It wasn’t the ending the Miami Dolphins or their fans were hoping for, but there can be no doubt the 2016 season gave them reason to be excited about the future.

Finishing the regular season with a record of 10-6 — a remarkable achievement after a 1-4 start — the Dolphins featured a winning campaign for the first time in eight years. As we detailed here, even after a blowout loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers, Miami’s season can only be seen as a huge success.

That’s exactly how the team’s owner, Stephen Ross, feels about his franchise’s accomplishments.

“Three games away,” Ross said with a grin, per James Walker of ESPN. “That’s how close we are.”

Three games away from a championship. Three games away from the ultimate goal. And with a rookie head coach, no less. And with a team that suffered its fair share of devastating injuries, no more so than the one suffered by quarterback Ryan Tannehill just weeks before the playoffs.

So even though the last thing the team and its fans remember is the bitter taste of defeat, there is plenty of good to embrace. With that in mind, Ross gave a huge show of support for his new coach and the people he has surrounding him.

“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.

“I think the basis is here to really create something,” Ross said.

Tannehill said before Saturday’s game that he’s unsure if he needs surgery to repair his ACL (more on that here).

Obviously it would be better for him and the team’s offense if he didn’t need surgery, as that option would lead to more recovery time, which could leak into the team’s offseason schedule. Repetitions in Gase’s offense with his receivers is what is needed for Tannehill to continue developing as the franchise passer for Miami.

But the biggest problem the team faces isn’t on the offensive side of the ball. Despite spending huge in free agency the past few years, Miami’s defense continues to disappoint. Ranking No. 29 in total defense and No. 18 in scoring defense, the Dolphins must find a way to improve on that side of the ball to take the next step in 2017.