The Dolphin Report

By Ron Poltorack

THREE AND OUCH

In week three the Dolphins went to San Diego hoping to find the answers, but instead it was a case of three and ouch, falling to 0-3 by losing to the Chargers 23-13. But they lost more than the game. They lost Chad Pennington who left the game in the third quarter with an injury to his throwing shoulder that was serious enough to require his jersey to be cut off from his torso.

The only question on Sunday was what was more painful: the loss to the Chargers or the loss of Pennington. Judging by the play of backup Chad Henne, the shoulder injury to Pennington will prove even more painful than the 0-3 start. That is saying something because an 0-3 start pretty much takes the Fins out of the playoff race before the calendar even turns to October. Only 3 teams in the last 30 years have made the playoffs following a 3-0 start.

The 3-3 halftime score was most telling for the fact that it was grounded upon 2 drives that made it inside the Chargers’ 5 yard line that yielded a total of only 3 points. Scoring by threes is bad enough for this pass-anemic team (as the Colts’ game proved), but on their first possession this week they drove 94 yards and came up empty when Chad Pennington failed to hand the ball off cleanly to Ronnie Brown resulting in a fumble that went out the back of the end zone. Meanwhile another second half possession ended at the 6-yard line forcing the Fins to settle for a field goal.

Maybe it’s the curse of Marino. Remember when the Dolphins road Danny’s golden arm leaving Dolfans to wonder what it would be like if they had a running game to compliment their passing attack? Now the Fins have the running game, but they can’t throw the ball downfield. The Ronnie and Ricky show once again looked great, but the absence of a downfield receiver was likewise all too obvious. Three games into the season and the longest pass of the year didn’t even go to a wide receiver (32 yards to Ronnie Brown in Sunday’s fourth quarter). No wide receiver has caught a pass longer than 21 yards thus far and that was the only pass to a wide receiver above the teens, which is plainly not acceptable. And then there’s Ted Ginn whose “contributions” this week were limited to 2 more drops and a false start penalty. Quick, somebody wrap him up in duct tape and leave him on No-Cam-Do’s porch!

Once again the pass defense got burned deep a couple of times, but at least this week it took some perfect throws by Philip Rivers to accomplish the fete. Meanwhile, the run defense was notably good for the third consecutive week. With only 16 of San Diego’s 23 points coming off the defense, it would be difficult to pin this loss on the shoulders of the D.

Given the 149 yards rushing (75 by Ronnie and 55 by Ricky), this loss certainly cannot be attributed to the running game. Quite plainly, it was the inability to pass that resulted in this second half meltdown. And there was truly an inability to pass. The starting wide receivers and tight end combined for 2 catches for 13 yards, all of which were contributed by Greg Camarillo (as both Anthony Fasano and Ted Ginn were shut out).

One thing for sure, the Pennington detractors who have been clamoring to see Chad Henne get a chance to play got a real dose of reality on Sunday. For starters, it was clear that Sparano did not trust Henne when he entered the game with the score still close. After Pennington got hurt, Sparano relied more heavily on the Wildcat and even when Henne took the snaps, the Fins still called a lot of runs and did not have Henne looking downfield. This conservative approach proved prophetic for when Henne did get the chance to throw he had 2 passes batted down by defensive linemen and then threw a pick-six that put the game out of reach, 23-6.

The loss of Pennington—and it is not yet known how long he will be out of action—was not the only injury on the day. Joey Porter aggravated a hamstring injury that forced him out of the game and Vernon Carey got nicked up as well. From the looks of things, don’t expect either Pennington or Porter back next week.

Dolfans should remember that the last season the Fins were without Chad Pennington was their 1-15 season. And now these Fins are 0-3 and facing the prospects of being without Chad Pennington for an extended period. Those who thought untested QB Chad Henne is the future of this franchise got a painful first glimpse of him behind center. In his first real action he looked like an inexperienced Jay Fiedler.

If Pennington doesn’t get healthy fast and Henne doesn’t mature quickly, the Fins could be headed for the first overall pick in the NFL Draft for the second time in 3 years (which could cost the Dolphins even more cash than they had to shell out to their franchise left tackle Jake Long last year). Thus, the pain of a truly horrendous season can end up hurting the Fins in the pocketbook. That means it could be yet another case of three and ouch!

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