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6 Observations on the Miami Dolphins' Disappointing 20-16 Loss to the Detroit Lions

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Six thoughts on the physical battle between the Miami Dolphins' (5-4) and the Detroit Lions (7-2) that ended in heartbreaking fashion for the Dolphins.

Ryan Tannehill attempting to evade pressure, as he did much of the game against the Lions
Ryan Tannehill attempting to evade pressure, as he did much of the game against the Lions
Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports

I'll start off by saying this: the Detroit Lions are not a pretender this season. The Lions have a team that can never be counted out of a game and they have the weapons to dominate on either side of the ball.

Now I'll loosely quote Dennis Green; The Dolphins had the Lions where they wanted them, and they let them off the hook!

It was another hard-fought, last-second, heart-breaking loss versus an NFC North team for the Dolphins, another game where both the offense and defense had chances to win the game in the final minutes and failed.

Here are this week's thoughts, plus notes & quotes, on the game that took place Sunday:

1. The Dolphins were so close (yet again)

The pain of being so close only to fail is a familiar feeling for the Dolphins. It was the feeling they felt as 2013 closed on a two-game losing streak and a missed playoff berth. It's the feeling that coursed threw the city of Miami after Aaron Rodgers threw the game-winning touchdown pass to Andrew Quarless earlier this season.

It's the feeling that winning teams get tired of right before they put it all together. Miami is stuck at the doorstep of the next level, at the pearly gates of elite NFL teams.

But they aren't quite there yet.

Being able to pull out tough victories, like against the Lions or Packers, makes a team elite. Making the plays it takes to win makes a team elite.

The Dolphins were so close on Sunday to victory. The Dolphins are so close to being an upper-echelon team in the NFL. But they don't yet make the plays it takes to win in crunch time. They aren't well-versed on the art of winning. Yet.

The Dolphins played admirably against the Lions, but couldn't pull out the victory because...

2. The Dolphins couldn't make the plays to win the game

Miami couldn't make the plays that winning teams make despite playing like a winning team for much of the game.

The Dolphins made many plays that winning teams make to keep themselves in the game, such as the blocked field goal by Earl Mitchell which turned into seven points for Miami, or the effort by Ryan Tannehill to make a tackle to prevent a pick-six that allowed Brent Grimes to pull down the interception-of-the-year the very next play.

But the Dolphins couldn't pull off the one or two plays at the end to seal the game, the plays that turn on-the-brink teams into winning teams.

3. Offense was inconsistent

The Dolphins averaged only 2.6 yards per carry. The Dolphins run game was non-existent for much of the day and Tannehill's arm was tasked with driving the Dolphins. Miami had a few promising drives, but only scored one touchdown (on a drive starting from the Lions' three-yard line).

Tannehill played well considering the defense he was up against, how much stress he was under from the Lions' pass rush and the one-dimensional nature of the Dolphins offense, but his interception in the redzone was a killer. While Detroit didn't score off the turnover, the interception cost Miami three points.

The worst part of the day for the offense was the failed four-minute drill (again). What made this failure worse is that it came just one possession after a crucial endzone drop by Charles Clay.

The Dolphins offense had the ball and a three-point lead with just 3:47 on the clock. The Dolphins ran the ball twice for five yards then passed on 3rd-and-5. It was an incomplete pass and Detroit received the ball with just over three minutes left. That three minutes provided Detroit enough time to march down the field for the game-winning touchdown.

4. Defense played well but couldn't make a play when it mattered most

The Dolphins defense bailed out the offense many times. The defense kept both of Miami's turnovers from turning into points for Detroit. They even stopped the Lions for a three-and-out on what many had hoped would be the Lions' final drive of the game.

But, when Miami's offense failed to produce a first down to run out the clock, Matthew Stafford was given another try at leading his team to victory. Unfortunately for the Dolphins, Stafford was successful in round two.

The Dolphins couldn't make a play on defense to stop the Lions, who matriculated down the field in a way that they hadn't done since their first drive of the game.

The game-winning touchdown to Theo Riddick was a dagger to the hearts. Even more so because it seemed that Reshad Jones had a chance to bat the pass down had he looked back for it (plays that winning teams make). The play was a dagger to the heart. Maybe even more so when considering the play of the game...

5. Play of the game

I wish I could say the play of the game was Earl Mitchell's blocked field goal and Dion Jordan's run back to the three-yard line was the play of the game.

I wish I could say Brent Grimes' ridiculous one-handed interception the very next play after Ryan Tannehill tackled James Ihedigbo after the latter had returned an interception 70 yards was the play of the game.

