FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Like their quarterback, Ryan Tannehill, the Dolphins have fallen hard and fast in losing four straight games after winning their first three to start the season.
They saw a microcosm of their season unfold in a 60-minute football game against the Patriots on Sunday. Up 17-3 in the first half, it looked like they had the Patriots in check and were primed to finally knock off the king of the AFC East. With a few moves of the chess pieces, the tables turned, and the Dolphins were on their heels.
"Well, we stopped scoring points. Then they started scoring points. And that is how it turned around," said Dolphins wide receiver Brian Hartline. "You guys are seeing it from a bird's eye view, you guys tell me [what happened]. There really isn't any explanation."
There are a few explanations, though, and the easiest one to see is the offensive line -- from a bird's eye view or the view from the couch.
Tannehill has been sacked a league-high 32 times. He's on pace to be sacked 73 times, which would shatter the team record of 53 sacks allowed in a season set in 1969. The Dolphins haven't seen an offensive line this bad in nearly half-a-century.
Make no mistake; the Dolphins have taken some measures to fix their protection woes, and traded for former Ravens offensive tackle Bryant McKinnie, who made his first start in a Dolphins uniform on Sunday.
Even trading for him, and moving former left tackle Jonathan Martin back to the right side, wasn't enough to save Tannehill from being decked, or to save the Dolphins from letting a 14-point halftime lead slip away as a result.
"They're definitely a team that you can't really make mistakes with, especially when you're on the road," McKinnie said, "so that's something we'll just learn from as a team."
While they had things under control in the first half against the Patriots, they came unraveled yet again in allowing six sacks in the second half, including a game-changing sack-fumble by Patriots cornerback Logan Ryan.
The Dolphins did a great job protecting Tannehill and paving holes for their running backs in the first half (103 yards on 22 carries) but they were on the wrong end of the highlight reel at the wrong time in the game because of those six sacks.
"That's a lot of sacks, yet again," said Martin. "I thought we played well for the most part, a couple plays in there we obviously didn't play well, so you know, it's still something that we need to work on."
Tannehill has now been sacked 13 times by the Patriots defense in his first two trips to Gillette Stadium.
The Patriots definitely turned the heat up on Tannehill in the second half, sending far more blitzes than they had previously.
"They made some nice adjustments, no question about it," said Martin. "They're a good defense, they have a lot of talent, even with their injuries. At the same time, yeah, we didn't do a good enough job executing our base game plan."
This week wasn't the first time the Dolphins did a stand-up job of protecting Tannehill until crunch time. Against the Buffalo Bills in Week 7, Tannehill was sacked just twice, both times in the fourth quarter, one a sack-fumble that gave the Bills new life and allowed them to take the late lead.
As was the case on Sunday against the Patriots, the Dolphins will have to find the form that got them off to a hot start before they finish out of the playoffs for the fifth consecutive season.
"It's frustrating, no question about it," said Martin. "We had such a hot start, and then we've had, you know, three tough games in a row now, so you know, we've got to find a way to regroup, because we have another game coming up in three days."
That next game, by the way, comes against a Cincinnati Bengals defense that has logged 22 sacks this season, and four against the New York Jets on Sunday.
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