The Dolphin Report

By Ron Poltorack

STATISTICS DO LIE

Monday Night Football came to Miami and the Fins disproved the old saying that “statistics don’t lie.” An NFL team that runs for 239 yards in a game is supposed to win. An NFL team that holds the opposition to under 15 minutes time of possession is supposed to win. An NFL team that converts 72.7% (16 0f 22) of its third and fourth downs is supposed to win. The Fins did all this, but still managed to lose 27-23.

Peyton Manning’s quick strike offense held the ball for just under 15 minutes, but that was enough to overcome 239 rushing yards and 72.7% third and fourth down conversions by the Dolphins. Manning started the night with a one-play, 12 second touchdown drive on the game’s first play and put the game on ice with a four-play 32 second go-ahead touchdown drive that left only 3:18 on the game clock. The Fins then squandered a good chunk of the time remaining which served to increase the frustrations of those in orange and aqua. When the game ultimately came down to its final 6 seconds, with the ball sitting on the Colts’ 30-yard line, Chad Pennington had little alternative other than to throw a desperation pass into the end zone, which predictably got picked off.

The game plan was to keep the ball out of the hands of Peyton Manning. The Fins had great success in doing so and utterly dominated time of possession, but it still was not enough. The Fins managed only one sack and never forced Manning into a crucial mistake. Meanwhile, Manning took advantage of mismatches resulting in a few long plays, none longer than the 80-yard pass to Dallas Clark that gave the Colts a 7-point lead with the clock still reading 14:48 left in the first quarter. Not only did the Dolphins answer that early score, but they actually took a 10-7 lead thanks to the running game led by Ronnie Brown, who had 136 yards for the night on 24 carries (for a 5.7 yard average). It later appeared as the Dolphins would take a 13-10 lead into the locker room at the half when the Fins got an apparent interception. However, after an official review, the play was ruled an incomplete pass rather than an interception. That enabled Manning to complete a 20-yard pass to Dallas Clark to set up the Colts tying field goal just before the half.

Although the Fins would later take a 20-13 lead, they could not hold that lead. After the Colts tied the score at 20, the Fins were on the march once again, but they made a fatal mistake in a game against Peyton Manning, scoring a field goal instead of a touchdown. Their 23-20 lead proved quite surmountable. Manning drove the Colts for a score on a four-play 80-yard drive that saw him complete 3 of 4 pass attempts, the final one for a 48-yard touchdown.

Still, the Fins had 3:18 left on the clock to try to pull out the win. That’s when they started shooting bullets at their own feet. First, Patrick Cobbs elected to run the kickoff out of the end zone and not only failed to get back to the 20, but also wasted precious seconds in the process. The Fins then mismanaged the clock, gaining a mere 6 yards while running 2 plays and squandering both a timeout and the 2-minute warning. At that point the Fins’ offense had squandered 78 of the 198 seconds it had to try and score a game winning touchdown and was only at their own 24-yard line. The clock management did not get much better. Neither did Ted Ginn who inexplicably ran out of bounds in front of the first down marker rather than around it, thereby eschewing a sure first down. Had the Dolphins not been so pathetic managing the clock, there would have been at least a minute remaining when they drove down to the Colts 30, instead of a mere 12 seconds left. With only 6 seconds remaining, Pennington was forced to spike the ball to preserve 6 seconds for one last desperate pass. With a minute left, they would have had a meaningful chance to score a game-winning touchdown, especially given their night-long ability to move the ball against the Colts. But forced into a desperation throw, the end was inevitable and so it was when Chad Pennington’s last pass of the day was intercepted in the end zone with the clock at 0:00.

It goes without saying that the goats of this game included the Fins’ secondary that unlike last week wasn’t playing against a quarterback prone to missing wide-open downfield receivers. But there was also plenty of blame to be thrown around the Dolphins receiving corps, most notably Ted Ginn and Anthony Fasano. Ginn not only went brain dead when he ran out of bounds without getting an easy and obvious first down on the last drive, but he also missed 2 catchable balls in the end zone, one of which came with only 22 seconds left and would have won the game. Fasano, last week’s fumbling goat, also missed a touchdown pass and ended the night with only a single catch for all of 1 yard. With the tremendous rushing attack the Fins were able to mount, the passing game should have been more productive than 183 yards on 22 catches (33 attempts).

Meanwhile, with the game on nationwide television, you could hear Philip Rivers smacking his lips all the way from San Diego at the thought of abusing the Dolphins’ secondary next week. And now with Rivers, the Chargers’ star quarterback, on the horizon, the Fins are staring down at a likely 0-3 start.

The ultimate truth is that when you play against Peyton Manning, you can’t score by threes and expect to win. Indeed, that stark reality underscores the highly questionable play-calling in the fourth quarter when the Dolphins seemed content to settle for 3 points. However, if any of the Fins’ 3 field goals had gone for a touchdown instead, the Fins would have emerged victorious. Instead, Dolfans have to deal with a very tough loss and, with it, proof that statistics can and do lie.

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