Make no mistake about it: this one was ugly. But in this league, you never, ever apologize for a win. You simply take the "W" and move on to the next game.
And that's what the Dolphins will do. Despite the nail-biting, and nearly heart-breaking conclusion to this game - another game where the Dolphins, as favorites, failed to ever pull away - the Dolphins simply won a game that they had to have. And in the process, they set up a huge game next week against the Patriots. I know this phrase has gotten thrown around a lot, but next week's game is probably the biggest game the Dolphins have played in years.
But let's not go there just yet. There's plenty of time for that in the coming days. For now, let's just talk about some of the headlines from Miami's win over the Raiders:
SHOWING US SOMETHING NEW
So by now, all of us knew that this Dolphins team has the ability to to put together that key game-ending drive to either kill the clock or score the proverbial game-clinching TD. We've seen that happen a few times already in '08.
But this game - and this late-game drive - was different. The Dolphins had just surrendered the lead with about 4 and a half minutes left on a 93-yard punt return for a touchdown. The Dolphins found themselves trailing despite only allowing 177 yards of offense and 6 offensive points. I don't think many of us would have been too surprised to see this Dolphins team wilt away under these circumstances - especially considering the demoralizing way the Dolphins gave up the lead.
Instead, Chad Pennington and company showed the kind of character this team possesses, marching down the field and into field goal range. They came out firing - rather than playing conservative. Starting at their own 20, Pennington quickly completed two passes and the Dolphins found themselves at the Raiders' 40 yard line. But 4 plays later, the Dolphins faced a tough decision: 4th & 5 from Oakland's 35. Do you trust the rookie kicker? Do you trust the veteran QB and the weapons at his disposal? Tony Sparano made the right decision, and Ted Ginn made the reception - probably the biggest 7 yard reception Teddy has ever made.
Three more runs got Miami in position for a 38 yard FG - the first "critical, pressure-packed" kick that rookie Dan Carpenter has ever had to attempt this year. And Carpenter effortlessly knocked the kick home - giving the Dolphins their 2 point lead with 38 seconds remaining.
Clearly, this is a resilient and confident team. And both of those things bode well for us as the Fins enter the home-stretch of the regular season.
CP10: A 4TH QUARTER PLAYER
I'll admit that I was a little worried heading into this game upon hearing that Chad Pennington was a late addition to the injury report with a mysterious foot injury. And his play through the first 3 quarters was, well, un-Pennington like. He was 10/15 for 101 yards. He had been sacked 3 times, including the one that resulted in a safety. But Chad turned it on in the 4th quarter - right when he had to to save this team's playoff hopes.
Make no mistake about it. I'm sure Pennington knew exactly what was at stake as this game played out. I'm sure he understood the difference between 6-4 and 5-5. And he delivered in the 4th quarter, completing 6 of his 7 passes for 73 yards.
When was the last time you had as much confidence as you do now in Miami's QB late in a tight game?
DEFENSE IMPRESSES IN A BIG WAY
I think that one thing that has been overlooked is the defensive performance by the Dolphins today. Yes, I know it was the Raiders. But anytime you surrender just 186 yards in a game, just 3.9 yards per play, and just 6 points, you deserve recognition.
The run defense was what most impressed me. The Raiders possess a top 10 rushing offense in the NFL. And the Dolphins held them to just 70 yards and just 3.5 yards per carry. Credit Jason Ferguson for a lot of the success this team had stopping the run. He was a monster, constantly pushing the middle of Oakland's offensive line backwards. He made three official tackles (for gains of 1, -1, 0), but also ate up blockers numerous other times. He commanded a double-team and forced the Raiders to run to the outside because there was just nothing up the middle.
The Dolphins were also able to get after JaMarcus Russell, sacking him 5 times. Joey Porter and Vonnie Holliday each picked up 1.5 sacks to lead the pass rush. But the Dolphins also pressured the QB many more times, using timely corner blitzes and safety blitzes.
