By Abraham Gutierrez

In sports, there are a number of characteristics that separate pretenders from contenders; good teams from bad ones, good ones from great ones, and the great from the elite.

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After putting themselves in a position to control their own destiny, the Miami Dolphins crumbled under the pressures of a heated Wild Card race. With two games left to go in the season, the Fins mustered a dismal seven points over a two-week span, closing out the 2013 NFL campaign at 8-8, the franchise’s fifth straight playoff-less season.

In the coming weeks, South Florida’s “Bandwagon Nation” will be out in full force desperately trying to prove they’ve been Broncos or Seahawks fans since day one. Meanwhile, Miami’s hardcore fan base will be left wondering what happened to a once-promising start, and a finish that under most expert calculations, seemed like a favorable one.

In order to understand what happened to the Dolphins down the stretch, one must look back at the year that was, and most importantly, the characteristics this team deliberately or unintentionally adapted as part of its DNA.

After a season defined by peaks and valleys, and enough controversy to satisfy the basic parameters of an award-winning drama, the best way to qualify this team would be “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.”

The Good

With victories over Cleveland, Indianapolis and Atlanta, the Dolphins capture the attention of the National Football League by getting off to the franchise’s best start in 11 years.

The Bad

Despite its unbeaten record, Miami’s offensive line woes, coupled with a non-existent rushing attack are topics for concern heading into a huge Week 4 showdown against the New Orleans Saints.

The Ugly

The Dolphins perfect start falls by the wayside, as Ryan Tannehill & Co. fall under .500 for the first time (3-4) with consecutive losses to the NOLA Saints, Baltimore Ravens, Buffalo Bills and New England Patriots.

The Good

Battered but not beaten, Miami comes off the ropes swinging, shocking the Cincinnati Bengals in overtime in front of a national audience Thursday night in primetime, 22-20.

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The Bad

With a disappointing loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Miami’s bounce back victory over the Bengals is not only erased, but also overshadowed by initial reports regarding the Jonathan Martin cafeteria incident.

The Ugly

Dolphins locker room breaks out into an all-out media circus, with headlines of Martin and Richie Incognito cluttering and dominating the evening news airwaves.

The Good

The franchise comes together, weathers the storm and the Dolphins go on to win four of their next five games versus the San Diego Chargers, New York Jets, Pittsburgh Steelers and Patriots.

The Bad

With two games to play, the Ravens managed to defy the odds and keep pace in the Wild Card chase, forcing Miami to win-out in order to control its own destiny.

The Ugly

Despite having two teams with losing records to close out the year, the Dolphins offense goes AWOL at the most inopportune time. With a playoff spot within its grasp, Miami got pounded in Buffalo versus the E.J. Manuel-less Bills, 0-19, and follow that effort with a 7-20 effort versus the rival Jets.

“My feeling is Week 17 we had a game that had we won, which we didn’t win, we would have been in the playoffs,” said Joe Philbin, who’s 15-17 in two seasons as Fins head coach. “That’s where I’m getting the barometer that we are not that far away. We are close.”

He added, “I acknowledge the fact that on that paper there is a lot of room for improvement, a lot of room for improvement. We’ll evaluate everybody. We evaluate all of the coaches. I’m in constant communication with Steve [Ross]. I visited with him after the game. There will be an appropriate time and place to meet with him. Then we’ll go from there.”

For more Dolphins news and updates, visit Dolphins Central.

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Abe Gutierrez is a criminal justice admin whose love for sports led him to become a writer and editor. His expertise makes him a valued addition to and its partners. His work can be found on .