MIAMI -- There is something missing with the Miami Dolphins this year that is hard to put a finger on.
The Dolphins have talented players. They compete hard on most weeks and can compete with just about anyone in the NFL.
But there is one key reason Miami is 5-6 this season, and it's something that is difficult to measure: The Dolphins simply lack the killer instinct necessary that it takes to build a consistent winner.
The Dolphins' inability to finish was on full display Sunday during their 20-16 loss to the Carolina Panthers. Miami blew a 16-6 halftime lead in a game that could have done wonders for its playoff chances. The Dolphins were outscored 14-0 in the second half and allowed 17 unanswered points .
"I think we kill ourselves," Dolphins receiver Mike Wallace (five catches, 127 yards) said after the game of Miami's second-to-last drive when the Dolphins could have gone up 10 points. "I think we could have put them away on the drive before that. We just didn't. We've got to have killer instinct. I don't think we really have it that well.
"We've got to do a better job of finishing teams off when we have them coming back out of the half. That's the biggest thing."
Getting outplayed in the second half and fourth quarters have been troubling trends for the Dolphins all season. Miami also blew a 17-0 halftime lead to the New England Patriots on Oct. 24.
There were many of the same ingredients in Sunday's collapse to Carolina, which won its seventh straight game. The Dolphins became predictable and one-dimensional on offense and couldn't get key stops on defense late in the game.
Miami's inconsistent running game produced just 52 yards on 17 carries. Quarterback Ryan Tannehill was the Dolphins' leading rusher with 36 yards. Carolina's front seven dominated Miami's patchwork offensive line, which is missing two starters due to the Jonathan Martin-Richie Incognito scandal.
With Miami becoming predictable on offense, it became easy for Carolina to shut out the Dolphins in the second half.
"Penetration," Dolphins head coach Joe Philbin said of Miami's inability to run. "We were running one or two times an outside zone play, [and] the defensive ends are 4 yards in the backfield and we tried to bend and weave. Again, if you don't get the ball at any point to the line of scrimmage it's tough. You have to do better."
With the offense stalling, it became more and more difficult for Miami's defense to hold the lead.
Miami's defense did a solid job bottling up Carolina quarterback and MVP candidate Cam Newton for much of the game. Newton threw for 174 yards, one touchdown and one interception. But his 80-yard touchdown drive in the final three minutes of the fourth quarter sealed the victory for Carolina. Newton capped the drive with a 1-yard touchdown pass to tight end Greg Olsen with 43 seconds remaining.
"I feel like they started making adjustments," Dolphins linebacker Philip Wheeler said. "They blocked up a few plays differently. They are a good team and they made some plays and we didn't make them towards the end when it counted."
The Dolphins have the talent to be a playoff team. But they often don't play that way, especially in crunch time.
Whether that's a player or coaching issue is debatable. Opposing coaches have made good halftime adjustments against Miami's coaching staff. Yet, at the same time, it's up to the Dolphins players on the field to produce. Too often that does not happen late in games.
That leaves the Dolphins with a mediocre 5-6 record with five games remaining. There is a strong chance they will end up regretting tough losses like Sunday's when their season is over.