The Miami Dolphins have been playing a dangerous game this season, one that came back to bite them on Sunday. Other than when the New Orleans Saints ran over the Dolphins, backed the truck up and ran them over again, a week ago on Monday Night Football, the Dolphins' 2013 script has been very similar: slow start, hang around, make a charge in the end. Except, against the Baltimore Ravens on Sunday, that script did not end with a win. Instead, it ended with Miami mascot TD erroneously celebrating a missed Caleb Sturgis field goal
See, I wasn't lying. Though, to be fair to TD, the crowd and the stadium announcer also thought a field goal that never had a chance somehow went through the uprights. To the point that, if you go back and rewatch the play, you can hear the fight song actually start playing.
TD's reaction when he sees the ref signaling no good on the kick is about how everyone felt when Sturgis missed his first field goal of his career. Up until that kick, Sturgis was a perfect 10-for-10 in the NFL.
The Dolphins' slow start portion of the script started with three straight punts on their first three drives. They did not pick up a first down until their sixth possession of the game, The Dolphins actually had three points on the board before their first first down of the contest. After the team's first nine plays, they had a grand total of two yards (nine yards on possession one, negative nine yards on possession two, and two yards on possession three). They managed to gain 10 yards on their fourth possession, and, luckily for them, they started on the Baltimore 29 yard line, so they were able to kick a field goal.
It wasn't until the second quarter the Dolphins were able to put together a sustained drive of more than three plays (the first field goal drive was technically four plays, with the field goal, but still, the offensive portion of the drive was only three plays). Miami was able to go 74 yards on eight plays after holding the Ravens to their second field goal of the day. Unfortunately for the Dolphins, those 74 yards only resulted in three points.
Midway through the second quarter, Miami had 94 yards of offense on 24 plays. or less than four yards per play. Add in the next offensive possession, when the Dolphins again went three and out for negative two yards, and it gets ever worse (3.03 yards per play).
The team was able to put together another decent drive in the final two minutes of the first half, going 60 yards in seven plays for a touchdown - the only offensive touchdown the team would have on the day.
Somehow, despite five first half punts on five three-and-out drives (six if you want to count the field goal drive as well), Miami was actually leading at the half, 13-6.
With the touchdown, and the first half complete, maybe the Dolphins finally put their slow start behind them and were ready to move into the hang around portion of the script. Maybe they could even change the script and put away the Ravens early in the second half.
Baltimore drove down the field on six plays, covering 80 yards, with their first possession of the second half, scoring a tying touchdown. Miami answered with a five play, 16 yard drive, ending with a punt.
Baltimore drove down the field on 11 plays, covering 73 yards, with their second possession of the second half, scoring a go ahead field goal. Miami answered with a four play, 27 yard drive, ending with a punt.
Baltimore drove down the field on on 11 plays, covering 94 yards, with their third possession of the second half, scoring a lead extending touchdown. Miami actually answered by scoring points, completing a seven play drive, covering 50 yards, with a field goal.
Clearly, the Dolphins had played the hang around portion of the script as let the Ravens regain the lead, and were now moving into the claw back part of the story. Trailing 23-16 with 9:38 remaining in the game, the Dolphins needed a big play.
That play came three plays later when rookie Dion Jordan pressure Joe Flacco, managing to get a hand on the ball as the Ravens' quarterback attempted the pass, deflecting the ball up into the air, where safety Reshad Jones intercepted it and returned it for a touchdown.
Hey, look at that, Miami had tied the score at 23 and the standard script was still in play. Slow start, check. Hang around, check. Claw back, check. Now, they just needed to win.
After trading punts, the Ravens were able to put together a seven play, 34 yard drive that gave Justin Tucker a chance to connect on a 44-yard field goal and put the Ravens back up 26-23.
The Dolphins got the ball back with 1:42 remaining on the clock. Quarterback Ryan Tannehill somehow battled through repeatedly dropped passes and moved the Dolphins 41 yards in eight plays to set up the Sturgis 57-yard attempt. We've already seen the results.
Sadly, Tannehill actually had a good day. He was 21-for-40 on the day, and should have been better than his 53% completion rate given at least six or seven drops from receivers on the day. He threw for 307 yards with a touchdown, giving him an 86.1 passer rating.
Mike Wallace was a big part of the first half, with seven receptions for 105 yards on the day, but he was targeted 16 times and had a big portion of the drops on the day. Brandon Gibson and Brian Hartline both caught four passes, for 74 yards and 60 yards respectively, while tight end Charles Clay added three receptions for 52 yards, and had the lone offensive touchdown on a 9-yard pass from Tannehill.
The defense had an up-and-down day, giving up plays at times, but also playing a lot of bend-don't-break as well. In the end, Philip Wheeler had 10 tackles, while Koa Misi added eight tackles, a sack, and three tackles for loss. Olivier Vernon was also able to get a sack, along with a team high two QB hits, while Jordan led the way with two passes defensed.
Unfortunately for Miami, their two sacks pale in comparison to the ridiculous six sacks they allowed. How Tannehill attempted 40 passes is unclear, given how little time he has in the pocket at this point. The Dolphins offense could be a lot better, if the pass protection could somehow, maybe, possibly, I don't know, stand in front of someone. Anyone.
Miami is also continuing to see their defense get wracked by injuries. On Sunday, linebacker Dannell Ellerbe and cornerback Nolan Carroll were both forced out of the game. Ellerbe had a shoulder injury sideline him in the second quarter, and he never returned. Carroll, meanwhile, made a great defensive play on the ball in the third quarter, but was called for defensive pass interference, despite there appearing to be no contact between him and the receiver. When Carroll came down, he landed awkwardly on his right side, appearing to injure his ribs. He returned briefly late in the third period, but only played two snaps before again leaving the game.
The Dolphins now head into the bye week with a lot of questions that need to be answered. The offensive line has to be fixed. Receivers need to learn to hold on to passes that hit them in both hands - even if they are thrown behind them. The defense has to get healthy.
Miami is sitting 3-2 heading into the bye week and, before the season, everyone seemed to agree that 1-4 or 2-3 at this point was the most probable situation given the Dolphins' tough schedule to start the season. So, sitting at 3-2 is a bonus and should be seen as a positive. It's just hard when those two losses are the last two games, and the team is clearly showing its weaknesses at this point. Miami is still absolutely in the playoff picture, and should be there all season. They are one game out in the AFC East and the sixth seed in the postseason right now. The 2013 season still has a lot of football left to play, and Miami should be in competition throughout it.
But, it's hard as a fan to be happy with the football we have seen on the field the last two weeks. Hopefully the next two weeks will find a way to fix these problems before the team faces the Buffalo Bills in Week 7.
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