PITTSBURGH -- Despite a sullen atmosphere in the Miami Dolphins' locker room Sunday night, one question made team owner Stephen Ross briefly chuckle: How close are the Dolphins from competing in a Super Bowl?
"Three games away," Ross said with a grin. "That's how close we are."
Although somewhat joking, the billionaire owner was technically accurate. Miami (10-7) was three wins away from making a Super Bowl following Sunday's 30-12 loss to Pittsburgh in the wild-card round.
The Dolphins overcame a slow start at 1-4 and various injuries to key players like Mike Pouncey, Reshad Jones and Ryan Tannehill to make the playoffs for the first time since 2008. Rookie head coach Adam Gase did a stellar job of keeping the team together and playing its best football late in the season when it mattered most.
Miami fell flat in the playoffs. But there was a lot of good for the team to look back on when it evaluates what it accomplished.
"I feel we've come a long way from where we started," Ross said. "We're certainly unhappy right now. But I'm happy with the direction we're going, and I think we have the right coach and the right people in place."
The next step for the Dolphins is proving their successful run is sustainable. Although each year presents change and new challenges, Miami (10-7) will be viewed next season as a team with a bright future. It has a young roster with an improving quarterback (Tannehill), and a head coach (Gase) who should be even better in Year 2. Also, last season the Dolphins had 33 of 53 players age 26 or younger, and those players gained valuable playoff experience.
It's enough to make the billionaire owner feel optimistic about his team.
"I think the basis is here to really create something," Ross said.