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Miami Dolphins keep slim playoff hopes alive with big win over Oakland Raiders

Though the Dolphins put themselves in a tough spot ten games into the season, the playoffs remain the goal for this team. While we all know that this team will need some outside help to achieve that goal, all of those playoff scenarios we'll start hearing about will be moot if the Dolphins do not take care of their own business.

On Sunday, the Dolphins went out west and did what they had to do this week to keep their playoff hopes alive, emphatically defeating the Raiders 33-17 in a game that shouldn't have even been that close. The Dolphins out-gained the Raiders by more than 200 yards in the game and out-scored them 20-3 in the second half to leave the west coast victorious.

Let's discuss some of the highlights from Sunday's win.

Henne makes a statement in return to starting lineup

I was very curious to see how Chad Henne would respond considering all of the adversity he's faced recently. November has been a very interesting month for Henne. He was benched following the loss to Baltimore. But two plays into the following game, Henne has to replace the injured Chad Pennington. He then played well in relief only to get knocked out of that game with what some thought was a serious knee injury. But after missing last week's game against the Bears with that knee injury, Henne worked most of last week with the starters and reclaimed his starting job - with a huge brace on his injured knee, of course.

Henne's mental and physical toughness was put to the test against the 3rd ranked passing defense in the NFL - and without his number one receiver, Brandon Marshall, who was out with a hamstring injury. And all Henne did was throw for over 300 yards, average more than ten yards per attempt, throw two touchdowns, and win a must-win football game. Not a bad way to close the month, huh?

"There's been tough times the last couple of weeks. But I have just been preparing. I knew my day would come again," Henne told the media after the game. He just wanted to "come out and play my game and show the coaches that I'm able to come out here and help the team win."

I think the big thing here is that Henne did play HIS game. He went down the field. He didn't settle for the underneath stuff. Ever since his return during the game against Tennessee, I've noticed something different about Henne - in a good way, that is.

He still made a couple of bad looking throws - including that one horrendous decision that resulted in an interception at the goal line. That obviously has to stop. But his touchdown pass to Patrick Cobbs down the seam was a thing of beauty.

His best pass of the game, though, came on the big drive that followed the Raiders cutting Miami's lead to six points in the fourth quarter. That beautifully placed pass the dropped into Davone Bess for 29 yards was a thing of beauty. It's the kind of throw that gets us fans excited about the kind of talent Henne has.

The problem with Henne has been consistency. I want to see if Henne can put together a string of good performances before I fully jump back on the Henne bandwagon that is again gathering some steam.

Commitment to the run pays dividends

All of us were frustrated over how quickly the Dolphins went away from the running game against the Bears ten days ago - especially considering the Dolphins had Tyler Thigpen under center, making his first start since 2008 with Kansas City. But this week, the Dolphins got back to the ground and stuck with it despite how ineffective they were in the first half on the ground.

Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams combined for 58 yards on 19 carries in the first half, resulting in a measly 3.05 yards per carry. Much of this, of course, was due to the inability of Miami's offensive line to generate any push in the trenches. Oakland's leaky rush defense - ranked in the bottom quarter of the league - was dominating the Dolphins up front in the first half.

But credit Dan Henning and the Dolphins, the team remain committed to the run and it eventually paid off, as the Dolphins ran for 122 yards in the second half on 25 carries - capped, of course, by the 45 yard touchdown run from Ricky Williams to seal the game late in the fourth quarter. The Dolphins continually pounded the rock and it eventually wore down Oakland's defense.

It was this commitment to the run that caused the ridiculous advantage in time of possession for the Dolphins, holding the ball for over 41 minutes. The Dolphins actually held the ball for at least ten minutes in three of the four quarters. The only quarter where the Fins failed to reach the ten minute mark (3rd quarter), they held the ball for 9:56.

The snowball effect of Miami's clock domination is obvious. Their defense was well rested, which assisted in the dominant performance they put forth. The Raiders ran 37 fewer plays, resulting in 200 fewer yards of offense.

This game shows why running the football is so important.

