FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- We've seen this Miami Dolphins story many times before.
It starts with optimism and playoff dreams in the summer. It ends with despair and disappointment in the winter.
That despair was on players' faces following Miami's 41-13 blowout loss to the New England Patriots on Sunday. Reality set in as the Dolphins (7-7) fell to .500 and essentially out of the playoff race for the sixth consecutive season. New England, by contrast, clinched the AFC East title for the 12th time since 2000.
Enough is enough for this version of the Dolphins. This is a team that cannot win the big games. The culture of mediocrity hasn't changed since the hiring of head coach Joe Philbin in 2012, and now his status is in question: Do the Dolphins have the right coach to take them to the next level?
In coaching, you are what your record says you are. Philbin is 22-24 in three seasons -- and that simply isn't good enough. He's also 1-4 in his past five December games, his teams playing their worst football when postseason hopes hung in the balance.
This was a no-excuses year for the Dolphins, who have enough talent to make the playoffs. But they will likely be watching the postseason on television -- again.
"To be where we are at this point is tough," Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill said. "I feel like with the guys we have in that room, the players that we have, there is no way we should be sitting where we are at right now. You know, that is frustrating for me."
Philbin, who said he's not thinking about his job security, did not coach with enough urgency in the most important game of the season. The Dolphins called a running play on third-and-6 on the opening drive. Lamar Miller gained just 3 yards, and the next play was a blocked field goal that New England returned for a touchdown.
"I think that was part of the game plan we had on third down," Philbin said, when asked about the decision. "We meet on third down every single week. We come up with plays in each down-and-distance category and that was one of the plays we came up with."
In the second quarter, the Dolphins ran on second-and-14 for no gain. That set up a third-and-14 play in which Tannehill forced an interception over the middle. Three plays later, the Patriots scored another touchdown.
The Dolphins trailed 14-13 at halftime. Guard Mike Pouncey said Philbin gave a "really good speech at halftime; guys were pumped up." Yet, his players didn't respond: New England scored a franchise-record 24 unanswered points in the third quarter to pull away.
This was a game the Dolphins had to have to keep their postseason hopes alive -- and they laid an egg.
"It's very frustrating. It's disappointing more than anything, but angry," Pouncey said. "It seems like every year it falls down to the same thing. We fall short. I'm sick of it. I know everybody on this football team is sick of it."
Each player I spoke to Sunday defended his head coach. Philbin is well-liked in the locker room. That will carry some weight when Dolphins owner Stephen Ross must make his final decision.
But the biggest factor for coaches is wins and losses. Philbin does not have enough of the former and has too many of the latter.
But it still wouldn't feel like a successful year. The Dolphins had a chance to make a statement, but instead lost three of their past four games.
"I understand the business, but to win the last two games will help not just him, it will help the whole team to go 9-7," Dolphins center Samson Satele said. "But you never know what they're thinking upstairs. You just got to control your job, do your job and play hard for the coach. Like everybody said, he's our coach and I'll give everything I can for him every play and every game."