I could sit here and talk about the heart, toughness, and resiliency that this Miami Dolphins team showed on Sunday in Nashville. As fans, we have every reason to be proud of this football team. They battled all game long, rallying from an 18 point second half deficit. But at this point in the season, "heart" doesn't get you into the playoffs. If it did, this team would be a shoe-in. But as it is, the Dolphins just made too many mistakes and failed to take advantage of too many opportunities, resulting in a heart-breaking 27-24 loss to the Titans.
Missed opportunities and very costly mistakes
I could sit here all day and talk about the numbers with you (and I will highlight a few in a bit). But the bottom line of any football game is you have to score touchdowns when you get into the red zone and you can't turn the ball over. The Dolphins did both. And perhaps it as fitting that it was a Chad Henne interception in overtime (and a completely bogus unnecessary roughness penalty) that wound up souring what could have been a remarkable comeback victory. I say it's fitting because Henne made a few bad throws. However, the Dolphins somehow kept their head above water and climbed back into the game despite those earlier miscues. But you just can't continue to make mistakes and expect to win a football game.
In a way, this game was a microcosm of the 2009 season for the Dolphins. They fell behind early, battled their way back, but eventually came up short.
I won't kill Chad Henne here like some will want to do. He's a kid who is just 11 starts into his career. These kinds of mistakes are to be expected. What is impressive is how he battled back, leading touchdown drives of 80 yards and 90 yards in the fourth quarter to get this thing into overtime. That's pretty damn impressive for as young quarterback if you ask me.
Henne, aided by a ridiculous catch by Brian Hartline, was 11/16 in the fourth quarter for 150 yards and a touchdown - recovering from a 17/27, 195 yard, 2 interception first three quarters. Entering overtime, you got the feeling that Henne would again march down the field, as he did on his two previous drives, and get the Dolphins into scoring position. But he made a horrendous throw. No excuses - and Henne owned up to it after the game:
"There are excuses, but I am not going to make them. I will just say that I missed the pass, and next time I will connect on it."
Honestly, there's no reason not to believe him, either.
Of course, this game goes deeper than just Henne's miscues. The Dolphins were unable to cash in on their first two red zone opportunities. After the Vontae Davis interception, the offense stalled out and settled for a field goal. Then, trailing 10-3, the Dolphins had it first and goal inside Tennessee's 10 yard line. That's when Pat White ran for a yard, Lex Hilliard ran for two yards and Brian Hartline got called for a false start. An incomplete pass on the next play forced Miami to settle for a FG once again.
That's two red zone trips resulting in six points - surprising considering how good this team has become at converting red zone opportunities into touchdowns. Then, of course, we had the Henne interception on the pass intended for Ricky Williams - a pass that was under-thrown, and should not have even been thrown on first down from Tennessee's 14 yard line.
And we can't forget about Ricky's most fumble that stalled another drive just outside Tennessee's 20 yard line.
Four turnovers and eight penalties. It's almost a miracle the Dolphins came as close as they did to winning.
Defense steps up in second half
Like most of you, I was ready to kill this defense for their terrible first half performance. They let the Titans convert on 6 of their first 8 third downs, including three on their first touchdown drive. They let these mediocre receivers get behind them way too often. Vontae Davis got beat. Nathan Jones got beat. Gibril Wilson, of course, got beat as well. All of this resulted in the Titans gaining 228 yards and scoring 17 points in the half.
But the second half was different. The defense actually stepped up. They held the Titans to just 136 yards, 57 of which came on their one touchdown drive. They limited Chris Johnson to just 33 second half yards on 15 carries. And Tennessee was just 2 for 7 on third down - an impressive turnaround from a unit that is known to collapse in the second half.
This was the third consecutive game, by the way, in which the Dolphins shut out their opponent in the fourth quarter - quite the improvement from where they once were. The coaching staff deserves a lot of credit for that.
In the end, though, this defense did all it could but couldn't overcome having to play against the referees, too. They held the Titans to -1 yard of offense following the overtime interception. But the terrible call by the refs to hit Greg Camarillo with a 15 yard penalty set the Titans up for a 46 yard field goal. A tough way to lose - but kudos to the defense for doing their part in the final 30+ minutes of the game.
I know this will be asked a million times. But the bottom line here is that it's just not likely. To even think about the playoffs, the Dolphins have to first do their part and win their final two games - both at home. Then they need help. Lots of it.
If the Patriots were to collapse and lose both of their remaining games, Miami could win the division. Not likely.
I won't even get into the numerous other playoff scenarios. Let's first let next week play out and then we can (hopefully) look at some of these crazy ways the Dolphins can sneak in.
But don't be disappointed. Think about this. After starting 0-3 and losing Chad Pennington for the season, would you have signed up for 7-7 with two weeks left? I bet most would have - especially with Chad Henne going 7-4 in his first 11 career starts and leading three fourth quarter comebacks (two of which came against the Jets and Pats).
Instead of getting angry or being disappointed about how this season is probably going to end, think about where this team has come from and just how close they are getting to being where we all want this team to be. Despite the loss, it's an exciting time to be a Dolphins fan, folks!
Just a few more quick thoughts on Sunday's game:
- Jason Taylor played exceptionally well on Sunday. And I'm not even talking about his sack. He was a key reason why the Dolphins contained Chris Johnson in the second half, setting the edge and keeping CJ inside. I was REALLY impressed with JT's performance. This is the first time where he actually looked like a strongside linebacker.
- I really like this group of receivers. But don' get fooled - they are indeed missing that one key piece: a true #1 receiver. And I'm not ready to buy the idea that Brian Hartline or Davone Bess will become that guy. They could be great complimentary guys, though.
- How much do you think we miss Ronnie Brown?
- Enough with Gibril Wilson. It's time to send him to the bench - and then to unemployment once the season is over. He flat out stinks.
- We desperately need new return men. Ted Ginn runs sideways way too much and Davone Bess is just not fast enough to be a real threat back there.