Dolphins show fight but need more offensive playmakers to beat AFC elite

MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. -- The Miami Dolphins traded haymakers with the NFL's defending champions, the Kansas City Chiefs, largely thanks to their playmaking defense and resurgent quarterback, Tua Tagovailoa. Their offensive flaws were too big to overcome, though, in a 33-27 loss on Sunday. The defense is ready to compete with and ultimately beat the AFC's elite, but the offense isn't there yet.

The Dolphins have been one of the NFL's best stories this season, going from tanking cries to playoff contenders, but there's one key area where Miami is clearly still rebuilding. The Dolphins need to target offensive playmakers this offseason.

After a shaky first half, Tagovailoa rose to the occasion in the second. He played a lot faster and with more rhythm and confidence. Tagovailoa had his first 300-yard game and did so despite key drops from wide receivers Jakeem Grant (multiple) and DeVante Parker that ended early drives and took points off the board. Later on, the Dolphins lost Grant, Parker and tight end Mike Gesicki to injuries.

Tagovailoa thrives when he has players he can trust with speed, playmaking ability and separation skills. The Dolphins' two best weapons, Parker and Gesicki, are strong jump-ball specialists, but nobody on the roster consistently threatens defenses deep or in the open field.

There are two elements of good news, though. The Dolphins have shown fight all season, and they did so again Sunday, marching back after the Chiefs went up 20 in the second half Sunday. And Miami is for real on defense. The Dolphins nabbed three interceptions off Chiefs QB Patrick Mahomes, who came into the game throwing just two on the season, and the last one by Xavien Howard (his league-best ninth) was one of the best by anyone in 2020. Byron Jones also forced a fumble, along with his interception.

The Dolphins (8-5) are still firmly in the playoff mix. If they can win two of their final three games (vs. New England, at Las Vegas, at Buffalo), they will likely make it into the postseason.

Looking ahead to the 2021 offseason, when the Dolphins have two first-round and two second-round picks coupled with plenty of money to spend in free agency, the Dolphins should target receiver and running back as the top areas to upgrade.

The Dolphins were without their top three running backs because of COVID-19. Injuries had the Dolphins relying primarily on rookie receivers Lynn Bowden Jr. and Malcolm Perry as well as veteran Mack Hollins by the end of the game. Not exactly the group that helps you light up the scoreboard. Healthy or not, there aren't many game-changing pieces on the roster. That has to change in 2021.

QB breakdown: Tagovailoa looked like a different quarterback after halftime for the second consecutive week. He ran the no-huddle offense with confidence and hit Gesicki with two touchdowns. He also showed some chemistry with Bowden that helped him finish with a career-high 316 yards. His ability to bounce back has been fun to watch.

Troubling trend: It has been a rough past two weeks for the Dolphins in terms of injuries. Last week, three starters -- guard Ereck Flowers, linebackers Elandon Roberts and Kyle Van Noy -- were injured and missed Sunday's game. This week, three more starters -- Gesicki, Parker, safety Bobby McCain -- were injured and didn't return to the game. Next man up is a common phrase, but Dolphins are running out of good players.

Silver lining: The Dolphins became the second team to intercept Mahomes three times in a game in his career. They also sacked him three times, including Jerome Baker's 30-yard sack. Forcing four turnovers should be enough to win, but it wasn't on Sunday. Led by Howard, who has a good case to be named the NFL Defensive Player of the Year, the Dolphins have gone from arguably the NFL's worst defense to one of the best in one year.