Losing has different feelings to it. When you get blown out, there's anger. When you lose to teams you should beat, there's disappointment. But when you lose a game against a team that you weren't supposed to beat on a last-second touchdown pass, there is heartbreak.
That's the feeling the Miami Dolphins have been saturating in after Green Bay Packers QB Aaron Rodgers led his team on a last-minute touchdown drive to beat the Dolphins 27-24.
I had to wait a day to be able to write this article, but now that my heart has healed a bit, I present to you my thoughts and takeaways from Sunday's deflating loss.
It was a tale of two halves
The Dolphins started slow (again). The Packers marched right down the field to score on the opening drive of the game. The defense eventually tightened the screws and was able to hold the Packers to 10 first half points.
The Dolphins offense, however, was atrocious in the first half. Ryan Tannehill had a 26.6 QB rating at half with two interceptions thrown. The Dolphins were averaging one yard per carry. The Dolphins converted only
The Dolphins opening drive field goal, which was set up by a big kickoff return from Jarvis Landry (who remembers me highlighting him out as a player to watch?), was the only one of six possession in the first half that didn't end in a punt or a turnover. The Dolphins only gained 92 offensive yards.
Then, in the second half, everything changed. The Dolphins gained 273 yards on five possessions and scored three straight touchdowns in the second half. The offense was able to click behind a more successful running game and a mobile Tannehill who had seemed to take a page out of Rodgers' escapability book.
Unfortunately, the Dolphins' defense wasn't as effective in the second half as it was in the first. The Packers had four possessions and scored on three of them.
The problem here is....
The Dolphins look out of sync
What does that mean? The Dolphins haven't played well as a team this season. They haven't played well in all phases of the game at the same time and fed off of each other's success since the second half of the Week 1 victory over the New England Patriots.
When the defense was winning, the offense was sputtering. When the offense picked up the slack, the defense was tired and less effective from being on the field so much.
Now, some will argue that it's good to have one side of the ball pick up the slack of the other when one unit isn't playing up to par. But that's not what I'm saying (because I agree with that). What I'm saying is that the Dolphins need to play well on all phases of the ball at the same time.
Football is a team game. The more in sync you are as a team the greater your chances are for victory.
Too many people are playing the result...
Taking risks has its benefits and its downfalls, and unfortunately Philbin's risks didn't pay off. How many of you would have called Philbin a "scared coach" (like ESPN's Herm Edwards did this morning) if he had not gone for it on fourth-and-1 at the goal line?
It's easy to say "those three points would have had the Dolphins in overtime" (and it's also true), but the game could have been won so many other times after that first quarter risk by Philbin.
Many seem to forget that it was aggressive play-calling on the Dolphins final drive that forced Miami to run the ball on third down to try to dissolve some clock before giving it back to Rodgers.
Which leads me to my next point....
Odd decision on Dolphins last drive
The Dolphins began their final drive of the game with four minutes left. A few first downs would have won the game.
The Dolphins picked up one first down through the air then another through penalty. But then two incomplete passes set the Dolphins up with a third and nine.
Seeing how throwing for first downs was the strategy (four pass plays as opposed to three runs on the drive), it's odd that Bill Lazor elected to call a running play on third down. This is the one of the only calls I am not a fan of (because I'm personally a believer that good execution wins more than good play-calling).
The issue I have is this--why switch it up? If you are going to commit to running the ball and killing clock, then do that. If you want to pass to get first downs and keep the ball out of the hands of Rodgers, do that.
But do not change your mind halfway through. If you are going to pass it on second and nine, pass it on third and nine and attempt to get the first down.
Commit to the run from the beginning so Rodgers will get the ball with just over a minute left in the game, or attempt to pass to get the first downs. The indecision led to Rodgers getting the ball back with more than two minutes left in the game, and we all knew what was coming next.
Speaking of knowing what's coming next...
The last play of the game was entirely too predictable
As soon as Philip Wheeler went to the outside of the field to cover Packers tight end Andrew Quarless, nearly everyone watching the game knew where that ball was going. Wheeler himself had to know that Rodgers was likely going to pick on him.
