Dolphins keep playoff hopes alive with gutsy win over Titans

A lot of Dolphin fans had been wondering what this team would need to do to win a football game comfortably. Now we know the answer - have all three quarterbacks attempt a pass in the same game.

The Dolphins 29-17 win over the Titans on Sunday was their first home win of 2010 and the 12 point margin of victory was their widest since their week four win against Buffalo last season. All it took, of course, was every quarterback on the roster - and then some.

In one of the strangest football games you will ever see, the Dolphins gutted out a much-needed win to begin the second half of their season.

There's a lot to talk about so let's get to it.

Unlikely heroes lead the way

Sure, this game had a couple of the usual suspects making key plays. Ricky Williams had two big runs late in the third quarter that help set up a field goal. Karlos Dansby was all over the field, tied for the team lead with 8 total tackles and forcing the fumble on the first drive of the game that help set up a Dolphins touchdown drive. Yeremiah Bell forced the second fumble on his sack of Vince Young, which led to another Dolphins touchdown drive and gave Miami a ten point third quarter lead.

But this game was won by the play of some unlikely heroes. One of those was Chad Henne - an "unlikely hero" because he wasn't supposed to play. But after being benched, and then being thrown in after only two offensive plays due to Chad Pennington's injury, Henne helped lead the Dolphins to 20 points in three quarters. He wasn't always accurate - and started off particularly out of sorts - but began heating up to start the second half, going 9 of 11 for 102 yards and a touchdown in the third quarter before he left the game late in the quarter with a knee injury.

Enter the unlikeliest of heroes - third string quarterback Tyler Thigpen. After a drive stalling first pass attempt - completely missing an open Davone Bess on a third down - Thigpen was asked to put together one critical game-sealing drive in the fourth quarter. And wouldn't you know it - Thigpen did just that.

After opening the drive with an incomplete pass in Brandon Marshall's direction, Thigpen connected on his next four pass attempts - in impressive fashion, too. His 31 yard completion to Anthony Fasano, though, was a good look at all of the things Thigpen can bring to this offense - keeping the play alive with his mobility then flinging it down field.

Thigpen then showed zip and accuracy on third and goal, firing in a perfectly placed pass to Fasano in the endzone for what was essentially the game-sealing touchdown. It was the kind of pass that very good quarterbacks make; the kind that Henne sometimes tends to shy away from because of his fear of turnovers - specifically red zone turnovers.

That's what we'll get with Tyler Thigpen under center. He takes risks. He will turn the ball over. But he will also make some plays that Chad Pennington or Chad Henne will not make. His inconsistency will drive us fans and these coaches crazy. But at this point, what other choice do the coaches have? And I'll admit - Thigpen has peeked my interest. On Thursday night, Tyler will likely have a national prime time stage all to himself.

Fasano was another unlikely hero. Like I said after the game, many thought Fasano's role in the offense would increase this week because of Pennington. Little did we know that Henne and Tigpen would be going to Fasano down the field for big plays. His 107 yards receiving was a career high.

Patrick Cobbs was another surprise. This was the most action Cobbs had seen all season. He was used out of the backfield. He was used as a slot receiver as well - with his touchdown reception from Henne coming out of the slot.

Defensively, Reshad Jones had a little bit of a coming out party - picking up his first career sack and first career interception on back-to-back plays. Jones also had an additional quarterback hit coming on a safety blitz. It'll be interesting to see how his playing time increases from here on out.

I have no idea where this season is going to go from here. But what I do know is that the Dolphins are going to need many more games like this - when players come from nowhere to make big contributions.

A costly win for the Dolphins

When does a win not feel like a win? When you have a number of key players suffer injuries - some potentially serious injuries.

Think about the list of guys who either left the game due to injury, were limited as the game went on due to injury, or had to go to get medical tests done after the game: Pennington, Henne, Cameron Wake, Jake Long, Vernon Carey, Kendall Langford, Chris Clemons, and Yeremiah Bell.

For those scoring at home, that list represents the team's top two quarterbacks, their two starting tackles (one which happens to be the best LT in the league), their top pass-rusher (who entered the week second in the league in sacks), a starting defensive end, and both starting safeties.

