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Dolphins have no fight left in them this season

SAN DIEGO -- In the bowels of Qualcomm Stadium in what potentially was the final NFL game in San Diego, Miami Dolphins players mulled around the visiting locker room on Sunday with downtrodden looks and few answers.

Defensive end Olivier Vernon sat at his stool for minutes with his head down. Starting outside linebacker Jelani Jenkins, who was inactive with an ankle injury, had a blank stare at his locker. Left tackle Branden Albert and defensive end Chris McCain both limped back to the team bus after suffering knee injuries.

The Dolphins had the look of a team that's had enough -- enough losing, enough in-season changes and enough getting pounded by both inferior and superior teams.

The struggling San Diego Chargers crushed Miami 30-14 on Sunday, but the story behind the scoreboard is what's most important.

The Dolphins proved they do not have any fight left in them this season. That much was clear after falling behind 23-0 in a listless first half and showing only a minor spark in garbage time.

Something is definitely wrong when Miami makes a previously 3-10 team look like a playoff contender. San Diego showed much more fight in securing its fourth victory than the Dolphins (5-9), despite neither team playing with anything on the line. That, in itself, is telling.

“At this point it’s a man-to-man reality check,” said linebacker Kelvin Sheppard, who led the team with 12 tackles. “We’re 5-9, and each guy [should ask], ‘Are you doing what you need to be doing to help this team win?’ I think ... every guy [should start] with honestly answering that question instead of making excuses, because it’s easy to make excuses.”

Sunday’s loss guarantees Miami will have its first losing season since 2012. The team will fail to match the back-to-back 8-8 seasons from 2013 and 2014.

A major housecleaning is both expected and needed. This team has a lot of issues with coaching and personnel that have consistently showed up throughout this season. The problem is Miami still has two games to play out this season.

“It’s a job,” cornerback Brent Grimes said. “It’s your job to play football. Do your job. We have to approach it like that.”

The contrast of where Miami was at the beginning of the season to after its loss Sunday to San Diego is drastic. Many thought the Dolphins were a playoff team. So did the team and its players.

“In my five years in the league, at the start of training camp, I told myself this was the most talented team I’ve been on in the NFL,” Sheppard said. “I went to the divisional round in Indianapolis. I truly felt like at the start of training camp we had everything in place to take the next step.”

Instead, Miami took multiple steps backward this year. The ugliness likely will continue in the final two weeks, when the Dolphins host the Indianapolis Colts and defending Super Bowl champion New England Patriots to end a grueling season.