MIAMI (CBSMiami/AP) — Before the season, both the Miami Dolphins and Tampa Bay Buccaneers were viewed as playoff contenders.
With nine games in the books, the postseason seems like an unattainable goal for either Florida team.
Dolphins defensive end Cameron Wake has noticed his team’s inconsistency, much as an 8-year-old might notice the up-and-down nature of his first roller-coaster ride.
Four times the Dolphins have come from behind to win close games. Four times they’ve been drubbed. And once a late comeback fell short.
“We’ve had some fourth-quarter rallies,” Wake says, “and then we have had some games when we were just weren’t in the game. That’s the thing that blows my mind. The inconsistency is kind of baffling, honestly. It’s the thing that’s killing us.”
Miami’s erratic behavior has been all bad lately, with three consecutive losses by a combined score of 112-45, all in prime time. The slump has left the Dolphins (4-5) desperate for a win as the favorite Sunday against Tampa Bay (3-6), another model of inconsistency.
Good luck with a forecast on this Sunshine State matchup. Here are things to know about the game, which was rescheduled from Week 1 because of Hurricane Irma:
UNPREDICTABLE BUCS: Tampa Bay won as an underdog with backup quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick against the Jets last Sunday to snap a five-game losing streak. Fitzpatrick will make his second consecutive start for the injured Jameis Winston against Miami.
The Bucs play their next three games on the road, where they’re 0-4, with ugly losses at Minnesota, Arizona and New Orleans, and a fourth-quarter collapse in Buffalo. They also lost the final two road games last season.
The problem, coach Dirk Koetter says, is inconsistent play.
“It has nothing to do with the road. We’ve had the same issues at home,” Koetter says. “We also won five games on the road last year. We know we can win on the road. We’ve got to prove it this year. … Inconsistent football, whether you are at home or on the road, is going to get you beat.”
GOING SOFT: The Dolphins’ run defense has collapsed during their losing streak. They’ve allowed 184 yards rushing per game in the past three weeks, compared with an average of 83.2 in the first six games.
Carolina ran for 294 yards, averaging 8.2 per carry. In the past three weeks, the Dolphins’ NFL ranking in run defense has slipped from fifth to 20th.
But the Bucs may lack the weapons to test Miami on the ground. They rank fifth-worst in run offense, and leading rusher Doug Martin is averaging only 3.3 yards per carry.
LESSON LEARNED: Bucs leading receiver Mike Evans is back after sitting out last week’s victory while serving a one-game suspension for his role in a sideline incident.
Evans says he allowed his emotions to get the best of him.
“If we were winning, I don’t think I’d do that,” he says. “But we were down, 30-3, game out of reach. … I’ve got to play more calm. I like playing with passion and effort, but I’ve got to be smarter.”
BACK IN MIAMI: Cornerback Brent Grimes faces the Dolphins for the first time since he left them following the 2016 season to sign with Tampa Bay as a free agent.
Grimes had his 32nd career interception last week. Miami coach Adam Gase says he’s not surprised Grimes is still playing so well at age 34.
“The thing he does best is he makes quarterbacks think somebody’s open,” Gase says. “That’s why you see guys throw the ball at him, and then all of a sudden he has the ball.”
BURNED: Dolphins cornerback Xavien Howard was beaten for three touchdown passes Monday night against the Carolina Panthers. The second-year pro has yet to make his first career interception, but Gase says Howard’s future is bright at the challenging position.
“If you’re not getting beat, you’re not playing,” Gase says. It’s very rare you’re going to see corners that never have gotten beat. When you’re a young player, as long as you don’t lose confidence, you’re eventually going to make those plays.”
The Dolphins have totaled only three interceptions this season.
CUT LOOSE: The Dolphins waived linebacker Rey Maualuga on Saturday after he was arrested on a misdemeanor battery charge in Miami.
The team announced the move without comment on the legal situation, saying they were promoting running back De’Veon Smith from the practice squad to take Maualuga’s roster spot.
Police and court records show Maualuga was arrested after an early morning incident at a downtown Miami nightclub, allegedly involving a dispute over a bar bill.
Maualuga had 23 tackles for the Dolphins this season in six games, four of them being starts.
Mike Hull will likely assume a starting role in Maualuga’s place for the Dolphins.
(© Copyright 2017 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)