December 23, 2009
A scoreless fourth quarter for Miami's defense could not save them from the gut-wrenching loss on Sunday in Tennessee. With another second half comeback and a successful coin toss in overtime, the Dolphins had the opportunity that any playoff hungry team could ask for: a chance to stay in the hunt.
As Davone Bess ran his route and stumbled mid-stride, Chad Henne's pass sailed past the Miami receiver and into the hands of a Tennessee defender. The Titans secured the ball in Miami territory and were immediately in field goal range. Rod Bironas took care of business, sending the Dolphins packing and giving the Titans a 7-1 record in their last 8 games.
Chad Henne recorded a career-best 349 passing yards, but was overshadowed by three deflating interceptions. Ricky Williams was held to 80 yards rushing and lost a fumble early in the game, leading to a Tennessee field goal. The Dolphins as a whole committed an uncharacteristic eight penalties for 80 yards. With the game tied at 24 entering overtime, one could argue that it was Miami's mistakes that prevented them from winning in regulation.
All "what ifs" set aside, the Dolphins now find themselves without the luxury of determining their own fate. It will take a miracle collapse by the AFC East leading New England Patriots or the AFC Wild Card contending Denver Broncos or Baltimore Ravens.
Given the fact that the Dolphins have suffered serious losses in key player positions, it has been commendable for the Fins to be in contention this late in the season. A sophomore QB with virtually no NFL experience, a back-up running back over the age of 30, two starting rookie cornerbacks and a bevy of other seemingly weak points on Miami's depth chart all held up down the stretch - enough to keep the Fins in the playoff race.
Only destiny will decide if Miami holds a spot in the playoff picture. While it may not be impossible, it will be dificult to depend on playoff-hungry teams to falter in the final two games of the season.
The Road Ahead
With the final two games at home for the Dolphins, there is a decent shot for Miami to win out against two Wild Card hopefuls in the Houston Texans and Pittsburgh Steelers. It is arguably the most difficult two-game schedule any team in the playoff hunt faces at this point. Then again, in order to deserve a playoff spot a team must defeat formidable opponents in the process.
The Texans have a flawless record against the Dolphins and will look to continue that trend at Land Shark Stadium this upcoming Sunday. With the threat of Andre Johnson facing Miami's secondary, the defense will have their hands full studying film and preparing for Houston's passing game. On the ground, Miami has decently contained opposing running backs and suppressed the ground game considerably all season long (ranked 14th in rush defense). It will be Matt Shaub's arm and Andre Johnson's hands that will worry Defensive Coordinator Paul Pasqualoni the most.
Finishing off with the defending NFL Champions will be Miami's final test of the season. With a win against Houston, it could very well be the match that decides whether Miami is in or out. Ben Roethlisberger throwing for 503 yards and 3 TDs this past week is not good news for the Fins. Then again, forcing a one-sided offensive game on the Steelers could work in the Dolphins' favor.
The road ahead is not pretty, but neither was the road behind it. It is becoming clear that this young Dolphins team has grown throughout the season and triumphed over adversities. Playoff spot or not, the Fins will duke it out until the season's over. Tony Sparano will not accept anything less.