MIAMI -- With nearly a full quarter left to play Monday night, Miami Dolphins fans started shuffling up the Sun Life Stadium steps and out the tunnels.
The Dolphins had been ahead at halftime yet were down by only 20 points. It might as well have been 200.
A victory was hopeless at that point. Forget their big-armed quarterback. Never mind their superstar receiver. Their potent backfield pair was moot. Their respected defense didn't matter either.
There was no reason to have an ounce of faith in the Dolphins with 14:05 still on the clock against the New England Patriots.
In reality, the Patriots' lead was conquerable. How they accumulated it, however, was completely demoralizing.
In the first 15:55 of the second half, Brandon Tate returned a kickoff for a touchdown, Patrick Chung blocked a punt to set up a quick touchdown and Kyle Arrington returned Chung's blocked field-goal attempt for a touchdown to thrust them toward a 41-14 throttling of the Dolphins.
"It was a mess," Dolphins head coach Tony Sparano said. "It's embarrassing, and these fans deserve better than that."
Special teams doomed the Dolphins so badly you have to wonder if coordinator John Bonamego can keep his job. (Update: Bonamego was fired Tuesday.)
The Dolphins had little shot to be competitive once they surrendered game-breaking after game-breaking after game-breaking play in the kicking game.
"It's just one strike, one big play that just deflates your team," said Dolphins cornerback Nolan Carroll, who was on the field for Tate's 103-yard kickoff return to open the second half. "It takes the air out of you."
Dolphins quarterback Chad Henne wasn't exactly Dan Marino. Scott Mitchell maybe. Henne threw three bad interceptions, one of which Chung -- you can easily imagine Sparano throwing his head back and shouting to the heavens "Chuuuuuuuuung!!!" -- returned 51 yards for a touchdown to complete the scoring.
But he had a hot start, completing his first seven passes for 93 yards and a touchdown. The Dolphins had a 7-6 lead at the intermission.
"We had momentum coming into the second half," Carroll said. "We felt pretty good about our defense going out on the field and stopping them."
The Dolphins' defense played a solid game. Although it was hardly on the field in the second half, it limited Tom Brady to one touchdown pass and Randy Moss to zero catches for only the fifth time in his career.
About the only thing the Patriots didn't spring on special teams was a fake kick for a touchdown, but that at least would have incorporated the element of surprise.
"It seemed like they drained us," Dolphins linebacker Tim Dobbins said of the special-teams breakdowns. "We tried to fight back, and they just kept making plays and making plays."
Sparano spat out a laugh when asked whether the special teams coach or his players were to blame.
"Next question," he eventually muttered.
The Dolphins stagger into their bye week with a 2-2 record after opening the season with a pair of road victories. That seemed encouraging, a 2-0 start against the Buffalo Bills and the Minnesota Vikings and with all of their home games left. You had to like the Dolphins' chances to make the playoffs.
They're 0-2 at home and facing a rugged second quarter of the schedule. Their next four games are at the Green Bay Packers, versus the Pittsburgh Steelers, at the Cincinnati Bengals, and at the Baltimore Ravens.
Miami has much to think about on special teams, many flaws to correct.
Perhaps the week off will help Bonamego work through some issues. Perhaps it's the perfect time to bring in somebody else.
"It's not him, not at all," Carroll said in defense of Bonamego. "It starts with the players on the field. He can only do so much for us. It's our job to execute. He knows exactly what he's doing. He does his job to a 'T.' Now it's on us to execute."
Brandon Fields, who had two punts blocked in the preseason, had one stuffed for the second straight week -- and on a similar crisscross ploy each time. The New York Jets pulled it off eight days earlier in roughly the same spot on the field. The Dolphins even released linebacker Erik Walden for blowing his assignment.
Sparano said they worked all week on preventing the block from happening again.
Sparano said Chung's blocks were unrelated in terms of scheme or philosophy, which, to me, is worse than if there'd been a common thread. That means the Dolphins had two glaring weaknesses Patriots special teams coach Scott O'Brien exploited.
Answers are in short supply.
Fields, Carpenter and long-snapper John Denney weren't interviewed after the game and had cleared out of the locker room by the time Sparano's postgame news conference ended. The Dolphins don't allow assistant coaches to be talk to the media after games.
"It's a bad taste in your mouth," Sparano said, "but we put ourselves in this position. So we're going to have to deal with it. We're going to have to taste it now for the next couple weeks."