What a win!
In a potentially season-defining game, the Dolphins went into Denver and knocked off the Broncos. And in the process, the Fins reached the .500 mark in the month of November for the first time since 2003.
Now before I go on and on with some of the game's top storylines, I wanted to just take a second to get two things off of my chest. First of all, Brandon Marshall pushed off on that play. The refs got it right. To all you Bronco fans, get over it. And secondly, I don't think I've ever seen two players throw temper tantrums on the field like both Jay Cutler and Brandon Marshall did. Seriously, act like grown men and not spoiled five year old children. They call Marshall "Baby T.O." and today I saw why. I wonder if he's still sitting at home pouting. Oh - and now I know why other AFC West fans dislike Cutler. A quarterback is supposed to be a leader - not throw little hissy-fits on the field. Grow up.
Moving on, let's talk Dolphins:
THE KILLER INSTINCT
I remember back in week 5 when the Dolphins were able to kill the clock to beat the Chargers. I was impressed with the way the Dolphins performed on that last drive. But now I'm truly convinced that this Dolphins team has that "killer instinct" that good teams have to have. Yes, the Dolphins are a good team. Who would have thought?
Just think about the situation. The Broncos had just gone 80 yards in under a minute to come within 2 points with 11:10 seconds left in the game. Momentum was on Denver's side. Their crowd was as loud as they could be and the stadium was rocking. Matt Prater booms another kickoff for a touchback and the Dolphins take over at the 20. Nobody would have really criticized the offense if they struggled here. It would have been understandable - being on the road in Denver, likely pretty winded from the altitude, and playing in a intimidating environment.
But Chad Pennington comes out and completes 3 consecutive passes to Greg Camarillo - moving the Dolphins to their 42 yard line and taking momentum back.
Speaking of Pennington, Chad had struggled somewhat with his accuracy up to this point. The offensive line also struggled in protecting Pennington up to this point. Chad was just 16/30 for 195 yards and a pick. The line had surrendered 3 sacks. But the line stepped up and Pennington showed the kind of leader he is.
Pennington led a drive that converted a 4th & 1 and a 3rd & 13. And that 3rd down pass to Ricky Williams - a 23 yard pass to get to Denver's 2 yard line - was the play of the day. Pennington made a throw that was put only where Ricky would catch it despite being under immense pressure. And Ricky made a simply amazing catch - and in the most nonchalant manner, too. Clutch.
All in all, Pennington was 7/10 for 86 yards and the Dolphins chewed up 8:02 off of the game clock. The drive was capped with a game-sealing Ronnie Brown TD run. This drive is the kind of drive that wins championships. It was a championship drive. And it was orchestrated by the best QB Miami has seen since Dan Marino.
Any Pennington nay-sayers now?
THE SECONDARY IS SECOND TO NONE
Did anybody see a performance like this coming today? If you did, I'd suggest playing the lottery ASAP.
Let me start this by saying that simply looking at the stats - 307 passing yards for Cutler - does not do this secondary justice. They were spectacular today. Simply spectacular.
Will Allen picked off his 2nd pass in as many games and took it to the house. Jason Allen picked up his fourth interception since week one of 2007 - a team high - and played very well. Perhaps J-Allen has a future in this league as a corner afterall. And Tyrone Culver picked up his first career interception, reading an out pattern perfectly.
But the key stat today is 137. That's the combined total yards receiving by Denver's wide receivers. Entering Sunday, Brandon Marshall, Eddie Royal, Brandon Stokely, and Darrell Jackson were averaging 231 combined receiving yards per game. But the Dolphins shut them down.
And the star of the secondary, despite not picking off a pass, was Andre Goodman. Goodman was assigned to "Big Baby Brandon" for most of the game and he - simply put - owned Marshall. Dominated. Marshall was averaging 97 yards per game entering Sunday. But thanks in large part to "Goodie," Marshall was held to just 2 catches for 27 yards.
Andre Goodman: at least for one week, you're one of my favorite Dolphins. I never would have thought I'd ever say those words.