Wow.

We'll know more when Tony Sparano speaks on Monday. But as I type this, it's likely Pennington is out for the season - if not his career. Henne is probably out for a while - if not the season. Wake might have to miss a game, though he said after the game he would be okay. Long has some kind of shoulder injury. Carey has been dinged up for a while but always seems to tough it out and play.

We'll see how this all shakes out as the week plays out. But all of these injuries sure as hell aren't a good sign.

QUICK HITS
More thoughts on Sunday's win:

  • The running game is broken - that's the only way to describe it. Outside of those two big Wildcat runs late in the third quarter, Ricky Williams and Ronnie Brown combined for just 38 yards on 21 carries. That's not going to get it down, especially with an offense that will likely be run by Tyler Thigpen. Do we really want to make Thigpen throw it 35+ times per game to win?
  • For all of Dan Henning's bad play-calling this year, I really liked seeing the Dolphins go with an empty backfield numerous times. Some of their biggest plays came out of the empty backfield on Sunday. And a spread offense is probably the way to go with Thigpen under center.
  • We witnessed the first minor eruption of Mount Marshall on Sunday. Clearly frustrated by his lack of involvement in the offense, Brandon Marshall decided to chuck the football off the field following a ten yard completion that would have given the Dolphins a first and ten from Tennessee's eleven yard line. Instead, the delay of game penalty moved the offense back five yards and broke the offense's rhythm. Now there's no defending that ridiculously stupid move. But am I the only one that understands his frustration? Back on their second red zone opportunity, Chad Henne didn't even look Marshall's way despite having one-on-one coverage twice with a smaller corner. These quarterbacks - whoever they happen to be from here on out - have go to get the ball to Marshall. Or else the risk of a full blown explosion will grow and grow.
  • And when you do try to let Marshall make a play, can we please have the pass located at least somewhat accurately. Henne tried to let Marshall make a play down the field - but instead threw towards the defender rather than away from the defender, making Brandon into his coverage instead of away from the coverage. It was just a bad throw - plain and simple.
  • Miami's defense wasn't great. But they forced some turnovers and made plays when they had to. The numbers will make it seem like Miami's defense dominated. The Titans gained just 259 yards of offense and converted only 31% of their third downs. But Tennessee's quarterback play was terrible, missing a number of open receivers. And I question their play-calling as well. Handing off to Javon Ringer instead of Chris Johnson six times was an early Christmas gift for a Miami defense that allowed nearly 7 yards per carry to Johnson.
  • Vontae Davis - please turn around and play the ball rather than the receiver. He failed to turn around on an underthrown pass that would have been an interception early in the game - resulting in a 30+ yard pass interference penalty. Then he didn't get his head around and locate the ball on the fade pass to Nate Washington in the endzone for a touchdown. Vontae's better than that. I hope he learns from those mistakes.
  • The pressure to win must be getting to Tony Sparano - which caused a temporary moment of insanity. That's the only way you can explain Miami's decision to fake a punt just five minutes into the game inside their own 30. I've never seen such a desperate attempt to create a spark. And I hope I never see that ever again. I like the occasional fake punt. But not in the first quarter of a tie game INSIDE YOUR OWN 30 YARD LINE!
  • Anthony Fasano was clearly jawing at Chad Henne early on in Sunday's game. Perhaps that litttle incident coupled with Marshall's body language on the sideline provides us with a little window into why the coaching staff felt the need to make a quarterback change in the first place.

Final Thought

Now at 5-4, the Dolphins are at least still in the thick of the AFC playoff race. But I can honestly say that I don't remember the last time a win actually felt like a loss. And that's what this win felt like due to all of the injuries.

The good news, though, is that the Dolphins may have found the spark they were looking for offensively. It's just not Chad Pennington, as the coaches thought it would be. Tyler Thigpen will likely now have the stage to himself. For one week, Tyler provided that much needed spark. The question now becomes if this will spark can be sustained and lead to something bigger over the next month and a half.

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