Defense steps up

To call Oakland's offense a potent unit would be a lie. But the Raiders did enter Sunday's game with the second ranked rushing offense in the entire league, averaging over 150 yards per game on the ground. All the Dolphins did on Sunday was hold the Raiders to 16 yards rushing on 12 carries, with 13 of those yards coming on one end-around by Jacoby Ford. Darren McFadden, who entered the game ranked fourth in the league in rushing yards per game (96.4) was held to just 2 yards on 8 carries. That is what I call dominance.

Some other defensive statistics from this game really paint the picture of how well Miami's defense played. The Raiders were 0/5 on third downs in the second half and converted just 22% of their third downs all game. The Dolphins forced three turnovers - and should have had another if Chris Clemons could have caught what would have been his second pick of the game. Most importantly, though, was the fact that the Dolphins held Oakland to just ten offensive points - including just three in the second half.

Did the defense make mistakes? Of course. There were some blown coverages and missed tackles. But there's a lot more to like about this defense's performance than there is to dislike.

More quick thoughts on Sunday's win:

  • Congratulations to Davone Bess for his second career 100 yard receiving game - which comes in his first professional game in his home town. That's got to be a thrill the Bess - who continues to show he's a hell of a player. Four of his six receptions converted third downs - most being third and long situations. Davone also had a nifty career-long 47 yard punt return.
  • You have got to love those "F-U" drives - the kind of drives we got used to seeing back in 2008 during the Dolphins' improbable playoff push. On Sunday, the Dolphins took possession with 11 minutes left having just had their lead cut to 6 points. But a 13 play drive, highlighted by physical running and a perfectly thrown ball from Henne to BBess for 29 yards, got the Dolphins in position for a field goal that put them back up by two scores. More importantly, it chewed up nearly 7 minutes of the fourth quarter and essentially sealed the game.
  • I don't know what to make of the fact that the offense had its highest point total of the season without Brandon Marshall. Going one step further, Chad Henne had his best all-around game of the year as well. Part of it could have to do with who the opponent was. But still - what do you think Marshall was thinking watching his teammates play like this?
  • Yeremiah Bell had a busy game despite only having three tackles. He had an interception, a fumble recovery, and a tackle for a loss. That's the Yeremiah we've all come to love - a play-maker.
  • One major problem I had with the coaching staff's game plan was their very odd Tyler Thigpen package. Can we stop taking Henne off the field at random times? I'm not against the classic Wildcat (ran 12 times for 34 yards on Sunday). But I don't understand the need to put Thigpen in the game for a few snaps. The QB draw with Thigpen on 3rd and long? I can live with that. But what was the need for having Thigpen start the ensuing drive under center and hand the ball off twice before coming off the field and asking Henne to convert on third down? Makes no sense.
  • Chalk up another sack and another tackle for loss for Cameron Wake, who should be getting ready for a trip to Hawaii in a couple months.

Final Thought

I started out this piece by talking about the playoffs. So we might as well close this with a look at just how unlikely a playoff appearance is for the Dolphins. Despite their win on Sunday, Miami's playoff hopes took a hit this week because of wins by the Patriots and Jets on Thursday followed by Pittsburgh and Baltimore wins on Sunday.

Those are the four teams the Dolphins are in direct competition with for three spots. Whichever team doesn't win the AFC North will have a leg up on Miami, though, because both the Ravens and Steelers beat the Dolphins. The Dolphins could even win every remaining game and still fail to reach the postseason.

Unless the Ravens or Steelers lose three of their remaining five games, the Dolphins best chance to steal a playoff spot will be by witnessing a collapse by one of their two AFC East rivals. Whichever team loses next Monday night when the Pats and Jets play will have to fall apart down the stretch for the Dolphins to have a shot.

Along with Miami running the table, the Jets would have to lose games in Pittsburgh and Chicago. If the Pats lose on Monday night next week, then we would need to see them fall at Chicago and home against Green Bay. And even if the Dolphins won their final five and one of these two scenarios played out, I'm not even certain the Dolphins would be the next team in (the loser of the SD/KC battle in the AFC West could make this even more difficult for Miami).

The bottom line? The playoffs are a long shot. So let's just take it week to week and see if the Dolphins can get to ten wins in 2010. Then let the chips fall where they may.