The Dolphins' season, for all intents and purposes, already came to an end in Week 15 with a home loss to the Bills that eliminated them from playoff contention. So with nothing to play for but pride and their jobs on Sunday, the Dolphins built a 10-point fourth-quarter lead over a feisty Lions team and appeared to be in great position to give their fans a rarity this season — a home victory. But, in living up to its standing as the league's worst home team, Miami blew its lead and possibly cost head coach Tony Sparano his job.
The Dolphins finished 2010 with a home record of 1-7. For owner Stephen Ross who enjoys the pomp and circumstance of owning a hallowed franchise in South Florida, it's an embarrassing statistic.
Unlike their loss to the Bills that embodied everything that went wrong all season, the Dolphins' running game came alive against the Lions with a 4.2-yard rushing average. They had 37 carries for 154 yards and two touchdowns, ran 83 plays in total and possessed the ball for more than 37 minutes — numbers that should produce a victory.
But, like in each of their five close losses (all at home, mind you), QB Chad Henne blew an opportunity to carry the Dolphins to victory.
The PFW Spin
When the Dolphins got the ball with 2:44 left in a 27-27 tie, having blown a seemingly safe 27-17 lead, I thought to myself, "I've seen this before." Henne threw an incomplete pass, scrambled for two yards, then, on a 3rd-and-8 play from his own 22, he tossed a pick-six to Lions LB DeAndre Levy — his eighth fourth-quarter interception. Yup, I had seen that before.
Then, with 2:11 left, Henne had his second chance in the game to keep the Dolphins' chances of winning alive. He did a decent job moving the ball, but kept it in the middle of the field with short passes as the clock wound down. The game ended with Miami at the Lions' 28-yard line after Ronnie Brown caught a short pass from Henne and failed to get out of bounds. He took zero shots downfield.
Even though the Dolphins continued to flail against good teams and failed to win back-to-back games the last 14 weeks of the season, Sparano's job seemed safe, considering their difficult schedule early on and the team's solid defense. But losing their last four home games, including games against the lowly Browns, Bills and Lions, could spell the end of his tenure in Miami. Henne, who also could be playing elsewhere in 2011, had plenty of chances to help save both their jobs.
In the Week 15 game against the Bills, Henne again had two chances with the ball in his hands (don't all quarterbacks want this opportunity?) to either tie or take the lead. With 4:31 to go, he accurately moved the ball downfield, but never took any deep shots. His two incomplete passes on the final series of downs led to a missed 48-yard field goal. He had one last chance with 41 seconds left, only to mismanage the clock and see the game end on a fumble.
Again, isn't it every quarterback's desire to have the ball late with a chance to win or tie the game?
In Week 13 against the Browns, back when the Dolphins still had fleeting playoff hopes, Henne had the ball twice in the final five minutes with a chance to give Miami the win. With 4:42 to go, Henne tossed two incomplete passes, leading to a punt. With 1:34 to go, he threw an incomplete pass followed by an interception that led to the Browns' game-winning field goal.
And that loss to the Browns brought Henne's fourth-quarter problems to the forefront. Since, he has had two more games where he couldn't save the day, which will now bring to the spotlight all five times he has dropped the ball.
He ended the Week Three game against Jets by throwing an interception in the endzone. He ended their bid to try and upset the Steelers with an incomplete pass. In the fourth quarter this season, Henne has a passer rating of 55.6. Only Mark Sanchez has a lower rating (55.5) among QBs with at least 100 pass attempts in the quarter.
Keep in mind: all five of these close games in which Henne had his chance(s) to be the hero came at home.
Every time Henne has been given a chance to lead the Dolphins to victory, or at least to tie the game late, he has failed to score points. The play-calling didn't always help, nor did the offensive line, and at times the signalcaller was able to move the ball downfield with ease, only to come up empty-handed.
Add it all up and it appears that Henne's latest fourth-quarter blunder might have sealed his and Sparano's fate in Miami.