Well, what do you say after this one? First of all, congratulations to the Ravens. This will be the final Gameballs column of this season, at least until we get around to awarding the Gameball's MVP during the offseason. This was a tough one to write. Not only was it difficult to find 5 individual performers to receive a Gameball, but it's tough to write with any enthusiasm after a playoff loss.
But, one thing I'll keep saying all offseason is this: We are not done. This was not a one year project, and it showed yesterday that this team is still lacking in several areas. But I know that we'll be back, because the talent will continue to be brought in, and this team will get better and better every year. One thing I DO know, is that I've never seen a Dolphins team with more heart that this year's version. They overacheived all season, and they deserve all the respect in the world. Applaud this team for all that they accomplished. Don't bash them for not being good enough to win in the playoffs, because they all played way above their heads just to get there.
Now, saying all that, it's time to move forward. Many of the guys we fell in love with this season, may not make the cut next year. We still need to upgrade quite a few positions. There is still a lot of work to be done to get this team into the elite category of NFL squads. But that's a conversation for another day, so let me start the meat of this column with a few quick notes.
- Overall, I did not like the gameplans on either side of the ball. Offensively, I think we had the wrong strategy running the ball. Trying to go outside doesn't work against Baltimore. I really thought we needed to just get in an I Formation and pound our backs inside the tackles behind Polite. Baltimore's strength defensively is their incredible speed, and the sweeps we tried to run played right into that.
- More Gameplan. We had some success with the throws to the flats, specifically the backs out of the backfield and the bubble screens. I was screaming for more bubble screens because they get our athletes away from their linebackers, and into the open field. Going down the field, or over the middle, is a fruitless effort against Baltimore unless you have a fireballer that can get the ball in before Reed gets there. There might be 4 or 5 QB's in the league that can do that. Pennington's best attribute is his accuracy on the short passes, and we went away from that. I really thought the playcalling benefitted Baltimore's defense more than our own offense.
- Defensively, I was disappointed that we did not blitz Flacco relentlessly. It seemed everytime we brought pressure, his throw sailed long, or bounced in short, or ended up out of bounds. It would've helped to stop their running game also by getting multiple guys in the backfield and forcing their backs to change direction before the hole. We sat back, gave Flacco all day, and gave their backs room to get going. I think we came at them the wrong way.
- Chad Pennington: I wrote a piece on him yesterday, so I won't spend much time on him here. One thing I will say is that he exceeded every single expectation I had for him this season, and he played phenomenally down the stretch to get us into the playoffs. He was the perfect man for this team, this year. Moving on to next year, well, that will debated, I'm sure, from now until training camp. But I believe the QB position will be battled for over the next 7-8 months, and this coaching staff will start the best player. And, for the sake of this franchise going forward, I'll be rooting for Henne to win the job. I can't think of a better situation to be in than having a young stud QB take the reigns and have one of the smartest and hardest-working veteran QB's backing him up and mentoring him.
On to the final 5 Gameballs of the Year.
5. Patrick Cobbs - I really felt bad for him after his fumble on the sideline. He was doing everything he could all day long to try and help us win, and I think he just tried to do too much on that play. Bottom line, he's a guy I want on this team for a long time. He does so much for this team, never complains, and just plays at full tilt all game long. He led the team in receiving yards with 55, on 4 catches, most of those yards coming after the catch. He added a special teams tackle for good measure. He's one guy I've always felt comfortable with getting the ball this season, and I was shocked that he put one on the ground. Patrick Cobbs is everything that you want in a football player, though. He has a heart too big for his body, and he's as humble and dedicated as they come.
4. Davone Bess - He only had 2 catches, both on bubble screens (grrr) and he took them for 9 and 45 yards, respectively. The 45 yarder showed his entire arsenal, the great hands, burst and quickness, and moves in the open-field. The kid has potential, no doubt about it. I really wished they would've used him more on those screens, because as I stated earlier, it's a very low risk way to get a good athlete on the edge and away from Baltimore's front seven. With Bess' ability, I think that play can be a staple of our passing offense in the future.
3. Brandon London - He had his best game as a Dolphin in the playoffs against one of the top defenses in the league. 4 catches (double his season total) for 38 yards, 2 of them for first downs, and the other two back to back on our final drive, ultimately coming up 2 yards short of a first down. I still maintain my man-crush on him, and I really believe he'll be a contributor on this team in the future. He's a very good special teams player, and I would love to see him rounding out a group of 5 WR's (Ginn, Bess, Camarillo, London, and a rookie/FA to be the number 1).
2. Ronnie Brown - God, does this guy have heart or what? We couldn't get anything going in the running game, and he only gained 19 yards on 12 carries, but he ran like his life depended on it. 6 receptions to lead the team, including a brilliant 1-handed touchdown catch, contributed to the effort. And that TD catch was a thing of beauty. It looked overthrown, but Ronnie was able to burst under it, tip it with his left hand, and corral it before rolling over and landing in the endzone. Any doubt that this guy is a star in the making should be gone after this season. Not only did he stay healthy, but he showed big-play ability as well as tough running on route to nearly 1000 yards, even though the load was split between him and Ricky all season long. His ability to catch the ball out of the backfield and make plays in space is just a bonus.
And the Final Number 1 Gameball of the Season goes to... Coach Tony Sparano. Yes, I was unhappy with the gameplan. But what I did enjoy Sunday, and throughout the season for that matter, was that he had this team playing hard and playing together for the entire game. I've seen too many teams in the NFL break down and start fighting amongst themselves when things are going bad. Or guys quitting on plays when hope seems lost in a game. This Dolphins team fought all year long, no matter the score or the situation, and yesterday was no different. My hat goes off to this staff for instilling that attitude in these players. It shows me that Sparano and co. will get every last ounce of football player out of every guy they bring in, and I can't ask for more than that from my coach. I hope he's here for a long time, because he's a keeper. Congratulations, Tony, on a terrific season, and here's to hoping for many more in Miami.
Instead of a Turd Sandwich this game, seeing as it's the final game of this amazing season, I'm going to give out a my Thank You's for the entire year.
- Thank you, Wayne H, for bringing in the master, and leaving this team in good hands.
- Thank you, Bill Parcells, for engineering this turnaround, and bringing in a good young GM, in Jeff Ireland, and good young coach, in Tony Sparano.
- Thank you Coaches, for getting these players to play with such continuity and energy, and for doing everything possible to give us a chance to win each and every game.
- Thank you, Players, for giving 100% in every practice, in every game, and in everything you did this year to make it the most enjoyable Dolphins season in my lifetime.
- Thank you, Dolphins fans, for supporting this team after last season's debacle, and for proving to the entire league that there isn't a better fanbase around.
Yeah, I know, the ending was sappy, but that's all for that. From here on out, it's stage 2 of rebuilding. Player's re-signing, Free Agency, the Draft, it's all on the radar, now. Let 2009 begin!