It sure did get nerve-racking a few times on Thursday night. But when all was said and done, the Dolphins went up to Charlotte and officially dug themselves out of the 0-3 hole they put themselves in to start the season by knocking off the Panthers 24-17.
Ricky steps up in Ronnie's absence to lead the way
There was a lot of panic amongst Dolphin fans over the past few days as we all awaited word on how serious Ronnie Brown's injury was. We then learned yesterday that Brown would be done for the season with a Lisfranc fracture to his right foot (he'll have surgery Friday, by the way). That's when we all began to wonder whether Ricky Williams could step into the role of workhorse and lead this offense. We all learned on Thursday night that - at least for now - Ricky's still got it.
In an outstanding performance, Williams carried the ball 22 times for 119 yards and two touchdowns - adding a receiving touchdown as well. This, by the way, was Ricky's third career three touchdown game and the first time in his career that he scored a touchdown both running and receiving. Not bad for a 32 year old back.
Don't let the numbers fool you, though. It was an up and down game for Williams. Nine of Ricky's 22 carries went for two yards or less - including four runs for negative yardage. Of course, it's not all Ricky's fault - sometimes he just got no blocking help from his line. But what impressed me most was how explosive Ricky was on some of those other carries. He looked very spry on that 3rd & 1 toss left to get down to the one yard line on Miami's second touchdown drive. And then, of course, there's the 46 yard scamper by Ricky in which he showed good burst and long speed on his way to the endzone - on carry number 22 on the night, by the way.
We said this week that without Ronnie and on a short week with little preparation time, the Dolphins would get back to the basics and play "conventional" football. They did just that - and it worked thanks to Ricky Williams. Now can Ricky keep it up for the rest of the season?
Henne and the receivers make some critical plays
For all the talk about how the Dolphins badly need a receiver - and they do - it's worth noting how well Chad Henne and his current group of receivers played on Thursday night. The stats aren't special by any means. And Henne was still a bit too inconsistent with his accuracy for my taste. But when they absolutely had to make a play, this passing offense got it done - against a pass defense that was ranked fourth in the NFL heading into this game.
Here's a stat I like a lot. When asked to pass on third down, Chad Henne started the game 0 for 3. But he then converted 5 of their next 7 3rd down passing situations - which included some of the biggest plays of the game.
It all started on Henne's completion to Ricky Williams out of the backfield on a 3rd & 9 inside the red zone. Ricky was running a Texas route out of the backfield (a zig zag where he runs towards the sideline out of the backfield and then cuts it inside like a slant once he hits the line of scrimmage) and Henne did a nice job of being patient and finding the open man.
On their next scoring drive, Henne converted a big 3rd & 6 by throwing a strike to Davone Bess, who made a remarkable lunging catch for the first down. Five plays later, Williams got into the endzone.
And then there was the biggest play of the game - which we'll get to in a moment.
All in all, you have to really like what you continue to see out of Henne. He didn't make any mistakes. He didn't take any sacks - a credit to both the offensive line and to Henne for getting rid of the ball when necessary. I'd like to see more consistency with his accuracy, of course. But it's not like he has an accuracy problem. Some of his throws are absolutely perfect in where they are placed (a couple throws to Bess, the throw to Brian Hartline, and the throw to Ted Ginn along the sideline). It's a consistency issue with him - especially when he needs to put some touch on the ball.
Henne's getting better, though. And I think his future is pretty bright.
TURNING POINT OF THE GAME
Some might say the turning point of the game was the 46 yard touchdown run by Ricky Williams. But that play never happens if not for the play that Chad Henne and Davone Bess made one play earlier.
Momentum was beginning to shift in Carolina's favor. The Dolphins were leading by only three late in the fourth quarter, staring down a 3rd & 12 and very close to a potentially costly three and out. The crowd was loud and the Panther defense was fired up. So what does a young, first year starting quarterback do? He takes the snap, rolls right, waits, waits, and waits some more. Then he shuffles left a little bit and throws a strike to Davone Bess - who was running right to left away from Henne, but also away from the coverage. Chad Henne showed outstanding poise and vision while Bess showed terrific awareness.
If the Dolphins don't make that play, who knows how this game plays out.
Many more quick thoughts on the game:
- Some many performances deserve to be mentioned. But I'll start with Joey Porter. A team-high 8 tackles and 2 sacks? That's the "Peezy" I know and love. Welcome back! Put back-to-back games like this and I'll officially apologize to him.
- Lousaka Polite is a monster. He's officially one of my five favorite current Dolphins. All he does is pick up short yardage first downs and knock heads. Even Joey Porter, speaking on NFLN after the game, talked about Polite's play tonight - and he wasn't even asked. It's easy to see why his coaches and teammates love this guy.
- Jake Long simply owned Julius Peppers on Thursday night. Great job, Jake!
- Speaking of the offensive line, how about that depth? Players kept going down left and right and it just didn't matter. Henne was never sacked and they opened up enough holes for Ricky. Huge shout-out to Nate Garner, by the way. The man played left guard, right tackle, and center at different times in this game. That's manning up.
- Lex Hilliard - welcome to the NFL, kid. After back-to-back penalties by Jake Grove, Hilliard powered his way on a 3rd & 16 draw play - picking up 18 and a first down. Tacklers were just bouncing off of Hilliard on the run. He's not a bad fourth running back, huh? Again, props to the front office for the solid depth at running back as well.
- Davone Bess - wow. How about those hands, folks? He had a few hiccups along the way this season. But it looks like our favorite undrafted wide receiver is back to his consistent form. That highlight lunging catch he made on a critical third down was the kind of catch that superstars make.
- We have to give a shout-out to Ted Ginn. He didn't have any drops, made a couple of tough catches, and averaged 42 yards per kickoff return. He came into the game third in the league in kick returning. He now has a very real shot of leading the league in yards per kick return this season. At least that's something - and maybe will help build his confidence again.
- Nice job by the defense getting pressure - at critical times, too. All four of Miami's sacks came on third down. Two of them were red zone sacks, too, forcing Carolina to punt. I think we need to dial up those safety blitzes a little bit more often - especially on third downs - moving forward. They seem to work and free up others to make a play.
- Randy Starks is having a hell of a season. Starks was one of the two guys who made the initial stop on that 3rd & 1 run by the Panthers midway through the third quarter to stuff Carolina and force them to punt. He then sacked Jake Delhomme early in the fourth quarter on a 3rd & goal play to force the Panthers to settle for a field goal.
- Nathan Jones is one of this team's unheralded key role players. He's made a number of big plays this season - including an interception to end a Carolina drive and a big pass break-up with under two minutes to go. He's becoming a terrific nickel corner.
- Why not kick a field goal with 44 seconds left? It would have only been a 45 or 46 yarder for Dan Carpenter and would have sealed the game. A very bad decision by Tony Sparano here. Luckily, it didn't come back to bite him in the ass. But let's not have that happen again, alright?
- Joey Haynos with two bad drops. Do I hear more calls for Kory Sperry?
- Let's hope Jason Ferguson isn't hurt badly. Without him, this defense looks drastically different.
- Just how important was it to get out in front of the Panthers 14-3 and take Carolina out of their game plan? Very. DeAngelo Williams was averaging nearly 10 yards per carry against the Dolphins. But he only got 13 carries thanks to a combination of poor play calling by Carolina and having to play catch-up late in the game. This game could have been ugly if Miami didn't get in front before the half.