The Dolphin Report

By Ron Poltorack

THE BOOK IS STILL OUT, BUT THIS CHAPTER WASN’T PRETTY

The book is still out on A.J. Feeley, but Sunday’s chapter, a 42-32 loss, was not pretty. It’s been three games since Dave Wannstedt resigned and Interim Head Coach Jim Bates officially abandoned the season in favor of giving A.J. Feeley the chance to gain some playing experience (and affording the Dolphins the opportunity to see if he was worth the money and draft pick spent on his acquisition by GM Rick Spielman). Ever since his acquisition last off-season, many have ventured opinions about Feeley. Now that he has played three consecutive games since being anointed the starter by Bates, we can take a more critical look at his progress.

Feeley’s overall inexperience as a starter coupled with the poor line play coming into Sunday’s game was what justified giving him the benefit of the doubt thus far. Unquestionably, Feeley showed his physical toughness in the last few games as the starter. Fortunately, the offensive line played better in the game against the Bills on Sunday so he didn’t have to repeatedly peel himself off of the turf. Unfortunately, he still made critical mistakes, committing six turnovers (five interceptions and a fumble on an unsuccessful hand-off). These mistakes were glaring because unlike the mistakes in previous games, they weren’t borne of non-stop pressures and sacks. Moreover, despite the difficulties brought on by the inability to run this season, the Dolphins managed 86 yards on the ground in the second half, thus taking away the “we couldn’t run the ball” excuse.

On the Dolphins first possession, Feeley engineered a nice touchdown drive that overcame an opening kickoff return for a touchdown by the Bills. During that drive, he made two nice passes to Chris Chambers before throwing a beautiful touchdown pass to Bryan Gilmore.

The first of Feeley’s five interceptions came on the Dolphins’ second possession with the score tied at seven. The interception came on a pass intended for Chambers which Feeley could not have telegraphed any more if he simply told the Bills the play upon breaking the huddle. He never looked anywhere other than right at Chambers during the entire play. Although he has certainly showed the tendency to telegraph his passes, he has got to learn that no one can do so and retain the job of a first-string NFL quarterback.

Feeley hung in after that first interception to throw two more touchdown passes in the first quarter, but then he seemingly lost his touch. After taking a 24-14 lead, the Dolphins put together a string of three-and-outs, and then the turnovers kept coming as the game turned around. Feeley’s second interception came well into the second quarter and gave the Bills the ball at the Dolphins 16 yard line. Only a missed field goal enabled the Dolphins to retain a 24-21 lead at the half.

In the third quarter Feeley caused a fumble on a botched hand-off. Early in the fourth quarter he had another interception, although this one came on a tipped ball and was not his fault. On the other hand, there were several other opportunities for interceptions that the Bills flat-out dropped, so one cannot chalk up his five-interception performance to bad luck.

With it all, Feeley still had a chance to be the hero after a three-yard touchdown run by Travis Minor and a two-point conversion pass to Chris Chambers pulled the Dolphins within three points with 7:14 remaining. The Dolphins got the ball back about four minutes later, but Feeley promptly hit 317 pound defensive lineman Pat Williams between the numbers who ran the ball back for yet another Feeley touchdown pass to the wrong color jersey (for the fifth time this season). This was all too reminiscent of the game against Seattle two weeks ago, in which Feeley likewise sealed a loss with a late “touchdown” pass.

Feeley’s level of play noticeably dropped after the first quarter and he never quite recovered. This had much to do with the fact that the Bills adjusted their coverages after Feeley’s first-quarter success. Feeley will have to learn to make adjustments in response and not let his confidence level drop off every time things go south. This is the NFL. The level of play is quite high. You can’t get away with mistakes. Defensive players will sometimes make plays even when you don’t make a mistake. Feeley not only needs to learn to avoid making mistakes, but he also needs to learn to be more resilient when good plays are made by the defense.

Feeley did some really good things Sunday, putting up three touchdowns on the strength of his arm in the first quarter and throwing for 303 yards for the game (although he was only 25 of 51). However, Sunday’s chapter was dominated by his mistakes and that is why the book is still out on A.J. Feeley.

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