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Heartbreak in Houston: Dolphins fall to Texans 29-28

It's been a few hours now and I still am having a hard time getting over this loss.  It's the kind of game that good teams win - one where you have no business winning, but pull make a few plays and pull it out.

The Dolphins had no right to win this game.  After all, they did allow 485 yards to the Texans.  Any time you surrender 485 yards, you should lose.  But thanks to a few lucky bounces (courtesy of those Football Gods), the Dolphins were in position to make one play and end the game a number of times - but failed.

Making it even tougher to swallow, the Patriots got killed by the Chargers - meaning a win by Miami would have placed them in a 3-way tie for 2nd in the AFC East and just one game behind the Bills for the division lead.  However, the result here is a missed opportunity - which was a theme on Sunday for the Dolphins.

This was the theme of the game.  First off, having a 14-3 lead and blowing it is one major missed opportunity.  But it goes beyond just the score.  So many plays could have changed the game.  But the Dolphins, for whatever reason, just couldn't find a way to put the game away.

The most glaring missed opportunity, of course, was that 4th & 10 play on Houston's final drive.  Think about it.  The Dolphins had their best defender in the secondary in absolute perfect position to make a play on the ball and break up the pass.  But some how, some way, Yeremiah Bell can't get a hand on  the ball to tip it away - despite having his arm in between the two arms of Andre Johnson.  Instead, Johnson makes one of the toughest catches you will ever see on a football field to gain 20+ yards and pick up a first down.

But even after that reception, the Texans had to go 41 yards in 52 seconds with just 1 timeout to win the game.  However, the defense can't hold - surrendering 30 yard pass two plays later (with a spike to stop the clock in between).  And then on a 4th and 2 from the 3 yard line, the Texans call for a QB draw - which the Dolphins were clearly not even thinking about - and Matt Schaub walks into the endzone for the winning touchdown.  Two more missed opportunities right there.

Of course, we also can't forget the dropped interception by Renaldo Hill off of a tipped ball.  It hit Hill right in the hands and would have prevented the Texans from getting the opportunity to kick the FG that made it 23-21 Houston.  In theory, if Hill makes the pick and everything else plays out the way it did, then the Dolphins would have had a 28-20 lead entering Houston's final possession - meaning, at worst, this game goes into OT.

All in all, I think that a good way to sum up the game and emphasize missed opportunities is to bring up one stat: +3.  Anytime you win the turnover battle by 3 turnovers in a single game, your team should win that football game.

Missed opportunities.

As if we needed any reminding, the Texans really reminded us all what the Dolphins lack: a play-making wide receiver and a solid secondary.

Andre Johnson - just like Anquan Boldin and Larry Fitzgerald did - reminded us what the Dolphins must find next offseason.  Every good offense has a go-to receiver who makes big plays in big spots.  The Dolphins simply don't.

Consider this: Johnson totaled 10 catches for 178 yards and a touchdown.  The Dolphins wide receivers' all combined for 6 catches for 58 yards.  Does this bother anybody else?

And not only did Johnson's display remind us of what the Fins are lacking offensively, he exposed this team's greatest weakness: the secondary.  Until the Dolphins somehow get more talent back there - especially at cornerback - this team will struggle against big, physical, elite receivers like Boldin, Fitzgerald, and Johnson.  Clearly, this organization's two top priorities next offseason are cornerback and wide receiver. 

Michael Crabtree, anyone?  A guy can dream.

This game, as painful as it was, wasn't filled with all negatives.  That new wrinkle in the 'Wildcat" in which Chad Pennington ends up throwing downfield was sure nice to see.

Channing Crowder and Yeremiah Bell still made a number of plays.  Crowder still over-pursues at times, but he's getting much better and really lays a hit on the ball carrier once he gets there.  And I love how he refused to give up on the long run-after-catch by Johnson early in the 3rd quarter - chasing Andre down 50+ yards down field. 

Bell also was around the ball all game.  Sure, he didn't make that one play when he needed to, but he was active in run support and filled in the rushing lanes nicely at times.  He's a high-energy guy who I seem to like more and more every week.

But the biggest plus was probably how the Dolphins' offense - led by Chad Pennington - responded 2 times with sustained drives after the Texans had taken leads.  The first was a 6 play, 73-yard drive in the 3rd quarter after Houston took a 20-14 lead.  Pennington was 4 of 4 and Ricky Williams capped the drive with a sweep left for a TD to reclaim the lead.  The other key drive was the 5 play, 73-yard drive that began with 3:04 left after Greg Camarillo forced a fumble following the Eugene Wilson interception, giving the Dolphins new life trailing by two.  Five plays later, the Dolphins would get into the endzone with under 2 minutes left for a 28-23 lead.  In past years, the offense wouldn't have responded in these key situations.  But in this game, they did - showing a mental toughness and high-level of execution that we haven't seen from this offense in what seems like forever.

Sure, it all turned out to be for nothing in the end.  But an offensive performance like this is a confidence booster and shows the defense - who the Fins relied on last week to win - that the offense can win games, too.

-If you haven't heard by now, Joey Porter complained after the game about a call on the field.  You can read about it here.  The bottom line, though, is that the play wasn't reviewed because the whistle had blown the played dead.  Therefore, even if the replay showed it was indeed a fumble, possession could not be changed.

-Speaking of Porter, though, he sure did show up again.  He had one sack and about 4 or 5 more QB pressures.  One thing that bothers me, though, is that he seemed to disappear for a little bit during the 2nd half.

-And speaking of invisible men, where was Matt Roth today?  I didn't see any kind of pressure being applied by him at all.  I guess that's part of the learning process.

-When are Miami's special teams going to improve?  They allow a 70-yard punt return for a TD and can't muster any kind of return game for themselves.  Can Ted Ginn at least be put permanently back as return man?  He apparently can't do anything else.

-The stat of the day: Derek Hagan and Ernest Wilford each had more receiving yards than Ginn did - and both were inactive for the game.  Ginn had 1 catch for -1 yard.

-The offensive line struggled today.  The running lanes just weren't there.  And Mario Williams owned Vernon Carey on one play.  He easily got by Anthony Fasano and then powered over Carey for his 2nd sack.

-Why was David Martin matched up with Mario Williams one-on-one?  That's how Mario got his first sack.  Probably not a favorable matchup.

-Pop Quiz!  When did the Dolphins convert their 1st 3rd down?  It was with 12 minutes left in the game.  And for the game, the Fins were 2 for 10 on 3rd downs.  The ugly trend continues.

-How about Patrick Cobbs today?  Of course, let's not get too excited.  Cobbs didn't exactly have to do too much to make his big plays.  But still - it's nice to see a hard worker like Cobbs get some opportunities.

This is the kind of game that we'll all go back to if the Dolphins were to finish 9-7 and miss the playoffs by one game.  It's a game that playoff-type teams win.  It's one of those games in which you have a chance to steal a win - thanks to the mistakes of the opposition.  And make no mistake about it - if you allow nearly 500 yards of offense - you have no right to win that game.

But the Dolphins were so damn close.  They showed a lot of fight.  And it's important to remember what this season was supposed to be - a season where a new culture and a new attitude take hold.  Even in defeat, it's clear that this new culture is indeed catching on.

Your thoughts?