CLEVELAND, OH - SEPTEMBER 25: Wide receiver Brian Hartline #82 of the Miami Dolphins catches a pass over defensive back Sheldon Brown #28 of the Cleveland Browns at Cleveland Browns Stadium on September 25, 2011 in Cleveland, Ohio. (Photo by Matt Sullivan/Getty Images)
After an ugly game, it was hard to bring myself to consider a single Miami Dolphins player for the Week 3 Game Ball. It was tough. But, there had to be at least one player worthy of some recognition, right?
I thought of rookie cornerback Jimmy Wilson, who seemed to be making plays all over the field. He had the Dolphins' only take away, intercepting a Colt McCoy pass. He successfully defensed two more passes. He played like a monster out there for 99.9% of the game. He was only beat one time - unfortunately it was on the game winning touchdown. Even though many, many other players could have made the stand to stop the Browns driving, and, I really can't hold it against a rookie for being beat one time in the game, I also can't give the game ball to the guy who gave up the score that lost Miami the game.
I also thought of Brandon Fields, Dolphins punter. With three kicks, Fields averaged 50.3 yards per kick, and pinned the Browns inside their 20 yard line twice. Fields is a weapon for the Dolphins, which is just as depressing to type as it probably was for you to read. When the punter is one of your main weapons, your team has problems. But, Fields has become just that, and he's exceptional at changing field position.
But, it wasn't either of them that I ended up seeing as needing the game ball. There was just one player who answered every time his number was called. Wide receiver Brian Hartline led the team in receiving yards (87), despite being targeted about half as many times as Davone Bess or Brandon Marshall. Hartline caught all four passes thrown his direction, leading to a 21.8 yards per reception average - more than twice the average of any player who caught more than one pass for the Dolphins.
Hartline was so impressive during the game, a nickname was coined for him - The Magician. Somehow, Hartline is able to catch passes over defenders and along the sideline no one should be able to get.
So, even in a game as ugly and disappointing as the Dolphins loss to the Browns, there at least was one positive to come out of it. Here's to hoping that one day, the Game Ball becomes hard to award because there are multiple candidates.