The Miami Dolphins rode a three game winning streak into Dallas today to celebrate Thanksgiving, they leave for home with a one point loss and a final wrap on the post season chatter that was long in the tooth. Simply, they failed to close out a game that they should have won, echoing portions of their seven game losing streak to start the season.
Early on the game looked to be one that would put Miami in the drivers seat for one of the best turnarounds in NFL history. A stifling defense forced two Tony Romo turnovers and the Dolphins front kept RB Demarco Murray from being an impact. Through the first two quarters the Dolphins defense stood their ground and kept the Cowboys from reaching the endzone until the final minute of the first half. Following a fumbled snap that gave the Cowboys the ball at the Miami 5, the defense gave up their first TD in almost 14 quarters of play.
The offense would drive down the field and kick a field goal to go into halftime down by six.
Opening the second half the Dolphins appeared ready to take the game over but Matt Moore who has been lauded over the last three weeks of football came out erratic and scattered. Under constant pressure from both sides of the line, he was unable to make smart decisions. While he did not throw any interceptions, his inconsistencies were prominent. Overthrown passes, scrambles that netted no yards, dumping off to covered receivers for no yards, missing wide open targets, and taking sacks instead of getting rid of the ball. Yet for his fallacies through most of the third quarter, the Dolphins still managed to stay in the game.
Moore, while up and down, led the Dolphins on four consecutive scoring drives helped by great catches by Brian Hartline and Davone Bess as well as a fantastic TD catch by Brandon Marshall who was mauled by the defender. Moore managed to not only keep the Dolphins in the game, but put the team ahead with five minutes left in the game. The defense held on the first series but the offense went into safe mode. Needing a first down or two, the Dolphins ran up the middle, ran Moore to the right, and failed to complete a first down pass sending the ball back to Dallas.
And that is when the Dolphins failed to close the game out. Dez Bryant returned the punt 38 yards and Tony Romo managed to slither his way out of traffic to make clutch passes to his TE, Jason Witten. When the Dolphins had them on the line for a long third down, they were unable to shut the Cowboys down and eventually, the final field goal sailed through the uprights as the clock ticked to zero.
For Miami it spells the end to what many thought could be a miracle turnaround and now with the playoffs finally an afterthought for what should be for good, the question now becomes how many more games will the Dolphins win and where will their draft slotting be? The Dolphins played well enough to win and in fact should have won the game but should have’s don’t go into the win columns. Losses do. The next two weeks are very winnable for the Dolphins as they face the Oakland Raiders at home and then the Eagles before traveling to Buffalo and New England prior to their season finale back in Miami against the Jets.
With the way this team is playing football, they could easily win four of their last five games. That will not be enough to get them into the playoffs but will be enough to be met with fans anger over yet another wasted season and a mid-teen draft pick in round one. Out likely of any chance at a top three quarterback prospect. The loss today, again while fought hard, may be the final nail in the Tony Sparano proverbial coffin.
Speculation was beginning to pick up that maybe, just maybe, Sparano could be retained at seasons end with a win out. That won’t happen now and the best the team can finish is .500 not enough to likely sway the mind of owner Stephen Ross who will need to make a decision in the week following the last game of the season.
While it’s a “downer” that the team lost, positives can still be taken from it, especially if you look towards next season. The team played hard and while mistakes were made, the fact that they were once again a matter of seconds away from a win shows that the team doesn’t quit. They just can’t close it out. Kevin Burnett stepped up and had a very solid game as did Vontae’ Davis who intercepted his second pass in as many games.
Jared Odrick didn’t get to do the “Pee Wee Herman” but he was disruptive in the Cowboys back-field where they failed to finish as well. Offensively, it appears that Matt Moore may not be the savior that many have been wondering aloud but it is evident that he will be a perfect bridge for this team and has the respect of his offensive players. Moore will enter the 2012 training camp as the starter barring a big off-season trade, and that’s not a bad thing.
Ironically, Moore returned today where he started. As a Dallas Cowboy with Bill Parcells, Jeff Ireland, and Tony Sparano where they tried to slide him onto the practice squad. He was poached by the Panthers. Moore wasn’t his stellar self that he has been the last three games but statistically was better than his counterpart putting up 288 yards and a touchdown with no interceptions with most of those yards coming in the second half.
So today the Dolphins fly back home with another loss on their record and frankly while they played this game to win, they didn’t have that final push to make it a reality. It’s where teams who know how to win pull it out and teams that don’t or are learning fail. The Dolphins are trying to learn how to win. Unfortunately, any fruition of those labors will have to wait until next year.