Part of me is glad this Miami Dolphins team did not make the playoffs, because frankly I did not want to see a potential third embarrassing game in a row from a team that had everything in front of them just a few short weeks ago. But then again, another part of me knows that the ‘Fins overcame so much this season and had more than a few chances to finish the season on a high note in the postseason. Simply put, they did not rise to the occasion and make the most of the golden opportunity in front of them. Instead of curse the television and forget about football for the rest of the day as I usually do following a Dolphins loss, I decided to watch the San Diego Chargers play the Kansas City Chiefs. I only managed to catch the end of the fourth quarter and the OT period, but that was enough for me to learn from. Before the Dolphins end their season for good and depart for yet another long and painful off-season, I believe they should watch how the Chargers played in their incredible overtime win over the Kansas City Chiefs.
Everyone expected the Chargers to win easily at home against the Chiefs’ backups. Just like everyone expected the Dolphins to beat the Jets in Miami. The Chiefs were starting Chase Daniel at quarterback, a guy who has never had the chance to be a starter and played only a few snaps all season long. The Chiefs were also without Jamaal Charles, Dwayne Bowe, Branden Albert on offense, and Tamba Hali and Dontari Poe did not play on defense. The Chargers meanwhile played their normal starters. Should have been a blowout right? Wrong.
Much to the Chargers’ surprise, Andy Reid did not let up and the Chiefs’ backups did not miss a beat. The Chiefs actually led for the majority of the game. However, the Chargers knew that they had a golden opportunity. Just a few hours prior, the Miami Dolphins were eliminated from playoff contention by the Jets, and the Baltimore Ravens were also eliminated in their loss to the Bengals. All the Chargers had to do was win. If they lost, the Pittsburgh Steelers would miraculously grab the final AFC playoff spot.
So, did the Chargers fold and lack effort or motivation once the Chiefs backups started winning and continued to fight hard? Not even close. Led by QB Philip Rivers, the Chargers looked mad as hell, and were playing with more emotion than any other team I can remember watching. They were putting on a clinic on how to play gutsy and how to play with passion. They were showing the rest of the NFL and the sports-world how to want something so badly- only death was going to prevent them achieving their goal and winning one final game.
With roughly 5 minutes left in the game, the Chargers were down a field goal and had the ball on their own twenty yard line. The Chargers either had to tie the game with a field goal or score a TD, or lose. Offensive Coordinator Ken Whisenhunt called one of the most beautiful and well-balanced drives of the season for any team. He pounded the ball both inside and outside with RB Ryan Matthews. If a running play worked, he did it again and again until the Chiefs stopped it. Then, Whisenhunt went immediately to the short passing game. He used his best WR Keenan Allen in various positions on the field, not just lined up on the outside. He targeted Allen with slants and underneath routes that gave him a one on one matchup with a slow linebacker, which ultimately put Allen in open space. On one play Rivers hit Allen on a crossing route and let him turn up field for a 30+ yard gain. After the Chiefs put pressure on Rivers on one play, Whisenhunt rolled Rivers out, and even though the play resulted in a throwaway (a game-saving decision by Rivers), it gave Rivers the time and space he needed to try to complete a pass. The drive ultimately ended in a game-tying field goal by Nick Novak. Whisenhunt took away the strength of the Chiefs’ defense, and used the strengths of the Chargers’ offense.
Mike Sherman rarely did anything listed above this year. Whisenhunt’s drive had everything it needed to be successful, and it was not surprising that the end result was a successful and game-tying field goal for the Chargers. In the most important moment of the game, the offense did not stall. In the most important moments of the game this season for the Dolphins, the offense stalled almost every single time.
After tying the game, the Chargers’ offense took to the sidelines and left the game up to the defense. However, the camera repeatedly featured Philip Rivers on the sideline. He was barking at every player on the sideline, and multiple times he said the phrase “Let’s go defense, end it right here!” He was not simply hoping for the defense to stall the Chiefs’ offense, he wanted the ball back via a Chiefs turnover. He wanted one more opportunity to drive down the field and win the game. After the Chiefs drove down the field with plenty of time left, they sent K Ryan Succop out to win the game with a 41 yard field goal. Shockingly, he missed.
How did the fired up Bolts react to this miss? They celebrated. They ran around the field. They jumped up and down and hugged each other. After Succop missed that kick, I knew what would happen in OT. I knew the Chargers had won. They were playing with too much passion and too much heart not to finish victorious.
Sure enough, the Chargers won the toss and drove down the field for another field goal. Their drive almost stalled in their own territory, that is until HC Mike McCoy shocked everyone and ran a fake punt on 4th and 4. He called a gutless play, and the result was a 4th down conversion and a continuing drive. Then a few plays later, they stopped Chase Daniel and the Chiefs on a 4th and 15. They stormed the field and Mike McCoy fist-pumped and looked as though he had just won the Super Bowl.
So what exactly can the Miami Dolphins take from their disappointing defeat to the New York Jets and the Chargers OT thrilling win against the Chiefs? Well, everything. Offensive Coordinator Mike Sherman could see what a successful drive consists of, and how to mix up the variety of plays to keep the defense guessing. He could learn that when something is working, you continue doing it until it stops working. When something isn’t working, you try every possible way to get it working before you abandon it for good. And most importantly Mike Sherman could learn that a team that believes in the offense and has passion for the offense is going to run the offense with success. Just like Philip Rivers ran Ken Whisenhunt’s offense with a fire and passion unparalleled to any other player in that situation.
Defensive Coordinator Kevin Coyle and the Miami defense could learn that when the game is on the line, there is nothing more important than intensity or passion. The Chargers defense was hitting the Chiefs players with so much power and force that I was shocked to not see more flags thrown. They would go for the strip and yet would make every tackle. And with the game on the line, they stepped up and made a huge play. They got pumped up at the sight of a missed field goal, and prevented the Chiefs from having another chance to win the game on their next possession. They were menacing to watch, and I can’t imagine what it was like to play against them.
Finally, Coach Joe Philbin could learn that in a win or go home situation, having motivated players and something to play for is Head Coach’s number one job. Mike McCoy got his squad to rally behind them. They knew the opportunity that was in front of them, and they went after it and took it. They did not wait for it to fall in their lap, or simply go through the motions, hoping the other team would give it to them. McCoy went for it on 4th down, and he trusted his players completely. And in the end, he celebrated right along with them with more joy and more passion than ever before.
The Chargers showed the NFL (and especially the Miami Dolphins) what a complete team win looked like. They put everything on the line, and win or lose they were going to fight. As Miami heads into the off -season early for yet another season, I think they should watch the tape from the Chargers victory over the Chiefs. If anything, maybe it would light a fire under a seemingly passionless and emotionless team and coaching staff.