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Miami Dolphins

Miami Dolphins

The Dolphins will play their NFL-record 84th “Monday Night Football” game at Hard Rock Stadium and the team is breaking out its undefeated season uniforms and helmets (should be the full-time uniform and helmet) to commemorate the occasion.

Here’s another way to mark the event: Win the game.

For once this year, perform on prime time.

The Dolphins, you’ll recall, were deemed an up-and-coming team after the 2016 season. So the NFL “rewarded” them with multiple prime-time TV games this year. The league typically puts its better, more interesting and exciting teams on prime-time telecasts because that’s what the national audience wants to see.Except the Dolphins haven’t been exceedingly interesting. Or exciting. Or, worst of all, successful on prime time so far this season.

The team has played three previous prime-time games in 2017 and lost them all. And it’s not just that Adam Gase’s team is failing to put a good foot forward in prime-time games. The Dolphins have done pratfalls in front of the national TV audiences this year — getting outscored 112-45 in losses to Baltimore, Oakland and Carolina.

So, obviously, journalism experts such as myself — who know everything about human nature and psychology and Xs and Os and all manner of history and environmental science — have postulated the following hot take: The Dolphins have a stage-fright problem.

The Dolphins obviously get jitters on the big stage and cannot play up to potential.

The Dolphins have performance anxiety.

Yeah, that’s it, experts have decided.

Of course, that’s not it at all. Not even close.

Let’s see if Gase knows what the problem is because, you know, it’s his job to know.

“It’s hard to really put a finger on exactly why,” Gase begins.

And your heart drops, right?

“Usually when you’re playing in those games, you’re playing good teams,” Gase continues before getting into the play-by-play facts of what happened in each of this year’s prime-time losses.

But Gase could have easily stopped after that sentence about playing good teams. The NFL doesn’t match its worst teams on nationally televised games. The schedule-maker calls on teams the league expects will be good.

And therein lies the Dolphins problem. They’re not good, so they don’t have a good record against good teams. Simple as that.

The Dolphins are 15-14 (including playoffs) since Gase arrived and have feasted on teams with losing records to the tune of a 12-6 record. But that same team has a 3-8 mark against teams with winning records.

This is a problem because Monday’s opponent New England has a winning record and is 3-0 against Gase’s Dolphins so far. So that’s not wonderful if your focus is on this game.

But the wider view of the Dolphins is more troublesome because that suggests little progress has been made in getting the team on footing solid enough to stand toe-to-toe with winning teams.

Now, I’m not blaming the current club leadership for this. I’m not even saying blame needs to be assigned because it takes time to build a winner, and I don’t think Gase, executive vice president of football operations Mike Tannenbaum and general manager Chris Grier have gotten enough time yet.

But that doesn’t change the uncomfortable fact that whatever amount of rebuilding this team has undergone so far isn’t good enough because the team consistently falls short against good teams.

And while Miami’s record against winning teams says it’s not good enough, the scores of those losses also say something. Those blowout losses — by 20 points to New Orleans, by 18 points to New England, by 24 points to Carolina, by 40 points to Baltimore — suggest the team isn’t even in the same hemisphere with the good teams.

And, yes, the Dolphins will point to the Atlanta victory as proof they are indeed close to being a solid team. But impressive as that one game was, the greater weight of evidence so far makes the case the Dolphins are nowhere near being a winning-caliber team.

That, friends, is the reason the Dolphins have struggled in prime-time games. It hasn’t been performance anxiety.

It’s simply been a lack of performance.

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