Oh - and I've officially seen enough from Channing Crowder. Time to get the man locked up with a contract extension. He's become as active as I've ever seen him this season - both against the run and in coverage. He's also the QB of the defense - as the designated player to receive the defensive calls from Paul Pasqualoni. Let's get it done and pay the man - assuming he isn't asking for an unreasonable amount of money.
PEOPLE BETTER APOLOGIZE TO TEDDY
I'm sure many of you remember when Dolphin fans from around the country were bad-mouthing Ted Ginn. They said he's not a play-maker. They said he's soft and that all you need to do to tackle him was to blow on him. I hope those fans out there now officially apologize to Teddy.
We saw his play-making skills for the 2nd week in a row when he broke a reverse for a 40 yard TD run - breaking 2 or 3 tackles in the process. He also caught 4 passes for 51 yards. But the story here is just when he caught those passes.
One was a 23 yard gain on 3rd & 10 in the 2nd quarter to get Miami to Oakland's 35 yard line. Unfortunately, this was the drive that resulted in Ronnie Brown's lost fumble.
Another reception was on a 3rd & 7 play. Ginn picked up 12 to keep the drive alive - a drive that resulted in Patrick Cobbs' TD run.
And the biggest reception he made was that previously mentioned 7 yard catch on 4th & 5 to keep the Dolphins hopes alive late in the 4th quarter.
Yeah - he's a play-maker afterall.
-I love the job being done by Dan Henning and the offensive coaches. They are doing a fantastic job with the game-planning (like getting Cobbs more involved) and in play-calling. The defense has no idea what might be coming next. And though it might get a little conservative at times, that's just part of the plan.
-Speaking of Patrick Cobbs, what can this guy not do? He catches passes. He blocks. He runs for touchdowns. He makes tackles on special teams. He's your typical "Bill Parcells kind of player." All who have a secret "mancrush" on him, please raise your hand.
-Why is the offensive line so damn inconsistent? At times, they can't open up any running lanes. Then they open up a nice hole for Ronnie to run through and pick up 20+ yards. Then they can't keep Pennington on his feet. But then they keep Chad untouched in the 4th quarter. I don't get it. One thing I do get, though, is that Vernon Carey is broken. He needs to be fixed. This isn't the same player we all saw play the two previous seasons.
-Davone Bess with 2 drops? Did that really happen?
-Miami's coverage units are going to be the death of me. I nearly have a heart attack every time the Fins are ask to cover a kick or punt. We saw changes made last week, with Courtney Bryan being re-signed and Renaldo Hill being placed on the coverage teams. Expect heads to roll again this week.
-At least we know that we have a potentially very good kicker and a promising punter. Brandon Fields, who many wanted to have cut, punted 5 times. Their distances? 57, 48, 56, 26, 48 - good for a 47 yard average. And that short punt was downed at Oakland's 8 yard line. In total, Fields had 4 punts inside the 20 - with 2 of those inside the 10.
-Yet again, the Dolphins win the coin toss, defer, and then go 3 and out to open the 2nd half. Sparano is going to be pissed about that.
-Was that the quietest 100-yard game from Ronnie that you've ever seen?
-These refs were terrible. First, they call a phantom pass interference penalty that gets Oakland in FG range. Then they waste precious seconds off of the clock before halftime because Ed Hochuli didn't see Pennington calling for timeout. Said Pennington about that, "I'll have to come up and tackle him next time or something."
Sure, it took 7 Raider penalties, a missed FG, and a late 4th quarter comeback, but the Dolphins got to 6-4. They're now in the thick of the playoff race and just one game back of the Jets. Wasn't this team 0-10 this time last year? What a difference a year makes.
Enjoy it, drink it all in, and then get ready for an enormous game next week when the Pats come to town seeking revenge from their week 3 loss to the Dolphins.
Should be a fun week.