For some reason, things just can't be easy for the 2009 Miami Dolphins. In a game against the one-win Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the Dolphins blew a 13 point halftime lead and needed late heroics to just eek out a 25-23 win on Sunday.
Before we discuss the game, though, here's what we know about the injury sustained by Ronnie Brown. He left in the third quarter with an injured right ankle. He had x-rays taken after the game and, according to Armando Salguero, Ronnie told him the x-rays were negative - meaning nothing is broken. But he was on crutches. Ronnie will undergo an MRI on Monday. However, I'm really not expecting to hear that Brown will be available for Thursday's game in Carolina against the Panthers.
Now let's talk more about the game.
Henne's big mistake, and even bigger response
With just 1:52 seconds to go, the Dolphins faced a 3rd down and needed to pick up seven yards to convert and to essentially seal the game. Instead, Chad Henne made a huge rookie mistake - rolling out right and trying to force a throw into traffic. Tampa Bay intercepted the pass and then scored the go-ahead touchdown just four plays later with only 1:15 to go.
The young quarterback could easily have just lost confidence and folded under pressure. Instead, he responded in a big, big way. Following a return gaffe by Ted Ginn, the Dolphins started the final drive of the game at their own 16 yard line with just 1:10 left and one timeout remaining, needing a field goal to win. And all Chad Henne did was make two outstanding throws to Davone Bess for gains of 25 yards and 16 yards. Coupled with a 9 yard pass interference call, the Dolphins were suddenly down at Tampa's 34 yard line with 23 seconds to go. A Ricky Williams 27 yard run on the ensuing play set up the Dolphins to kick the game-winning field goal.
To me, of all the things we saw on Sunday - both good and bad - it was Henne's mental toughness and unwavering confidence that was the biggest story. His physical talent, of course, was just as impressive - making some very nice throws. His two passes to Ted Ginn - which were both incomplete - and his two late-game bullets to Davone Bess were among his best throws of the game. But it was his ability to overcome his own costly mistake - a mistake that almost cost his team the game - that has made me inch ever so closer to thinking Henne very well could be the "franchise quarterback" this team has needed for so very long.
After the game, Henne himself was the first to admit he made a huge mistake, saying:
"In that situation I had a running lane where I could have just slid and we could have gotten the punt off and lived another day."
"I will learn from that definitely."
Henne made the kind of mistake that all young quarterbacks make at least once. But it's rare that he gets to redeem himself in that very same game by then leading his team on the game-winning scoring drive.
Jason Taylor was also impressed:
"I told him after the game, 'You grew up today.'"
"It's a maturation process. He's going to make mistakes. We all make mistakes. I still do after 13 years. The key is to bounce back when you do, and that's what he did today."
The critics will question a number of decisions
Whether it's clock management or play calling, there are bound to be a number of fans who will question Tony Sparano and his coaching staff for a number of decisions they made during Sunday's game. I wanted to quickly address a few.
The first questionable decision was the decision to kick the field goal with 10 seconds left in the first half rather than take a shot into the end zone from Tampa Bay's 12 yard line. But I agree with Tony's decision here. I think you take the guaranteed points in that situation to give yourself a 13 point lead against a team that has only scored 6 points in the first half and is led by a rookie quarterback. Too many things could go wrong if you decide to go for the end zone. There could be a turnover. There could be a sack, which would end the half since Miami had no timeouts left. Or Henne could make the mistake of passing it to a player who isn't in the end zone and that player gets stopped short of the goal line. So I don't see this as a bad decision by the Dolphins.
Sparano did obviously make a clock management mistake when he called a timeout following Ricky's big run with 14 seconds left in the game instead of letting the clock run down, preventing Tampa from ever getting their hands on the ball again. Luckily, this didn't prove to be costly.
Play calling was again an issue. On Miami's first possession of the second half, the Dolphins ran an end-around on a 3rd & 4 with Ted Ginn that resulted in no gain. Bad call. Then later on in the fourth quarter with 6:49 to go and a three point lead, the Dolphins decided to get conservative on a 3rd & 4 and run the ball with Williams - gaining just a yard and settling for a field goal. Again, bad call.
