For Dolphins, all eyes now are on trade deadline, and 2022

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MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. (AP) — Realistic hope is gone. For the second time in three years, the Miami Dolphins are 1-7. No team in the history of the NFL has rallied from such a start to make the playoffs, or even found a way to finish with a winning record.

That means it’s time to look forward.

The Dolphins have nine games left to decide — in no particular order — if Brian Flores remains the right coach, if Tua Tagovailoa remains the right quarterback, if just little tweaks are needed or if yet another dismantle-and-rebuild project is the answer for a franchise that hasn’t won a playoff game since 2000.

“I do see some things we can build on," Flores said Monday.

One of the answers to the looming questions will come before Tuesday’s 4 p.m. trade deadline, based on whether or not the Dolphins decide to consummate the long-discussed trade with the Houston Texans for embattled quarterback Deshaun Watson. The 2020 NFL passing-yards leader has wanted a trade for nearly a year, and hasn’t played this season in large part because he stands accused of sexual assault and harassment by 22 women who have filed lawsuits against him. Watson has not been charged.

The rest of the team's answers will come over the next 2 1/2 months.

“I don’t think this trade deadline, to me, really means anything,” Tagovailoa said after Miami’s loss in Buffalo on Sunday.

On the contrary.

If the Dolphins trade for Watson, then the organization will be loudly saying that it expects him — not Tagovailoa — to be the starter in 2022. And if Miami gives up a truckload of draft picks to get Watson, it will seem as if the Dolphins are saying they believe quarterback play is the absolute biggest problem they needed to address, not offensive line or linebackers or anything else.

Tight end Mike Gesicki said he likes playing with Tagovailoa and described his quarterback as “tough as nails.”

“People are going to talk bad about him. People are going to say all the negative stuff,” Gesicki said. “But Tua is just going to keep coming to work. He’s going to keep doing what he has to do and I’m going to keep supporting him week in and week out.”

By Tuesday afternoon, it’ll be known if the Dolphins’ front office plans to show the same support.

WHAT’S WORKING

Obviously, not enough, but for this week we’ll go with finishing drives and games. The Dolphins have found themselves either tied or leading games for 50.5% of the minutes they have played this season, perhaps a surprising number for a team off to a 1-7 start. But Miami has been outscored by 62 points after halftime this season, the second-worst differential in the NFL behind only Houston.

WHAT NEEDS HELP

Special teams. The Dolphins have already missed more field goals this season (four, in 12 tries) than they did all last season (three, in 39 tries). They’re also last in the NFL in average kickoff return yardage and 26th in average punt return yardage.

STOCK UP

Gesicki. He was one of the central characters in the debacle of a play that epitomizes the Dolphins’ season, when he was in motion to the left, late in the half, Miami in the red zone, and the snap hit him in the chest. He was also one of the few players showing any emotion and gets bonus points for keeping his sense of humor.

Asked postgame if the botched snap was intended to go to him, he deadpanned “Do I look like a jet sweep type of player?”

STOCK DOWN

The nonexistent running game, again. This only adds to the Tagovailoa conundrum for the Dolphins, since opposing defenses don’t exactly have to worry much about ball-carriers. Miami is one of three teams that hasn’t had anyone reach 70 rushing yards in a game this season, along with Atlanta and Detroit. The Dolphins — through eight games — have one carry that went for longer than 20 yards.

INJURIES

LB Jerome Baker was missed on Sunday, even in what was an inspired performance by the Miami defense — for most of the game, anyway — against one of the best offenses in the league.

KEY NUMBER

5: That’s how many losing streaks of seven or more games the Dolphins have had in their 56-season history. Of those streaks, two have come in the past three years.

NEXT STEPS

After Tuesday’s trade deadline, the Dolphins will at least know who they’ll have on the roster as they get ready to play host to Houston (1-7) on Sunday.

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More AP NFL coverage: https://apnews.com/hub/NFL and https://twitter.com/AP_NFL

Tim Reynolds, The Associated Press

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