With head coach Tony Sparano's job in the balance, the Miami Dolphins came up small Sunday in Gillette Stadium.
The hodgepodge New England Patriots rested their top two wide receivers and best pass-rushers and shuffled backups in and out of the game throughout. Yet they still dominated the Dolphins 38-7.
The Patriots were up 38-0 with almost seven minutes left in the third quarter. The Dolphins avoided getting skunked when Davone Bess scored with 2:17 to play.
Dolphins owner Stephen Ross, who publicly declared before the season that his team was Super Bowl bound, must be embarrassed.
Ross didn't attend the game and reportedly was out of the country. Sparano, his staff and his players should pray that wherever Ross was they don't show NFL games on television.
The Dolphins were 6-5 and still had hope after Thanksgiving. They lost four of their last five games. The Buffalo Bills, Cleveland Browns and Detroit Lions beat them in Sun Life Stadium before the preseason-mode Patriots gave the Dolphins a clear idea how far behind they are in the AFC East.
The Dolphins went 1-7 at home this season, tying their worst record in club history. The only other time they were so bad at home was when they went 1-15 the year before Sparano and general manager Jeff Ireland arrived.
Ross didn't hire them. Former football operations boss Bill Parcells did with former owner Wayne Huizenga's consent. Huizenga sold the team shortly thereafter. Parcells supposedly still is with the Dolphins as a consultant, but he cleaned out his office months ago.
Ross put an emphasis on making Sun Life Stadium an entertainment destination from the moment he took over the Dolphins. One measly victory in an arena that was half-full toward the end of the season is unacceptable. And if Sparano can't motivate his players to play with any kind of edge, then how can Ross expect fans to respond at the box office?
The Patriots had nothing to play for Sunday other than tuning up for the postseason. It was like an exhibition for them.
But with jobs on the line, the Dolphins didn't show up.
Miami's offense, defense and special teams were equally disgusting. They gave up big plays all over the field. Their breakdowns were both strategic and mental. Tackling was poor. They committed bad penalties.
Chad Henne threw an interception on the opening drive and had a 29.2 passer rating in the first half. Dan Carpenter missed another field goal, this one from 40 yards. Ricky Williams fumbled, and Ronnie Brown ran six times for 14 yards in what might be the last games as Dolphins for the backfield mates.
Miami went into Week 17 with the third-ranked defense. Even with Wes Welker and Deion Branch not on the field, Tom Brady completed 10 of 16 passes for 199 yards and two touchdowns with no interceptions.
The Dolphins' secondary also got torched by the immortal combo of Brian Hoyer to Brandon Tate for a 42-yard touchdown in the third quarter. One play before the bomb, the Dolphins' defensive line encroached on fourth-and-1.
The Patriots gained 502 yards -- that doesn't include Julian Edelman's 94-yard punt return for a touchdown -- and had the ball for over 36 minutes.
A call from the governor might not even save Sparano after a performance like that, and he has a direct line to Tallahassee. Dolphins cornerback Nolan Carroll's mother is Florida's new lieutenant governor.
When Ross gets around to examining what transpired Sunday in Gillette Stadium, it very well could be a lethal inspection.