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Patriots’ next opponent

Dolphins have reasons to be worried after fast start

Quarterback Ryan Tannehill and the Dolphins have committed seven turnovers in their last three games.

AP/File

Quarterback Ryan Tannehill and the Dolphins have committed seven turnovers in their last three games.

The 2013 season began with so much optimism for the Miami Dolphins. After spending $98 million guaranteed in the offseason to surround young quarterback Ryan Tannehill with new weapons, the Dolphins jumped out to a 3-0 start, including an impressive win at Indianapolis.

And now, as they prepare for Sunday’s game at New England? Panic and despair has set in among Dolphins fans, as usual.

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The Dolphins enter the game on a three-game losing streak, after getting crushed by the Saints on “Monday Night Football” and dropping a couple of heartbreakers to the Ravens and Bills. Trying to protect a late 21-20 lead Sunday against Buffalo, Tannehill was sacked and lost a fumble inside three minutes, giving the Bills one last chance to drive down the field and kick the winning field goal. Overall, they have committed seven turnovers in their last three games.

With the Patriots and the 5-2 Bengals next on the schedule, the Dolphins could be looking at 3-5 before long.

“We know, inevitably, there are going be ups and downs during the course of an NFL season,” second-year coach Joe Philbin said. “We’ve got to display right now the strength and character, confidence in our players and our staff, that we are going to get things fixed.”

The Patriots have won six in a row over the Dolphins, including a 28-0 shutout last year in Week 17, but the Dolphins are a much different team. Tannehill is more decisive in his second season, and is having a decent year with nine touchdowns and 263 yards per game, although his seven interceptions are too many. He has new weapons on offense, with Mike Wallace (357 yards, one touchdown) adding a vertical threat, Brandon Gibson (322 yards, two touchdowns) replacing Davone Bess in the slot, and Lamar Miller (254 yards, two touchdowns) replacing Reggie Bush at running back.

Overall Tannehill has four receivers with at least 24 catches and 300 yards (also Brian Hartline and Charles Clay), and Clay is emerging as a solid H-back with a team-high three touchdown catches so far.

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But the offensive line, with Jonathan Martin replacing Jake Long at left tackle and former Falcon Tyson Clabo taking over at right tackle, has struggled. The Dolphins have allowed a league-high 26 sacks, and on Monday they traded for Ravens tackle Bryant McKinnie, who may move to left tackle, bump Martin back to right tackle, and displace Clabo from the lineup.

Defensively, the Dolphins tried to get younger and faster by replacing linebackers Karlos Dansby and Kevin Burnett with free agents Dannell Ellerbe and Philip Wheeler. They also jumped up to No. 3 in the draft to take pass rusher Dion Jordan.

But the Dolphins are just 20th in points allowed and 21st in total defense as they have dealt with several minor injuries to Paul Soliai, Cameron Wake (who has just 2½ sacks after totaling 15 last year), and Ellerbe, who missed last week with a shoulder injury.

But the Dolphins can be stout up front when Soliai, Wake, Jared Odrick, Randy Starks, and Olivier Vernon are healthy. And one free agent who has worked out well is cornerback Brent Grimes, who has an interception and six passes defended this year.

The Dolphins are ranked 25th in pass defense, but only because they have faced the fifth-most pass attempts in the NFL. The secondary is much improved with Grimes, former Cleveland cornerback Dmitri Patterson, and young safety Reshad Jones, who has 1½ sacks and an interception for a touchdown after signing a four-year contract extension during training camp.

Ben Volin can be reached at ben.volin@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @BenVolin

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