It's not easy being a Miami Dolphins fan.
Not in the post-Marino era, anyway. Ever since No. 13 took off his jersey for good, the franchise has struggled to find some measure of stability. The decision to draft quarterback Ryan Tannehill was supposed to change that -- and it still might. But the Dolphins aren't ready to play with the big boys in the AFC. Not yet.
Miami dropped to 4-6 following a 19-14 loss to the Buffalo Bills on Thursday night. To even sniff the playoff picture, the Dolphins would have to win (at least) four of their last six games. With a brutal schedule ahead, forget it.
Enter the fork.
What went wrong
Tannehill has shown real promise in stretches this season, but he's hardly at the stage where he can do it alone. There simply aren't enough playmakers on this team, which helps explain Miami being ranked 29th in total offense. Brian Hartline and Davone Bess are nice players, but the Dolphins lack a true game-breaker. Someone like, well ... Brandon Marshall.
Reggie Bush made no secret of his quest for the rushing title. He hurt his knee after a hot start, and has never regained his momentum even after geting healthy. He's losing touches to Daniel Thomas and even got benched for a fumble in Week 10. Bush can be a useful -- even dynamic -- player when employed the correct way, but he's no workhorse. Joe Philbin seems to understand that now.
If Bush is the underperformer among skill players, left tackle Jake Long is the culprit on the offensive line. Long is ranked as football's 44th best tackle this season, according to ProFootballFocus.com. By comparison, Long was ranked 21st in 2011, second in 2010, and second again in 2009. At 27, Long should be in the prime of his career. What's up?
What went right
Many were surprised when the Dolphins turned the keys over to Tannehill in training camp, but the decision appears to have been a wise one.
Our boss Gregg Rosenthal has raved about Tannehill all year. He stands tall in the pocket. He runs the two-minute offense well and effectively changes plays at the line of scrimmage. He doesn't turn the ball over excessively. Some young quarterbacks regress when thrown directly into the fire. You get the feeling Tannehill will be better for this experience.
The Dolphins have gotten strong play from their front seven on defense. Miami is tied for fourth in the NFL with 27 sacks, and they're holding opponents to less than 100 yards per game on the ground. Kevin Burnett and Karlos Dansby form one of the best linebacker pairings in football. On offense, second-year center Mike Pouncey has emerged as a Pro Bowl player in both pass- and run-blocking.
What still matters
The Dolphins are coming off three losses in 12 days, a dry stretch that can send lesser-willed teams spiraling into the abyss. Miami can't let that happen. This season needs to be remembered as a building block, not just another lost campaign. Keep Tannehill upright and make determinations which players fit well around him. Philbin should use the rest of this season as an evaluation process. Just don't pull a Shanahan and let the cat out of the bag.
What changes are coming
The hiring of Philbin and drafting of Tannehill look like good decisions, but will they be enough to save the job of embattled general manager Jeff Ireland? We haven't heard of any "Fire-land" demonstrations of late, which is perhaps promising. We wonder about the future of both Bush and Long, two expensive veterans who have slipped this year. Whoever is running the Dolphins should push hard to give Tannehill a No. 1 receiver. You know, a Brandon Marshall type.
OK, I'll stop.
Follow Dan Hanzus on Twitter @danhanzus.