Dolphins on defensive after 0-3 start

DAVIE, Fla. -- Linebacker Karlos Dansby says the Miami Dolphins are playing to save coach Tony Sparano's job, which might mean he's doomed.

Sparano began the season on borrowed time, and an 0-3 start has left his status even more shaky. With tough road assignments looming in the next two games against the Chargers and Jets, Sparano's players acknowledged the urgent need for a turnaround.

"We're putting him in a tough situation," Dansby said Monday. "We've got to play better. Right now his job is on the line, and we've got to do a better job of defending it for him. We're the only ones who can."

One day after a 17-16 loss Sunday at Cleveland, Sparano talked with reporters for 20 minutes but addressed his job insecurity only briefly.

"I don't know anything about that," he said. "I'm getting ready for the San Diego Chargers."

Dolphins owner Stephen Ross hasn't commented. After last season Ross embarked on a public courtship with Jim Harbaugh, who ended up being hired by the 49ers, and when talks fizzled, Sparano received an extension through 2013.

But for Sparano to keep his job that long, the Dolphins need to start winning. Among those attending the game in Cleveland was Ross' good friend Carl Peterson, the former Kansas City Chiefs general manager, and his presence might have been a hint the owner is considering changes.

Including last season, Miami has dropped six games in a row. Problems range from penalties, a feeble pass rush and red zone inefficiency to mangled syntax.

"We're going to find out what kind of team this team is," quarterback Chad Henne said after the game. He misspoke when he added, "I know one thing about these guys: They're not going to stop quitting."

Or words to that effect. However, linebacker Kevin Burnett said things could go downhill fast.

"At this point it's going to be, which road are we going to take?" Burnett said Monday. "Are we going to take the road of pointing fingers and saying, 'You, you, you,' or, 'It's the coach'? Or are we going to take the road of saying, 'OK, we're going to stick together, get fixed the things we need to get fixed, and find some way to pull out a win.' "

The defeat at Cleveland was the Dolphins' closest game this season, which made it perhaps the toughest loss. Miami dominated all afternoon before folding at the finish.

Colt McCoy completed 10 passes in the first 56½ minutes, then completed nine during an 80-yard touchdown drive that gave the Browns their first lead. The Dolphins' defense turned soft at the worst possible time.

"That's where I expect some of the closers, some of the big-play players, to make those kind of plays," Sparano said. "I've got to find out who the closers are. I know who some of them should be."

When Miami reached midfield with a chance to pull the game out in the final minute, Henne threw three consecutive incompletions and then an interception.

It was part of a familiar pattern for Henne, who started the game 15 for 17 and went 4 for 12 the rest of the way. His passer rating is a career-best 82.4 but only 48.7 in fourth quarter, when he tends to struggle most.

As is Sparano's custom, he defended the quarterback.

"He gave us a chance to win," the coach said.

A more meager contribution came from running back Reggie Bush, who rushed for 24 yards in 11 carries and fumbled twice. Through three games Bush has yet to make the impact anticipated, totaling just 80 yards rushing and 71 receiving.

The other offensive playmaker, Brandon Marshall, has only one touchdown. The Dolphins are scoring 17.6 points a game, almost identical to last year, when Ross complained the offense needed to be more dynamic and exciting.

But the most glaring statistic is zero wins, creating a gloomy mood at the Dolphins complex.

"I know the work put in by the coaching staff and this team," Sparano said. "My greatest frustration is not seeing them smile. I want to see the guys smile."