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The Dolphins Won the Tank Bowl by Losing

A dropped pass on a bizarre, late two-point conversion attempt allowed Miami to keep its winless record intact against Washington, and continue to confuse the football-watching public

NFL: Washington Redskins at Miami Dolphins Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

Now that the Dolphins have been slapped with the “tanking” label, it’s difficult to tell whether anything they do is a result of the organization intentionally trying to lose games to gain better draft picks or just the by-product of wildly incompetent decision-making. For example: Did Miami trade promising young players in Laremy Tunsil and Minkah Fitzpatrick because the front office wants the roster to be worse in the short term, or because the offers for those players were simply too much to pass up? Do they keep yanking Josh Rosen and Ryan Fitzpatrick in and out of the lineup because they’re trying to figure out which quarterback is better, or which quarterback is worse?

The 0-4 Fins played the 0-5 Skins in the Tank Bowl on Sunday, and in that game, this mystery was pushed to new limits. In the waning seconds of the fourth quarter, down seven, Miami scored a touchdown to pull within one point of Washington. Rather than kick the PAT and play for overtime, the Dolphins went for two—a somewhat odd decision for a team playing at home. Here’s what they drew up:

Here’s a slow-motion angle from the other side of the field:

The plan was to quickly get the ball to Dolphins running back Kenyan Drake, while the two other receivers on the play opened a lane for him to find pay dirt. But Drake dropped the pass, and the Dolphins’ hopes of notching their first win went with it.

Of course, this play would have failed no matter what. The Dolphins did not have enough blockers for Drake to make anything happen even if he’d caught the football; linebacker Ryan Anderson would have blown him up well short of the goal line.

So was this a purposeful blunder meant to keep the tank alive or a convenient accident? I tend to lean toward the latter. No matter how blatantly a franchise chooses to tank, it’s hard to imagine that coaches and players would intentionally try to lose games. Miami coach Brian Flores doesn’t want to get fired, and players like Drake want to continue their careers—whether that’s in Miami or somewhere else. But it’s awfully fortunate for Miami’s front office that they choked away a possible win at the last second against one of the few teams that could possibly steal the top overall draft pick from them. Miami came into Sunday as the overwhelming favorites to land the no. 1 overall pick, according to Football Outsiders, but a loss to the winless, reeling Redskins—who just fired head coach Jay Gruden earlier in the week—could have derailed that mission. That awful two-point conversion helped the Dolphins avoid disaster.

This is hardly the first drop of the season for the Dolphins, who have done as little as possible to help their stable of quarterbacks. On Thursday, Flores confirmed that Rosen was the permanent starter and that the quarterback situation was “settled,” But after he started 15-of-25 for 85 yards and two interceptions in this one, Miami switched to Fitzpatrick. The veteran was indeed an improvement over the second-year pro, completing 12 of 18 passes for 132 yards and a touchdown. But the switch just brings up more questions about the Dolphins’ overall strategy. Fitzpatrick may give the Dolphins the most opportunity to win games this season … but that should be exactly what the team doesn’t want. In a season that’s already lost, the franchise should be determined to see whether Rosen has a future with the team, or whether they should draft Tua Tagovailoa, Justin Herbert, Joe Burrow, or another quarterback in the upcoming 2020 NFL draft.

No one wants to watch their team go 0-16, but in a post-Process world, this loss, whether it was intentional or not, makes the Dolphins the true winners (losers?) of the Tank Bowl.