Lots of quick thoughts I want to get to. Those above are my two top storylines of the game, but everything below deserves mention:
-Greg Camarillo is a pesky wide receiver to cover. It was clear the Dolphins intended to attack Karl Paymah and Camarillo made it possible. He consistently got open against the fill-in starter and again showed that he can indeed be a legitimate starting WR.
-Speaking of WRs, though Ted Ginn and Davone Bess didn't have big days, they both contributed at key moments. Bess' made that one ridiculous first-down catch where he came to a sliding stop and caught a ball that was low and behind him. And Ginn was one shoe-string tackle away from breaking a long TD run on a quick slant. I was disappointed with that one key drop by Teddy - but even still, I'm encouraged about the kind of player he could become.
-Joey Porter was a menace today. I don't want to hear about Ryan Clady anymore. Sure, Porter only had 1 sack, but he got pressure on Cutler numerous times and - if not for Cutler's impressively quick release - would have picked up at least 2 more. And this is despite the fact that Denver had to keep a TE in at times on Clady's side to help with Porter. Yeah, I'll take Jake Long any day.
-Does Vernon Carey worry anyone else? He doesn't look "right" out there.
-Dan Carpenter is quite impressive. Going 4/4, including FGs from 41, 45, and 47 is damn good. And his kickoffs were a thing of beauty. Were they aided by the thin air? Sure. But to have 6 of 7 kickoffs reach the endzone is always encouraging. Two were touchbacks and 4 more were taken out of the endzone by the returner. The only kickoff that didn't reach? The final play of the 1st half - in which Carpenter pooched it to Denver's 13, likely to keep it away from Eddie Royal. Job well done, Mr. Carpenter.
-A lot of people wonder why Brandon Fields is still on the team. And the past 2 weeks show us why. He's got a booming leg and can pin a team deep in their own territory. He just needs to work on consistency. Yes, he shanked one punt. But his other 4 were terrific. He had a 71-yard punt that was aided by some bounces and resulted in a touchback - but was still a 51-yard net. His other 3 all landed inside the 10: 54 yarder to the 9, 37 yarder to the 7, and a 53 yarder to the 2. He's getting better and I'm encouraged by what I see.
-Anyone notice Ted Ginn's 41 yard kick return? It seems like it's been overlooked because it was the only chance Ginn got to return a kick and the Fins went 3 and out. But it's still worth noting.
-I think the Wildcat is fading. In the right situation, it can probably still be effective. But I'd forget about it for now. Ronnie Brown carried 3 times for 1 yard out of the formation and was sacked for an 8 yard loss when looking to pass.
-Too many 3-and-outs. There were 4 more today - one of which saw the Fins squander good field position and have to settle for a FG following Cutler's first pick. And 4/14 on 3rd downs is unacceptable.
-It's probably not a coincidence that the Dolphins had 8 fewer penalties than Denver (10 to 2) and 2 fewer turnovers (3 to 1) and won the game. Limiting mistakes allows you to be in position to win football games. It's nice to be on the favorable side of those stats so often this season.
-Did you think I forgot about the performance by Miami's defense against the run? I certainly did not. Any time you hold Denver running backs to 12 yards on 11 carries, your front 7 did a hell of a job. Consider this: 4 of those 11 carries resulted in no gain or a loss of yards. Wow.
It's hard to fathom how far this team has come in just 8 games. While I expected improvement, I never imagined a 4-4 record after 8 games. But now this team can't let up. Their next 2 games are certainly winnable. They just have to go out and do what is expected of them.
Tony Sparano, when asked about the idea of making the playoffs this season, said, "Why not?" And he's right. For the first time in a while, I'm letting myself actually think about the playoffs. That in itself says a lot about where this team has come.
But if the Fins are serious about this, they must win the next 2 games and get to 6-4 when New England comes down to Miami. It's time for the Dolphins to now win a game that they are expected to win.
And, for the first time in what seems like forever, I'm a believer.