Dolphins lost five straight December games during a stretch that nearly knocked them out of the playoffs and was reminiscent of collapses of years past.

Despite Miami’s lackluster offensive performance and head-scratching fourth-quarter undoing, Tagovailoa doesn’t believe Monday’s 28-27 home loss to the Titans has any correlation to previous years.

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“I don’t think this is the same Dolphins team that everyone thinks about,” Tagovailoa said. “We’ve got a lot of really good players. We’ve got really good coaches. It’s one home loss this year. It’s not like the world ends because we lost this game.”

Miami had a chance to become just the second AFC team (Baltimore) to reach 10 wins on the season and pad its lead atop the AFC East, but instead was knocked out of the top spot in the AFC after allowing Will Levis and the Titans to score twice in the final three minutes Monday to pull off the upset.

How the Dolphins (9-4) respond to their worst loss of their season will be crucial. After they host the New York Jets (5-8) Sunday, the Dolphins’ schedule toughens considerably with a home game against Dallas, a trip to Baltimore and a rematch against the Buffalo Bills — whom they lost to in Week 4 — in their regular-season finale.

“If this is what we needed to get into this playoff race and December football then that’s what we need,” said fullback Alec Ingold. “You take this one as a man and look in the mirror and go back and improve. You take this stinging feeling, this gut punch as a learning lesson that you can’t leave plays out there.”

The Dolphins still largely control their fate the rest of the season — they’ll clinch the AFC’s top seed and home-field advantage in the playoffs if they win the remaining four games on their schedule.

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They’ll likely need to get more healthy to do that. Looming over Monday’s game was the health of star receiver Tyreek Hill, who played just 34 snaps because of an ankle injury suffered in the first quarter.

Hill said after the game that he was trying to manage the pain in his left ankle as he was in and out most of the second half, but he couldn’t cut and change directions as he normally would.

As for his status going forward, Hill said he always expects to be available to play.

“That’s never a question in my head,” Hill said. “That’s never something that I would be thinking about. But if the trainers come to me, if they see something in the scans whenever I get these scans, they say, ‘hey, Reek, you can sit out,’ I do it. But me being me, I don’t want to sit out. I want to be able to help this team any way I can, and that’s just who I am. I just don’t want to miss any games.”

With its passing offense faltering, Miami rushed for 158 yards, led by Raheem Mostert, who had 96 yards on 21 carries. Mostert has an NFL-best 16 rushing touchdowns this season.

The Dolphins were 2 of 5 in the red zone and lost a fumble at the Titans 2 on a bad quarterback-center exchange on their first possession. Connor Williams, Miami’s starting center, went down with a knee injury in the first quarter and did not return. His replacement, Liam Eichenberg, was in on the bad snap and also had two penalties accepted against him.

The running backs. Mostert had rushing scores of 3 and 5 yards that put the Dolphins ahead by two touchdowns in the fourth. Rookie De’Von Achane averaged 6.7 yards on 7 carries for 47 yards.

The defense. Defensive coordinator Vic Fangio isn’t known to blitz a lot, but Titans rookie Will Levis was barely pressured as he led two touchdown drives in the final minutes. Miami also had only one sack in the game after getting at least two in each of their past 10 games.

The Dolphins were also playing with several backups in their secondary because of injuries to their starters. Safety Jevon Holland missed his second straight game with a knee injury. Miami’s other starting safety DeShon Elliott missed a big chunk of the second half because of an injury. Both backup safeties Brandon Jones and Elijah Campbell were in on the Titans’ two late scoring drives.

Coach Mike McDaniel said Tuesday that Williams sustained a season-ending ACL injury against the Titans. … Hill is day to day with his ankle injury. … Elliott is in the NFL’s concussion protocol after reporting symptoms.

1,542 — Hill’s 61 yards receiving Monday gave him 1,542 for the season, which still puts him on pace for the first ever 2,000-yard receiving season.

The Dolphins beat the New York Jets on the road in Week 12 and will face them again Sunday.

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