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Henne leads comeback as Dolphins defeat Patriots to remain in playoff hunt

Just a little over fifteen minutes into Sunday's game and it seemed as though the Dolphins' slim playoff chances were fading away right before all of our eyes. But then something happened. On the brink of disaster, the Dolphins - led by their passing attack of all things - finally fired back, showing the kind of intensity that this team lacked last week in Buffalo. By halftime, it was just a four point game. The second half then saw the Dolphins go toe to toe with a perennial championship contender as the team rallied back from an 11 point third quarter deficit to knock off the Patriots in thrilling fashion - thrusting themselves right into the thick of things in the AFC playoff picture.

Henne has career day
Sure - it isn't saying much that a second year quarterback with just nine career starts had his best day as an NFL starter. After all - it has only been nine starts. So how's this for a better statement? Chad Henne has his first career-defining game in the NFL. I think that explains it better. After all, it's not every day that a quarterback goes punch for punch with Tom Brady in a quarterback duel - and actually wins. And it's even more rare that the quarterback out-gunning Brady is in his first year as a starter.

Coming into the game, I wrote that I really wanted to see the Dolphins attack New England's secondary. But I really didn't expect Tony Sparano and Dan Henning go with that kind of aggressive, attacking game plan on offense. So I was absolutely thrilled to see the Dolphins come out firing on Sunday. This was the first time that the coaching staff really took the training wheels off of Henne and he didn't disappoint.

Were there times when he made mistakes or missed on throws? Of course. That interception was both a bad decision and poorly placed throw. His accuracy is still inconsistent at times - which you can say about most rookie quarterbacks. That inaccuracy almost cost the Dolphins - when Henne missed an open Lousaka Polite on a 3rd & 6 play with 2:15 left. Henne explained after the game that Polite was the "hot" receiver. With the blitz coming, he anticipated Polite running to the flat. But Polite cut it up field - as he had open field in front of him. That explains why Henne double-clutched before throwing that pass over Polite's head.

With that said, it's no secret that Henne still has to work on avoiding tipped balls at the line of scrimmage and improving on those passes that require some "touch."

But still, Henne made up for these mistakes and missed opportunities, showing the kind of mental toughness a quarterback in this league needs. On the very next play - on a 4th & 6 with the season basically on the line - Henne rolled right and fired a bullet to Greg Camarillo for the first down, getting his team into field goal range. After the game, Tony Sparano praised Henne for his ability to overcome these kinds of things:

"He's a pretty resilient guy. He missed a couple of throws there. But Chad just keeps battling. He made some big throws, and the one to Camarillo down there at the end, that's a heck of a throw.''

A "heck of a throw" indeed.

All told, Henne threw for 335 yards while the running game ran for less than 100 - accomplishing one of the things I've been waiting to see from the young quarterback. He was finally asked to win a game with his arm from start to finish. He passed this test with flying colors, leading his third career fourth quarter comeback in just nine career starts.

After his busy day full of 52 pass attempts - the most pass attempts by a Dolphins' quarterback in a win since 1990 - Henne was asked how his arm felt. You got to love his response:

"If you want to, we can throw all day. I love it. Put it in my hands. Put the pressure situations upon me. I really thrive on that."

Defense steps up in fourth quarter
The day got off to a rough start for the Dolphins - allowing a 58 yard touchdown pass a little over three minutes into the game. On that play, we saw terrible coverage by rookie Vontae Davis and poor deep help from Gibril Wilson.

Then less than three minutes into the second half, on the Pats' first play of the half, we saw more ugly defense as fellow rookie corner Sean Smith had outstanding coverage on Sam Aiken but still couldn't even break up the pass along the right sideline. The 6'2 receiver made the catch over the 6'3 1/2" corner and then sprinted down the sideline - as Gibril Wilson basically stood and watched at mid field - for just his second career touchdown. I'm confident that Smith breaks up that pass 99 times out of 100. Unfortunately for the Dolphins, this was that one.

At 21-10 just minutes into the second half, it was beginning to look like more of the same from this defense in the second half. And the fourth quarter - also known as the quarter in  which this defense likes to collapse - was still 12 minutes away.

However, rather than fold like a cheap suit, this defense stepped up. Coming into the game, the Dolphins were allowing 118.4 yards per game and 40.7 yards per drive in the fourth quarter alone. On Sunday, of the 448 yards of offense that the Patriots gained on Sunday, only 60 of them came in the fourth quarter (15 yards per drive).

It all started with NE's first possession of the final quarter. The Pats only needed four plays to get inside Miami's 5 yard line. But then Tom Brady made a terrible decision and a poor throw - allowing Vontae Davis to redeem himself for his bad play on NE's first drive by having perfect coverage on Randy Moss and making the key interception. In my opinion, this play was the turning point of the game.

