It wasn't flashy and it wasn't particularly exciting...for football fans in Toronto, that is. But the Dolphins did what they have been doing all season: played efficient football. And in the end, the Dolphins kept the opposing offense out of the endzone for the 2nd week in a row and knocked off a listless Bills team, 16-3.
Two quick notes before we get into the headlines from Sunday's win. First of all, though the Dolphins won and the Jets fell to the 49ers, the Dolphins still have to win their last 3 games to win the division - that is, assuming the Jets win their next two games before hosting the Dolphins at the Meadowlands in week 17. Secondly, what the hell was with Kevin Harlan? How many times is he going to say "Ricky Brown"? Seriously. Isn't this clown supposed to be a professional broadcaster? I can think of at least a handful of guys who are part of our community who could do a better job than Harlan.
Now that I got that off my chest, onto the headlines from Sunday's game:
EFFICIENCY THE KEY FOR MIAMI'S OFFENSE
It's become a reoccurring theme this season for the Dolphins. The offense might not be flashy (outside of the media frenzy that the Wildcar created). It might not score tons of points. And on Sunday, the Fins didn't even tally 300 yards of offense.
But what they did do was not turn the ball over, convert a couple key 3rd & 4th down conversions, and dominate the "time of possession" battle by 15 whole minutes. It was a remarkable performance - even if the highlights and the stats don't show it.
We wanted to see the Dolphins pound the rock - and they did, to a certain extent. Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams combined for 110 yards on 27 carries - which isn't great, but isn't bad. But it was efficient.
And not to be forgotten is the contribution of Lousaka Polite - one of the best football names around. Polite converted two key short-yardage situations to keep drives alive. First, Polite picked up a yard on 3rd & 1 on the Dolphins' second possession. The next play was Anthony Fasano's 20 yard TD catch. Then when Tony Sparano - who impresses me every week with his ballsy decisions - decided to go for a 4th & 1 situation, it was Polite who gained the needed yard. That drive would end with a Dan Carpenter field goal. Stats won't highlight Polite's contributions, but he knows his role and he plays it well.
Meanwhile, Chad Pennington was again the model of efficiency on Sunday. Again, stats won't do Pennington justice - throwing for just 181 yards and averaging just 6.2 yards per attempt. But he only threw 6 incompletions and made the throws that needed to be made time and time again. It's amazing how accurate Chad is - especially over the middle. No quarterback has more success throwing over the middle - the most dangerous area to throw - than Pennington. He completed 4 passes of 15+ yards on Sunday down the middle of the field, which includes his 20 yard TD pass to Fasano. It's been said a million times, but I'll say it again: CP10 has been the main reason for this team's success in 2008.
Of course, it wouldn't be fair for me to not mention CP's targets - and one guy in particular. Davone Bess has stepped up his game and has proven to be a remarkable find by this regime. He was obviously helped by the added attention to Ted Ginn by the Bills' secondary, but that doesn't diminish what he did on Sunday. The Bills seemingly dared the Dolphins to use Bess as their main aerial threat, and Bess obliged. His 9 catch, 74 yard performance was, at times, brilliant. He continues to impress me with his hands and he's as shifty a runner as I've seen in a Dolphins' uniform in a long time.
DEFENSE REFUSES TO GET BEAT
It's almost as if the defense took that loss against the Patriots personally. Since then, they haven't allowed a touchdown. Sunday's performance in Toronto was another stand-out performance and one that featured a lot of heroes.
The secondary played excellent. Will Allen's interception in the endzone was brilliant. Where have those hands been for the past 2 years? And Allen, along with Andre Goodman, kept Lee Evans quiet all game long. Evans, as many of you know, scares me to death. And the J.P. Losman to Evans connection has killed the Dolphins many times. But Losman and Evans never got into a rhythm and you have to partly credit the secondary for that.
What worried me most, though, heading into this game was how poorly Miami defended the run against the Rams a week ago. However, the run defense played phenomenally today - led by Jason Ferguson. His performance on Sunday was probably one of his top 2 as a Dolphin, winning the battle at the point of attack consistently. Kendall Langford also really impressed me - which is a good sign because it's been a couple of weeks since he last stood out.
Joey Porter and Charlie Anderson also deserve mentioning. They provided a very good pass rush for most of the game. Porter came on strong late in the game and picked up 2 more sacks while also forcing a fumble that the Dolphins recovered to seal the game. But Charlie Anderson's emergence was the real story. Anderson mostly played in just Miami's nickel and dime packages - therefore limited to about 12 to 15 snaps. But he made a dramatic impact, tallying 3 tackles, a sack, and forcing 2 fumbles. His sack and first forced fumble essentially took the Bills out of field goal range and forced them to punt on their first possession of the 2nd half.
It's this kind of defensive performance that the Dolphins will need week in and week out as they continue to improbable march towards a potential playoff berth.
-Dan Carpenter! What else can I say? Sure, he missed a meaningless FG late in the game. But he nailed the ones that mattered, including a career long 50 yarder. He is earning his nickname, isn't he?
-How good of a tackler is Yeremiah Bell? On 4th & 5 with about 6 minutes left, Bell wrapped up Marshawn Lynch after he made the catch and prevented him from even thinking about picking up that first down. Give the man his contract extension. Week in and week out, he earns it.
-Was that really an Ernest Wilford signing or was I seeing things?
-Still too many penalties - especially penalties that negate touchdowns. Good teams limit those mistakes - they can be just as costly as turnovers. Improvement is needed.
-3rd downs. The good news? The Dolphins held the Bills to just 1/10 on third down. The bad news? The Fins only converted 4/13 themselves.
-Brandon Fields is emerging as a very, very good punter. I can see why this new regime stuck with him and gave him time. He always had a booming leg. And now his technique is improving.
-Kick and punt coverage is improving. Sure, I'm not happy about Leodis McKelvin's 32 yard return. But as he made his move, I had a bad feeling that he was going to change the game right then and there. But before I knew it, they bottled him up...finally. I'll live with that - it's improvement.
-I was worried about the offensive line following Justin Smiley's injury last week. But I was pleasantly surprised. This unit won at the point of attack more often than not. And they kept Pennington pretty safe in the pocket.
I'm amazed that, this late into December, us Dolphin fans aren't talking about the draft or free agency. It's amazing. And every week, what the Dolphins are doing becomes more and more epic. That's right. Epic.
"Mission 4W" has now shrunk to "Mission 3W." The 49ers will not be easy next week. Enjoy the win but don't let yourself get too confident.
And remember this: the Dolphins are guaranteed to not have a losing record in 2008. Simply amazing.