FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – It's not quite true the Miami Dolphins had nothing at stake in the regular-season finale: They might have been playing for Tony Sparano's job.
In what might have been the last chance to keep their coach, Miami lost 38-7 to the New England Patriots on Sunday — a fitting end to a dud of a season. Neither Chad Henne nor Tyler Thigpen could do much with the offense as the Dolphins fell behind 38-0 before a late touchdown helped them avoid their second shutout of the season.
"We did it to ourselves, coming into this game, having nothing to play for, other than the pride thing and all those good things," Sparano said. "You just don't want to be in that situation. It's not what we aspire to be. We have a lot loftier goals than that."
Dolphins spokesman Harvey Greene said any decisions on the coaching staff would be made by owner Stephen Ross, who did not make the trip.
The Patriots (14-2) had already clinched home-field advantage through the AFC playoffs, and the Dolphins had long been eliminated from postseason contention. But Miami (7-9) came into the game with a chance to finish .500 and end the season with a win that could help make the case for keeping Sparano.
Instead, the Dolphins defense gave up touchdowns on two of New England's first three possessions. And, after scoring on Julian Edelman's 94-yard punt return near the end of the first half, the Patriots opened the second half with two quick touchdown drives to make it 38-0.
"You never want to be in this position again. I never, ever, ever do," Sparano said. "We shouldn't forget what just happened to us out there. Not a good place to be."
Only New England's benevolence kept it that close, with backup quarterback Brian Hoyer leading a 9 minute, 35 second drive to eat up most of the fourth quarter before the Patriots ran the ball on fourth-and-9 from the Miami 19 instead of going for the field goal.
"It was difficult, frustrating, disappointing and embarrassing. It was all those things," defensive lineman Kendall Langford said. "We let each other down, the coaching staff and the organization. What went on out there is not acceptable at all."
Sparano, who has one year left on his contract, took over the Dolphins after they went 1-15 in 2007 and led them to the AFC East title the next season — their only postseason appearance since 2001. But Miami is 14-18 since then, and Sparano lost the support of the man who hired him when Bill Parcells gave up control of football operations in September.
The Dolphins (7-9) lost to last-place Detroit last week and finished 1-7 at home, matching the worst home record in franchise history.
Sparano has said he is scheduled to meet with Ross to discuss his future. The coach said he looks forward to sharing his ideas for improving the team.
"He is such a good coach," cornerback Benny Sapp said. "You just hate to see it go down like that, especially when (he) works so hard during the week getting us motivated."