As far as New England's fourth quarter offense goes, that one drive was about it. The Dolphins forced two consecutive "three and outs" on their next two possessions. And those "three and outs" were huge - getting the ball back to the offense as the Dolphins trailed by two points.

Following the Dan Carpenter field goal, the Pats had one more shot. But again, the defense made a stand. Following an 11 yard completion and an incompletion, Cameron Wake used a quick first step to get around Nick Kaczur and get Brady in his arms. Brady then threw up an ill-advised desperation pass hoping to at least stop the clock. But Channing Crowder (of all people) was "Johnny on the spot" - making the interception on a pass thrown right to his gut. Hell of a time for Channing's first career interception - who then showed excellent football intelligence by going to the ground rather than trying to return the interception.

Some will tell you that the Dolphins caught some lucky breaks. That's true. One of them was a huge break - as Sain Aiken had gotten by Sean Smith by about five yards but was overthrown down the left sideline on what would have been a touchdown to put the Pats ahead by nine points. Yes - the Dolphins caught a break there. But we've seen a ton of breaks go against the Dolphins this year. For once, they caught one of their own. It's about time.

Great job by the defense in the fourth quarter. The unit still isn't where it needs to be. But that late game performance is definitely something to build on.

More quick hit thoughts on Sunday's game. Let's start with the positives and end with some "not so positives":

  • Final thought for right now about Henne. He just seems to have that "it" factor that no Dolphin quarterback has had since you know who. That's what is most exciting about him, in my opinion. He has "it."
  • Bill Belichick will be questioned again for going for it on a fourth down. This time it was inside the 10 yard line late in the second half. Three points there would have been huge for the Patriots. But Belichick went for it on 4th & 1 and Paul Soliai, Joey Porter, and others came up huge in stopping Sammy Morris. The Dolphins would then march down the field and get a FG of their own - resulting in what was essentially a critical six point swing.
  • Dan Carpenter is money. There's nothing more to say. Is his leg the strongest? No. But a reliable kicker from inside 50 is even more important than a big leg. And DC$ is just that - reliable. Think Tony Sparano trusts Carpenter? On 3rd & 5 from the 23, the Dolphins ran the ball and gained nothing before DC$ drilled home the 41 yard FG to put the Dolphins ahead. If he has any doubts, the Fins pass the football there. That says a lot about the second year kicker.
  • The Dolphins may not have any number one receivers. But they have a plethora of reliable number two receivers. Davone Bess is essentially a poor man's Wes Welker, making clutch catch after clutch catch. Brian Hartline is on his way towards becoming a very good complimentary receiver. Greg Camarillo - or "Old Reliable" - always tends to make a clutch catch. None were bigger than his 4th & 6 completion along the right sideline to keep that game-winning drive alive. And even Ted Ginn got in on the act - making two critical receptions. His first catch was on that final drive of the first half, converting a 3rd & 2 into a 19 yard gain along the left sideline. His other reception was a 15 yard gain on a 3rd & 10 in the 4th quarter. At least that's progress, folks.
  • Anthony Fasano has looked like the TE we knew and loved last season. He has back to back 5 reception, 65+ yard performances.
  • The offensive line was excellent in pass protection. For the most part, Henne had all the time he needed in the pocket.
  • Ricky Williams. There - I just wanted to get his name involved here. He had a "workman-like" 75 yards, averaging 4.2 yards per carry. When that's a "ho-hum" kind of game, you know you have a good back.
  • Want more reasons to like Hartline? The kid has become a special teams monster. You can't help but appreciate tough kids like that.
  • While I'm not saying Yeremiah Bell has been very good this year, Gibril Wilson has, by far, been the worst safety. He just can't cut it as a free safety. A true coverage free safety would make this defense instantly better.
  • Not enough pressure at all on Tom Brady. Can I see more Cameron Wake, please?
  • Better play-calling out of Dan Henning today. But one major gripe still remains: ENOUGH WITH PAT WHITE! Listen - I'm not a "Pat White hater." I actually wanted the Dolphins to draft him. But I just don't think he's ready...yet. Now he's just an instant drive killer. So let's give it a rest.
  • I really didn't like the decision to go for two with three minutes left in the third quarter. It's too early to start chasing points at that point. If the Patriots score a touchdown on their first possession of the fourth quarter, the Dolphins would have been down by two scores instead of just one. Luckily, though, this decision didn't come back to bite the Dolphins on the ass.

What more can you ask for? The Dolphins are 6-6, one game out of the playoffs, and have a meaningful month of football ahead. And for us fans, we not only have meaningful December football to look forward to - we also get to enjoy the maturation process of a young quarterback week in and week out.

Enjoy the ride, everyone. And for those of you who were crying about how the season was over after last week's ugly loss in Buffalo - welcome back aboard the bandwagon.