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Dolphins collapse down stretch in ‘legitimate team loss’ to Titans on Monday Night Football

The Miami Dolphins watched a 14-point fourth-quarter lead disappear against the Tennessee Titans in an epic collapse.

Tennessee Titans v Miami Dolphins Photo by Megan Briggs/Getty Images

The Miami Dolphins struggled against the Tenessee Titans, failing in nearly every aspect of the game throughout the first three-quarters of the game. Coming into the week as the top team in the AFC hosting a team likely headed for a top-five draft pick after a rough season, Miami should have walked all over Tennessee in a home Monday Night Football appearance. Instead, the Dolphins stumbled their way into one of the biggest upset losses in the league this season.

The Dolphins, with the top offense in the league this season, did not put any offensive points on the board in the first three-quarters of the game. The only first-half points Miami scored came when defensive tackle Zach Sieler returned an interception for a touchdown. The only other chance Miami had for a score in the first 30 minutes came on a 44-yard field goal attempt, but the kick was blocked and Miami found themselves trailing 10-7 at halftime, with the offense unable to sustain any possession.

Miami started the second half with a field goal, tying the game but leaving points on the board after driving down to the Tennessee two-yard line. The Titans regained the lead just before the end of the third quarter on a short field goal. Miami once again trailed, now 13-10, as the final 15 minutes of the game began.

After 45 minutes of struggles, injuries, mistakes, and poor execution from the coaches down to the players, the Dolphins finally had some things break their way in the fourth period. After a field goal early in the quarter, Miami was able to recover a muffed punt and score a touchdown, taking a 20-13 lead. Three plays later, after recovering a fumble, Miami found themselves in the endzone again, pulling out to a 27-13 lead - a lead that, after so many struggles, still covered the pre-game 14-point spread. The Dolphins controlled the game with 4:34 remaining on the clock. It was ugly, but Miami would leave Week 14 tied for the best record in the league and be in complete control of the AFC playoff picture.

Nine plays in under two minutes, plus a two-point conversion, pulled the Titans to within six points at 21-27. The Dolphins were no longer covering the spread, but they still should win the game with the lead and the ball and just 2:40 remaining in the game.

Three plays burning just 25 seconds off the clock lead to a Miami punt. Tennessee fired off a 36-yard pass on the first down play, then followed that with a 16 yard pass on the next play. Two plays later, Tennessee took the lead with a touchdown. In 13 plays taking just 2:20 of game time, the Titans covered 139 yards and scored 15 points.

Miami got the ball back with 1:49 remaining in the game, but turned the ball over on downs in just six plays, leading to a kneel and a win for Tennessee, 28-27.

“I think it was a legitimate team loss,” Dolphins head coach Mike McDaniel said after the game. “I think everybody had their hand in it. I don’t think it was intentional. I don’t think people went through the motions during the week. It was a really, really good week of practice, I thought. But you had a lot of yards given up in a short amount of time. You had a shorter field position, and you had an offense that went three-and-out. That’s literally the only way that that could happen.

“So yeah, we all get to share the blame in my opinion, or at least I know the locker room felt 100 percent responsible,” he continued. “I think that’s what you want. I think there’s a lot of people that are going to be – it’s going to be tough to go to sleep tonight, including myself. That’s not something that you can do and expect to win football games, and you can’t – it’s a hard, hard lesson, but no lead is safe. I think that’s one of the tougher parts about it.”

Linebacker Bradley Chubb explained the team did not lose focus in the build-up for the game, but just let a few bad plays get to them during the game. “I feel like we’ve been locked in as a team, taking each day as it comes, attacking each day on the practice field and in the meeting room. So I wouldn’t say during the week. We just probably had a couple plays here and there that we let get the best of us and we just got to be better as a team bringing it all in, reeling it all in and finding ways to win games like this.”

Quarterback Tua Tagovailoa looked to the offense’s inability to sustain a drive late as a reason they lost the game, stating, “It’s the NFL. Anything can happen. We’ve got to do a better job finishing the game with the time that we had while we had the ball, not allowing their opposing team’s offense to get that opportunity to potentially go down and score. It’s a team sport. You can’t blame one side. But I would say from an offensive standpoint there’s things that we could have done a lot better to not have gone through what we’ve gone through tonight.”

There was more to what went wrong for the Dolphins than just not being able to run out the clock with the offense late in the game. The Titans should never have been in position to win the game, with mistakes by the Dolphins keeping Tennessee in the game. Chubb was flagged for an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty in the first half after he allowed his frustration at missing a sack to get the best of him, slamming his helmet down on the field. Tennessee scored their first touchdown on the drive, benefitting from the free yardage they received. He admitted he hurt the team by being more focused on himself in that moment. “Just being frustrated with myself and I let my problems be bigger than the team’s problems and hurt the team in a way that I don’t want to do that,” he said. “Looking back on it now, just two more steps and I would’ve been perfectly fine, so it’s just frustrating when I let my emotions get the best of me, but at the end of the day, I tried to do everything I could to combat that in the second half and after the second quarter so just got to find ways to be better as a player, as a person, as a leader, as a teammate and I will be and it’s just one of those things that lapse judgment got the best of me and I will be better next time for sure in that situation. But hopefully that situation won’t happen again and I’ll make the sack instead of falling off of it.”