One play call I have no problem with is the play that resulted on Chad Henne's big mistake. The Dolphins were looking at a 3rd & 7 and knew that a first down seals the game. So why not trust your quarterback and go for the win right there on that play? Would I have called a different play? Maybe. But I love the idea of putting the ball in the air. And I guarantee that if the Dolphins had run the football on that play and failed to get the first down, many fans would be crying about how Dan Henning's play calling is too conservative and would kill Sparano for playing "not to lose" instead of playing to win.
My major gripe, though, is that if the coaching staff trusts Chad Henne enough to put the ball in the air in that situation, deep in their own territory, then why not trust him enough to put the ball in the air on a 3rd down earlier in the quarter rather than running it and settling for the field goal? At least be consistent - that's all.
TURNING POINT OF THE GAME
This one was difficult. If Tampa never makes the comeback, then I think Jason Taylor's interception is the turning point. But Tampa did come back. So I think this week's turning point was Chad Henne's first down strike to Davone Bess over the middle with 1:10 left in the game. The Dolphins were backed up to their own 16 to start the drive but instantly, after one play, were up at the 41 yard line and snapping the next play with about 50 seconds left. It was a huge throw and catch and if Bess doesn't make that grab, I don't know if we're sitting here right now with a 4-5 team.
Here are some more quick thoughts on Sunday's game:
- Luck was finally on the Dolphins' side on Sunday. Jason Taylor's interception was a "lucky break" for the Dolphins. The refs tried to explain the reasoning behind the call (explained here) but I still don't get it because the receiver possessed the ball, went to the ground, and was touched down. I understand the rule about having to possess the ball as you hit the ground. But it seemed like the ball came out a second or so after the receiver had hit the ground and been touched down. Either way, I'll take it. The Dolphins also benefited from a fumbled snap from center that Miami recovered and a drive-stalling dropped shotgun snap by Josh Freeman. So let's be fair - lady luck was, for once, pulling for the Dolphins.
- Dan Carpenter is officially "DC$" and anyone who disagrees is banished from this community! Well - fine - maybe that's overreacting. But what more can this second year kicker do? Carpenter connected on four field goals - including one from 49 and one from 45. And then he connected on the chip shot game-winner.
- I don't want to hear about Ted Ginn's dropped pass on the Dolphins' first play from scrimmage. I'm serious. I'm not surprised he dropped it, to be frank, so I don't even think it's worth talking about. What is worth talking about is how Chad Henne was dead-on accurate on that throw. That's a great sign.
- Who needs Joey Porter? The Dolphins sacked Josh Freeman three times, just missed about three or four additional sacks thanks to Freeman's size, strength, and athleticism, and probably got more consistent pressure today than they have all season - with the exception of the game against New Orleans. Charlie Anderson played very well. Cameron Wake picked up a sack and was around Freeman on a number of more plays. In all honesty, you have to wonder if Porter even deserves to start from this point on.
- Jason Taylor is still the man. No sacks for JT - but he had a tackle for a loss, two pass deflections, and an interception.
- Ricky Williams looked good - and will likely be asked to see even more carries on Thursday. I hope he's up for the increase in his workload.
- I've talked a lot about Henne - but I'm going to take a little more about him. Is it me or does it seem like Henne has a knack for converting on 3rd downs? Just on their first possession of the game, Henne connected with Greg Camarillo twice to convert two 3rd downs. Henne also fired in a strike to Brian Hartline on a 3rd & 15 to convert again.
- Off topic - anyone see Mark Sanchez go into the post-game press conference with a prepared speech? What a joke! I'm so glad he's on the Jets - he's ready to crash and burn.
- Sean Smith got beat for a touchdown - and yet I'm still not worried at all about our two rookie corners. I'm either an overly confident idiot or I see a lot to look forward to from both of those kids.
- Please - let's wait a bit before we holler for Kory Sperry to be Miami's starting tight end. Why are we so quick to anoint players? Relax. It was one game and he had just three catches. Who is to say Anthony Fasano doesn't make those exact same catches? Or Joey Haynos?
- I've gone on too long already. Here's the bottom line - the Dolphins are in second place in the AFC East - just 2 games out of first place - and will have a chance to get back to .500 in just four days!