Dolphins players can check out or use embarrassment as fuel

The Dolphins could be in for a long season if Sunday's Week 1 loss to the Baltimore Ravens is any indication. Mark Brown/Getty Images

DAVIE, Fla. -- Miami Dolphins coach Brian Flores could not have imagined his NFL head coaching debut would go this badly. As the man in charge of one of the Dolphins' most lopsided losses in franchise history, Flores stood in the postgame locker room trying to galvanize his team. His message: Let the feelings -- of embarrassment, of disgust, of anger, of pain -- sink in. Remember this 59-10 home loss to the Baltimore Ravens.

"We're going to let it sink in. Let that s--- hurt. Let it hurt. Let it hurt because it does," said safety Bobby McCain, a defensive captain. "We gave up 60 points today, essentially. I told the guys, 'We've got to come to work tomorrow, put your head down and just work on it.' At some point in the game, you have to play for each other and that's just what it is."

In five days, the New England Patriots (with receiver Antonio Brown) arrive in Miami looking for a big helping of the meal Baltimore had at Miami's expense. Then we will see how much of Flores' message stuck and what the Dolphins motivations are for playing. Beyond playoffs or Sunday victories, maybe it's bonding, maybe it's to put good tape out there for increased playing time, the next contract or the next team, or maybe it's just for pride.

Ultimately, Dolphins players have a choice to make now: Mentally check out or use Sunday's embarrassing loss to band together and avoid being the league's laughingstock.

"If you don't want to be here, I don't want you here," Dolphins center Daniel Kilgore said.

'Nobody is going to feel sorry for you'

This Dolphins team has been completely remade since last season. Management shipped out several veteran starters over the past two weeks, most notably franchise tackle Laremy Tunsil -- a move that upset several players. Overall, Miami has added 13 players over the past 11 days, two of whom started on the offensive line in Sunday's loss. It's clear Miami is focused more on 2020 and 2021 than this season, but Flores won't use lack of talent as an excuse.

"We've got the guys we've got. We're going to coach them. It's our job to get them better. It's our job to put them in positions to play well and make plays," Flores said. "I'm not an excuse-maker. I never have been. Put that in the excuse bucket and you can kick it to the curb, because I'm not into that."

But losing wears on players, especially when it is believed to be a part of the organization's plan.

Multiple Dolphins players have expressed to ESPN their frustration and unhappiness over the past week with how the team is going about its business. Those players believe winning in 2019 is not a top priority, despite what Flores has told the media publicly and the players privately. They say gutting the roster a week before the start of the regular season shows the organization's intentions. Sunday's loss only added fuel to the fire.

"It's never good to be embarrassed like that, especially at this level," quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick said. "What we had talked about: Nobody is going to feel sorry for you and your situation."

Clearly, Ravens coach John Harbaugh didn't feel sorry for the Dolphins. He called for a fake punt on the Ravens' 30-yard line with his team up 35-3 in the second quarter. The Ravens also converted a passing touchdown on fourth-and-goal to go up 59-10 in the fourth quarter.

"It's not their job to let off," Flores said. "It's our job to stop them. I'm not looking for handouts here."

That's a smart stance by Flores, who might have the NFL's hardest coaching job this season. Do you think coach Bill Belichick's Patriots will take it easy on the rebuilding Dolphins on Sunday after going 1-5 in Miami over their past six games? Not a chance. The 2019 Dolphins season is one game in and it's going to be ugly.

There's nothing more important for Flores than how he keeps the locker room's focus and support. If the Dolphins' core players check out if defeats pile up and Flores loses the trust of the locker room, the Dolphins' rebuild could sink before it even gets started.

Flores accepted responsibility following Sunday's game against Baltimore, saying, "How this team plays is a reflection of me, and I have to do a better job, and this team has to do a better job."

On Monday, Flores followed up on his comments. "That's not how we want to play -- ever," he said. "There's pain every season for every team. When you go through an NFL season, which this is my 16th, every team deals with adversity ... [We] got to be able to deal with that, stand up to it, not make excuses, not point fingers, not feel sorry for ourselves."

The hope is Monday's tape review was a brutally honest one, because there were several plays in which guys showed little to no fight. This week against the Patriots should yield answers on whether there's any fight left. Miami can't match New England's talent, but it can try to match the effort.

"We're going to be men, take ownership of it and get better from it," Kilgore said.

Linebacker Raekwon McMillan added: "We have to stay together. This one game can't break us for the whole season. We have to play 15 more. If we let this one game kill us for the next 15, then it's going to be that."