MIAMI, Oct. 3 -- In south Florida, they haven't seen anything like this in 39 years. By some measures, the Dolphins can lay claim to being the NFL's finest franchise for several decades. But this year, the team hasn't merely struggled, it has been awful, and today it plunged to a low unmatched since its inaugural season in 1966.
After a 17-9 defeat to the New York Jets at Pro Player Stadium in front of more than 70,000 disenchanted and disbelieving fans, the Dolphins sat at the bottom of the AFC East with an 0-4 record.
Miami running back Leonard Henry gets rough treatment from New York defenders Dewayne Robertson (63), Shaun Ellis (92) and Bryan Thomas.
(Hillery Smith Shay -- AP)
This season's losing spell is not only historic, it's also hard to digest given that Miami has started 3-1 or better in 11 of the last 13 years.
"I've never been around anything like this," Miami Coach Dave Wannstedt said, spitting words through pursed lips. "This is beyond me from the standpoint of just giving games away on not-real-difficult stuff."
The Dolphins today committed four turnovers -- all credited to quarterback Jay Fiedler -- giving them 14 in four games. Miami's offense, incredibly, has given up more touchdowns on turnovers (three) than it has managed to score (two). The Dolphins have totaled just 32 points, their lowest total ever at this point in the season.
"It's pretty much boiling over right now," Miami tight end Randy McMichael said. "I'm so frustrated. I have never had this many emotions going through my body at one time. . . . . Right now, the offense is the weak link on the team."
The Dolphins' NFL record streak of 15 seasons without a losing record dating from 1988 is sorely in jeopardy as Miami and its bungling offense prepare to travel to New England to face the Patriots, who will be seeking to break the NFL record for consecutive victories. Should the Dolphins lose, they would match the organization's worst start ever.
"It seems like we've always gotten out to fast starts since I've been here," said Fiedler, who, Wannstedt said, likely will start next week. "To start off the season like we're doing now, it's a frustrating feeling.
"But as much as people might say we're out of it at 0-4, we can't believe that. We got to believe we're going to pile on some wins in the next few weeks and keep moving forward."
Though Miami's defense has been strong, shutting down one of the league's best offenses Sunday, the offense has provided an insurmountable handicap. In the absence of running back Ricky Williams, who retired in July facing a yearlong marijuana suspension, the Dolphins have averaged just 59.8 yards rushing per game, despite collecting a season-high 97 against the Jets thanks in large part to one 53-yard burst by first-time starter Leonard Henry.
Fiedler and A.J. Feeley have combined for two touchdowns, nine interceptions and have been sacked 12 times. Fiedler, who returned today to the starting lineup after being benched for Feeley midway through the first game, occasionally moved his team effectively. He could not, however, take it into the end zone, nor could he stay away from damning mistakes.
The Dolphins' hopes of tying the game in the waning minutes were extinguished with a fittingly inexcusable error: As he was swallowed by a heavy rush, Fiedler flung the ball toward no one in an inexplicable lateral that was immediately covered by New York cornerback Donnie Abraham, ending the Dolphins' slim hopes of a comeback.
The Dolphins blew a golden opportunity to take the lead with just over a minute remaining in the first half after safety Arturo Freeman intercepted a pass intended for Wayne Chrebet and returned it 47 yards to the Jets 7-yard line. Miami gained just two yards in three plays -- including two incompletions by Fiedler -- and had to settle for a 23-yard field goal by Olindo Mare, his third of the game, making the score 10-9 at halftime.
"We haven't been within the 10-yard line all year long, and when we get down there, we just can't score points," McMichael said. "It's very frustrating."
The Jets moved to 3-0, but without the offensive flair they showed in their first two victories. The Dolphins sacked Chad Pennington three times and held him to 14 of 24 for 143 yards. Though Curtis Martin, who scored the Jets' only offensive touchdown on a one-yard run in the first quarter, had his third straight 100-yard game with 110 yards on 24 carries, the Jets had to punt eight times.
At the start of the second half, Abraham stepped in front of a pass intended for Miami fullback Rob Conrad, intercepting the poorly thrown ball and returning it 66 yards for a touchdown. With the extra point, the Jets led by the final margin.
Minutes later Fiedler fumbled in the pocket, then threw his second interception later in the third quarter, tossing a feeble pass behind Conrad in heavy traffic. The ball went through his outstretched fingers and was hauled in by linebacker Victor Hobson, giving the Jets the ball at their 47.
"We've got to get a lot better," Wannstedt said, "in a hurry."