The redzone offense was miserable on Monday night, failing to come away with points on a lost fumble, a blocked field goal, and a field goal after driving to the two-yard line. McDaniel spoke of the issues as Miami got close to the endzone. “For me, you call plays for them to work, and they didn’t,” he stated simply. “So you’re trying to play to the team when you’re making decisions to go for it or not. A couple of those, I felt like we just lost a lot of points there. In two particular instances I think inside the five, that’s eight points total there. We had a blocked field goal. We’ve done out-of-character things to almost find a way to lose the game. The guys still fought, but you have to play a certain type of football to expect to win, and it’s hard to get all the way down there and not to come up with touchdowns. It’s not something that we’ve had success this season, and we haven’t done that. It’ll start with me, but I think that the locker room will — I always just look at it like we have really good players, and we should be successful down there. So when we don’t, I start with that, and then we’ll go comb the tape and make sure that the certain things that kept us from getting in the end zone don’t in the future.

Injuries played a major factor in the game as well. During the game, Miami saw cornerback Xavien Howard, center Connor Williams, wide receiver Jaylen Waddle, safety DeShon Elliott, and wide receiver Tyreek Hill all miss time due to injury, with Williams unable to return with a knee issue and Hill rotating in and out throughout much of the second half. The injuries crushed the Dolphins, especially on offense, and the team looked like a shell of itself with so many players going down.

Hill spoke after the game, answering questions about his ankle injury. “It was a lot of pain, man. It sucked. When it actually happened, I’ve obviously been dealing with some ankle injuries this whole season, and when it happened, like my first reaction was like, man, my ankle is gone. My adrenaline kicked in, I ran off the field, then I sat for a while and it got stiff and I was going through a lot of pain. Then I just made up in my mind, I came in at halftime, I texted my wife, I was like, ‘this (expletive) hurt.’ I need an ankle massage tonight, and she’s like, ‘you’d better get your ass back in that game, dawg.’ I was like, ‘all right.’ So I just made up my mind that it’s going to hurt. It’s going to suck. Tonight and tomorrow morning. I just went back in the game on my own, without anybody saying ‘Reek, go.’ It was like, no, (expletive) this, I’ve got to get out there and bring some energy and be that spark.”

Hill’s injury occurred as he was tackled in the first quarter, a play that likely should have included a flag for a horse collar tackle. Hill was pulled down to the ground by his name plate, with this leg pinned under the defender, rolling his knee and ankle awkwardly as he went to the ground.

“No, I could not [cut and change directions],” Hill explained of what he was able to do whenever he was on the field after the injury. “It was just one of them things where like you just got to make your mind up, like ‘hey, I’m going to do it, man.’ One of them (expletive) them mindsets. You feel me? And it’s going to be like that until the end of the season. I feel like at this point of the season, everybody is typically hurt, and right now I don’t need – nobody is going to give you pity for just being injured, quite frankly. That’s just the reality of this league. My mindset is like I’m going to go in, I’m going to dominate no matter how I feel. If I get locked up, it happens. If I drop a pass, it happens. But just know I’m out there. I’m going. That’s my mindset.”

“I think what they wanted game plan-wise was to put a shell over our team, forcing us to run the ball, forcing us to beat them that way,” Tagovailoa said of losing Hill for much of the game. “But when you have someone like Tyreek go down, it does make it tough, but when you also have a couple of your key o-linemen go down, as well, it does hurt the guys up front and sort of the way we operate.”

“Yeah, there’s a good amount of offense that goes through him. However, we have – ‘Ced’ (Cedrick Wilson Jr.) made a couple plays,” McDaniel said when asked about not having Hill available for much of the game. “It wasn’t the reason for the lack of first half or really first three-quarter points. I think there were just critical times that we would be off a hair on first or second down and you’re put in a third down situation, and our protection wasn’t exactly what maybe we’d be used to on a play or two. Then there was a misfire on a play or two and those things add up, but I didn’t see it as we were – obviously a player of Tyreek’s caliber, it hurts when he’s not in. However, I think there was plenty of offense to be had and we’ve got a lot of guys that I trust to do that. I think that just bottom line, you have things like that happen in a game, you’re going to lose and those are lessons that are learned usually one way and that’s the hard one.

Tagovailoa also discussed the loss of Williams, adding to an offensive line already missing left tackle Terron Armstead and right guard Robert Hunt. “Well, I think one of the toughest parts of that is a lot of those guys haven’t gotten reps at some of the positions,” he explained. “It’s not to say that we practice for situations like this to happen. It just so happened that Connor went down and we already had a couple of our guys out. But needless to say, I know the guys up front will get better. I know the guys around me will get better. I will continue to get better. That’s the only way we can grow. We’ve just got to watch the tape. Tough loss tonight, but it’s going to linger like this if we don’t do anything about that.”

Miami imploded on Monday night, giving up a 14-point lead late in the fourth quarter. They out imploded the Titans, who tried to lose the game with a muffed punt and a lost fumble late in the game. With the loss, they fell to 9-4 on the season and into second place in the AFC playoff picture, a game behind the Baltimore Ravens. The path to the first seed and homefield advantage is still there for the Dolphins, with a Week 17 game against the Ravens looming, but they did not do themselves any favors on Monday.

Week 14 was a bad look for the Dolphins. It was a bad performance all around. Injuries did not help, but it truly was a “legitimate team loss.”