DETROIT -- All Mike Wallace could do was grimace.
When approached in the locker room after a 20-16 loss to the Detroit Lions, the Miami Dolphins' leading receiver knew he would be asked about the offense's baffling inconsistency. It has been a consistent trend that showed up again in Sunday's loss that dropped Miami to 5-4.
"It's the same thing I tell you every week," Wallace said. "We have to find our balance, man. We can't keep doing this on offense. We can't be up and down to be the team that we want to be. We have to be able to finish football games. Our defense played great once again.
"[The Lions] are going to score points. They have Calvin Johnson and it's going to happen. I feel like they did a great job on defense. We had a chance to kill the game and we didn't do it again on our end on offense."
Sure, Miami's defense gave up the go-ahead touchdown to Detroit with 29 seconds remaining. Matthew Stafford connected on an 11-yard touchdown throw to Theo Riddick, despite good coverage by Dolphins safety Reshad Jones.
But you can't pin this loss, which ended a three-game winning streak, on the defense.
The Dolphins' offense gained just 228 yards. Miami trailed by 10 points in the first quarter after the offense lost a combined 20 yards on its first two drives, the worst start by any team's offense since 2001, according to ESPN Stats & Information research.
Seven of Miami's 11 drives lasted five plays or fewer. Still, Miami somehow held a 16-13 lead with 4:19 remaining after a Caleb Sturgis field goal. The defense forced another three-and-out by Detroit, and Miami's offense gave the ball right back. The Dolphins' three-and-out led to the Lions' decisive drive against Miami's worn-down defense.
"We put our defense in bad spots every time," Dolphins center Samson Satele said. "So we have to pick up our game. We have a great defense and outstanding special teams."
Wallace has grown into the No. 1 fan of Miami's defense, which entered the weekend ranked third in the NFL. Wallace is impressed how often his defense keeps the Dolphins in games. During the weeks when Miami's offense shows up, it usually means a big victory. Last week's 37-0 win over the San Diego Chargers was a good example of both sides of the football showing up.
However, in Wallace's words, the Dolphins' inconsistent offense too often makes them a one-sided team, and he's exactly right. Miami can beat the Jacksonvilles of the world without a strong performance on offense. But to truly be a playoff contender and beat good teams like Detroit and the Green Bay Packers, Miami's offense must show up.
"Definitely, definitely, definitely we have to hold our own weight. I always say we have to be able to hold our own weight," Wallace said. "We have to be able to kill games. That game should have never even come down to the last drive."
The losses to the Lions and Packers could be two games Miami looks back on after the season as missed opportunities.
"It hurts, because the defense is doing their job all game," Dolphins rookie offensive tackle Ja'Wuan James said. "They're all fighting and battling and we finally got an opportunity to end the game and we couldn't. That's the second time it's happened. We gotta do something to correct that."
The Dolphins enter the second half of the season still searching for consistency. They've had games in which the offense scored 37, 33 and 31 points, as well as games where it scored 10, 13 and 16. The offensive identity varies week-to-week.
"I don't know, it's got to be the mentality," Wallace explained. "We have the talent. We have the guys. I know we want to do it, but we have to do it."
The Dolphins have no time to sulk. They have a quick turnaround in Week 11 with a Thursday game against the Buffalo Bills. This could turn out to be an elimination game with both AFC East teams sitting at 5-4 in a crowded playoff field. Buffalo also has won three straight games -- and four of five -- against Miami in this series.
"It sucks right now, but as soon as we land [in Miami] we have to focus on Buffalo," Satele said. "Every time we lose a game, in my head the next team gotta pay. Unfortunately it's the Buffalo Bills and we have to step up."