When the Miami Dolphins look back on their season, I think they will see a lot of reasons to be encouraged. Though they finished 7-9 and missed the playoffs for the 10th time in 11 years, it certainly appears that things are trending upwards.
Coming into this season, most people didn’t expect the Dolphins to be much of a factor, especially with a rookie quarterback in what people saw to be a very competitive division. In fact, the Dolphins were picked by most experts to finish last in the AFC East. Yet the surprising Dolphins not only finished 2nd the AFC East, but were actually leading the AFC Wild Card going into their Week 9 matchup against the Colts.
The Dolphins would lose a heartbreaker to the Colts in Week 9 and seemed to let the loss linger; dropping their next two games to opponents who finished with worse records than the Dolphins (Titans and Bills). Those 3 losses pretty much put a knife in the Dolphins playoff chances, especially since the Dolphins had to play New England twice and San Fran once in the final 5 weeks.
One of the reasons the Dolphins have to be very encouraged, though, is because of the way that Ryan Tannehill responded after some serious midseason struggles. After throwing 11 interceptions in the first 10 games of the season, Tannehill managed to protect the football much better in the final 6 games while throwing only 2 interceptions. Overall, Tannehill has much room for improvement, but I believed he showed the type of poise, leadership, and resilience that the Dolphins were hoping for when they selected him with the 8th overall pick.
One of Tannehill’s favorite targets was 4th year WR Brian Hartline. Hartline, who had averaged under 600 yards through his 1st three years became a more of a household name while catching 74 passes for 1083 yards with a rookie QB throwing the ball to him. I am sure the Dolphins are hoping that with more time to gain experience and familiarity, Tannehill and Hartline will become a much more potent combination in years to come.
On the defensive side of the ball, the Dolphins were once again exceptional. Their defense was ranked 7th in points per game with 19.8 and managed to keep their offense in almost every single game. Their success was due in large part to the play of the 4th year DE Cameron Wake. Wake had his best season so far in his young career with 15 sacks and 3 forced fumbles (both led the team).
Another encouraging sign for the Dolphins was the fact that the oft-injured RB Reggie Bush was able to play in all 16 games for the first time since his rookie year in 2006 and also amassed 1278 yards and 8 TD for an offense that struggled mightily for a large portion of the year.
In the end, the Dolphins have a lot of room to grow, but they seem to be in prime position to do so, with one of the younger teams in the league (13th when season started) and an extremely young QB at the helm. If they can keep their key young players healthy (Tannehill, Wake, Hartline, etc) they will face much higher expectations next year after their very encouraging 2013 campaign.
Follow Cole Stevenson on twitter: @Cole_Stevenson