When Quarless caught the final touchdown with three seconds left in the game, the feeling of despair and disbelief descended over the Dolphins and their fans.
We all didn't want to believe the result, even though we knew what was going to happen before the ball was snapped.
Tackling was terrible
This speaks for itself.
There was bad tackling all game, but none more devastating than Cortland Finnegan's attempt on Packers rookie WR Davonte Adams on the Packers' fake-spike play on their final drive. Adams gained 15 yards on a one-yard pass due to Finnegan's inability to wrestle him down promptly and set the Packers up at the four-yard line, where they would score a touchdown on the next play.
What was up with Brent Grimes' cleats?
The guy slipped on nearly every key play in the game, including the fourth down that the Packers converted on their final drive.
Jordy Nelson, who Grimes was shadowing most of the game, had nine receptions for 107 yards. I think it's safe to say who won that matchup, but if Grimes could have won at key times then all would be forgiven and forgotten as we celebrate a Dolphins victory.
If Grimes hadn't slipped and was in position on that fourth down play, it might have been enough to cause Rodgers to hold the ball long enough for Cameron Wake, who was breathing down Rodgers' neck on the play, to hit the quarterback for either a sack or an errant throw. The game would have been over at that moment with a Dolphin victory solidified.
There's no telling that Rodgers wouldn't have just thrown it up to Nelson anyway in a combination of fourth down desperation and trust that his receiver will make a play. But it's not like Nelson had out-muscled Grimes for a ball at any point in the game, he just created separation and benefited from Grimes' loose footing.
The point of that mini-rant? Had Grimes been in position on that key fourth down, this article would have a completely different tone to it, as would all of Miami. Not to harp to much on Grimes, because I still have the utmost respect for him, but you expect more out of your Pro Bowl players.
There is optimism to be taken from this game
The Dolphins are proving to be a resilient team. They should have been blown out of this game (which might be why the loss hurts so bad). But they hung around with a very good Green Bay team and were in a position to pull out the victory multiple times.
If the Dolphins can play at the level they did throughout the second half (and never duplicate the offensive performance of the first half) then this team has a chance to win a good amount of ball games this year.
How the Dolphins rebound from this will be interesting to watch. The hope is that a tough loss against a perennial playoff team will energize, refocus and invigorate this team.
- Packers had the ball for over 37 minutes. Have to think the defense was tired on that final drive.
- The Dolphins defense suffered from awful tackling Sunday.
- It's phenomenal that the Dolphins were even in a position to win this game. The Dolphins had a minus-three turnover ratio in the game.
- The Dolphins blocked their second punt of the season Sunday.
- Tannehill looked like he was on his way to getting benched in the first half, then turned in a legitimate performance in the second half. It was a great effort to rebound, but consistency is still an issue.
- Tannehill's decision making and ability to make reads is something that should worry fans. He hasn't gotten much better at these things in his time as Miami's QB. That leads me to believe that he's not a great pocket passer and would benefit from being outside of the pocket (which is where he made his best throws Sunday) on the move far more often like Colin Kaepernick.
- Tannehill's decision to throw away a pass while being chased outside of the pocket on second down to set up a third-and-nine run on the Doplhins final drive is a blunder that has been overlooked. Tannehill stopped the clock when he could have run for a few yards or, at the very worst, taken a sack for a small loss.
- The Dolphins offense is best when it finds a rhythm, but lack of execution early in the game prevents a rhythm from being found as the offense cannot stay on the field. Inconsistent gains on offense lead to unfavorable down-and-distance situations which then lead to punts.
- "I told Bill [Lazor, offensive coordinator] that we were going to do whatever we have to do to get a first down, whatever the call." - Head Coach Joe Philbin on the Dolphins' final drive.
- "The guys made plays. They stepped up and made plays, really, I think is the big difference. The guys, to their credit, they kept their poise. They kept working. It was nothing magical." - Joe Philbin on the second half success on offense.