Miami's playoff hopes come to a fitting end

Posted Dec. 20, 2010 @ 2:57 p.m.
Posted By Kevin Fishbain

Sunday provided the most fitting way for the Dolphins to be eliminated from playoff contention. They lost at home to an inferior team as they failed to establish the run, made special-teams mistakes, QB Chad Henne turned the ball over and the "Wildcat" was used at inopportune times. The defense is the only reason the Dolphins had a chance.

That's pretty much the recipe for everything that went wrong for Miami this season.

When you look at their record of 7-7 and consider they have lost to some of the league's best, it's easy to chalk it up to a tough schedule. But when you look at how they lost and where they lost (with a 1-6 record at Sun-Life Stadium standing out the most), it adds up to a very disappointing 2010 campaign for Tony Sparano and crew.

An upset win over the Jets in Week 14 kept the Dolphins' playoff hopes on life support. With back-to-back home games against the Bills and Lions before a Week 17 finale against a Patriots team that likely would not have much to play for, you had to like Miami's chances to make a miracle push to the postseason.

But the Bills crushed any hopes and left South Florida with a 17-14 win, their fourth of the season.

The PFW Spin

The following teams have more home wins in 2010 than the Dolphins: The Panthers, Lions, Cardinals, Bills, Bengals and Broncos. In fact, the Dolphins have the least home victories in the entire league — one.

Everything that has gone wrong for the Dolphins this season went wrong on Sunday. Henne threw an interception, although, showing the inconsistency we've seen all season long, he rebounded with a big second half and threw for 276 yards.

The passing game was something that went right, but the fact remains, the Dolphins scored just 14 points. If you told me Brandon Marshall would catch 11 passes for 106 yards and one touchdown and Davone Bess would have 9-78 receiving against the league's worst rushing defense, I would have thought Miami would win.

But the running-game failures continued.

Miami managed just 65 yards on 19 carries (3.4 avg.) against a Bills run defense that was allowing more than 160 rushing yards per game. The run-blocking has been brutally bad all season long for a team that ranked fourth last season in running the football. Yes, by bringing Marshall in, the Dolphins showed a commitment to throw the football, but their inability all season long to be a rushing threat put too much pressure on Henne.

In addition to Henne's inconsistency and the running-game problems, poor offensive play-calling has helped make the Dolphins the league's second-worst scoring offense. At the end of the first half, a Benny Sapp interception gave Miami great field position, around midfield, with 33 seconds left. However, two passes that were not to the sideline forced them to use two timeouts quickly, and a third timeout was spent after Henne was sacked, leading to a 61-yard missed field goal.

Then came arguably the worst play-call of the entire season. And yes, it was the "Wildcat," a formation the Dolphins made famous a few years ago that has completely escaped them in 2010.

Down by three with 4:31 to go, Henne completed 4-of-6 passes to get the Dolphins to the Bills' 31-yard line with 2:34 to go. Why take the ball out of Henne's hands at this point? Or Marshall's or Bess'? Why go to a formation that has gained just 2.9 yards per attempt this season? Instead, offensive coordinator Dan Henning called a "Wildcat" play that gained one yard, winding the clock all the way down to the two-minute warning and leading to a 3rd-and-long situation. Henne's pass attempt to Bess misfired and PK Dan Carpenter was forced to attempt a 48-yard field goal for the tie. He missed it — his fourth missed FG attempt on the day — and out went the Dolphins' fading playoff hopes.

Once again, the defense stood tall, allowing just 17 points while producing six tackles-for-loss. Mike Nolan has been a tremendous addition, making the 'Fins' "D" one of the best in the NFL. But the offensive inconsistencies and failure to score, and the team's inability to win games in Miami will keep the Dolphins home for the postseason.