Unfortunately, Charles Clay's drop in the endzone with four and a half minutes left in the game to soften the Lions' deficit to only three points instead of seven was the play of the game. This play deflated the Dolphins and energized the Lions. This play ensured that the Lions would have not only a chance to tie the game, but take the outright lead. And the Lions took advantage.

Clay's drop, which was well-defensed, was the play of the game. Clay couldn't make the catch, Ihedigbo was able to break up the pass. One made a winning play, one did not. And, oddly enough, that play reflected the final result.

6. Dolphins season is far from over, but....

Things could het ugly from here. This was a big game, but possibly the biggest game of the season comes Thursday when the Bills come to town. The Bills annually bully the Dolphins up front, and Miami will be forced to take on Buffalo (and every other team on their schedule) without left tackle Branden Albert, who is likely out for the season with a knee injury.

Miami cannot get beat up by this team yet again, especially at home. Getting swept by this inferior team two years in a row will look bad for Philbin and, more importantly, will put the Dolphins confidence in the gutters and their season in a spiral as they prepare to face the Peyton Manning-led Broncos the following week.

Winning this non-conference road game would have been great for the Dolphins' confidence and season outlook, but let's not pretend it was a must-win. It would have been one hell of a victory if they pulled it out, but now they must refocus for games against AFC teams.

The Dolphins can only afford two more losses this season if they have any hopes at making the playoffs, so Miami must be able to overcome this loss and keep the season going.

This loss could easily be the start of a three-game losing streak. Because of that, the importance of Thursday's game against the Bills cannot be understated. The Dolphins must pull out the victory to keep their season alive.

The future outlook looks bleak after this loss, but don't underestimate the resilience of this Dolphins team.

NOTES & QUOTES

- The Dolphins started slow as Detroit outgained them 121-1 while Detroit built their early 10-0 lead.

- The Dolphins were the third straight team that the Lions beat on a fourth quarter comeback.

- There were many odd things that happened in this game. Two fake punts by Detroit, an attempted fake punt by Miami, a blocked field goal and two bobbling catches took place. Simply put, it was an odd game.

- Joique Bell was a tank. Bell, who ran for 44 yards on 10 carries, was a bull all game and gave the Dolphins defense problems. I'm not sure why the Lions didn't elect to run with him more in that game.

- Jarvis Landry is a playmaker. He's fun to watch with the ball in his hands and is electric on kick returns.

- Dion Jordan still has ability to cover despite his added weight, and the Dolphins aren't afraid to use him in coverage when forced too. Jordan was playing coverage when the Lions were in the redzone on their final drive, lining up on Calvin Johnson on most plays.

- Earl Mitchell was a great signing. Mitchell is a beast up front and is usually good for one tackle-for-loss per game. Mitchell is a pure effort player. Mitchell provided one of the most important plays in the game when he blocked a field goal late in the third quarter.

- The Dolphins had the ball in the redzone four times. They scored only one touchdown. Miami must be able to convert these opportunities to touchdowns consistently to be able to win football games.

- The Dolphins offensive line held together admirably when Branden Albert got injured. Ja'Wuan James played very well at left tackle.

- GM Dennis Hickey's players are starting to become key contributors. On top of the aforementioned Landry, Mitchell and James, rookie running back Damien Williams was the Dolphins top rusher Sunday, rushing for 34 yards on seven carries.

- Brent Grimes has four interceptions in the past three games. Grimes is back to playing at a Pro Bowl level after struggling a bit earlier in the season.

- Dolphins need tight end help. Tannehill's interception can be half-blamed on Gator Hoskins, who allowed Ihedigbo to jump the route by drifting on his route and rounding if off at the top.

- "As an offense, when you get put in a position to seal the game, you want to do it. And to not do it is the most frustrating thing. (We’ve) just got to find a way to do it." - Charles Clay.

- "We weren’t thinking about the Packers game. We were thinking about this game. We didn’t win, so it didn’t end the way we wanted it to. We’re proud of how competed, but we’ve got to finish the game out." - Brent Grimes.

- "It was a drop. Nothing else to say about it. You've got to come down with (the ball)" - Charles Clay on his endzone drop.

- "It’s tough losing Branden. I love the guy to death. He’s out there battling every day. He’s such a consistent guy, a solid guy on that offensive front. To lose him is tough, but I thought Ja’Wuan played well. I didn’t feel like I was getting pressure from, really, the right or left tackle quickly. I had to step up a few times, but that’s football. Now we know the situation going in. We’ll have a full three days to prepare and we’ll be ready to go on Thursday." - Ryan Tannehill.