The Dolphin Report

By Ron Poltorack

DOLPHINS NOW A SECOND-HALF TEAM

Two straight second-half come-from-behind wins (in this the second half of the season) have given the Dolphins a three-game winning streak. No late season swoon here. No West Coast difficulties either, as the Fins have two California wins in the last three weeks. This time it was a big upset against the San Diego Chargers.

The win against the Chargers was impressive as the Dolphins defense stopped a Chargers’ attack led by LaDainian Tomlinson and Drew Brees. Down by only a score of 7-3 at the half, the Dolphins scored 17 unanswered points in the third quarter, before surviving a scare that ended with an unsuccessful on-side kick attempt by the Chargers with 14-seconds left in the game and the Dolphins clinging to a 23-21 lead.

Despite calls by Dolfans for Sage Rosenfels to be awarded the start on the strength of his fourth quarter relief-duty heroics last week against the Bills, Coach Nick Saban gave the ball to veteran Gus Frerotte, who, to put it politely, has had an up-and-down season. But Frerotte came through in the second half and led the Dolphins to victory. The Fins can now finish at an even .500 by winning two of their final three games (Jets, Titans, Patriots) and can even go 9-7 by winning out. Oh well, there goes a prime spot in the draft!

The first half was lopsided everywhere but on the scoreboard. The Chargers dominated the Dolphins on both sides of the ball, but could only muster one touchdown. In part, this was due to Marty Schottenheimer’s decision to go for it on fourth down in the second quarter rather than settle for a field goal. That decision might have cost the Chargers the game (as well as a playoff berth) given the fact that in the end they lost 23-21. It highlights why Nick Saban made such a great decision to take three points late in the first half last week against the Bills. With taking the three points last week, the Dolphins won (24-23). Without the three points this week, the Charges lost. That is exactly why it’s always hard not to take the points even though going for seven is tempting.

The Dolphins came back statistically in the second half, although the Chargers still held a two-to-one time of possession advantage for the day. Drew Brees completed 35 passes, but only had 279 yards as the Dolphins limited the Chargers to mostly short passes and did a good job tackling San Diego receivers after receptions. They also contained Ladanian Tomlinson, holding him to 75 rushing yards on 21 attempts (3.6 yards per carry).

Yes, they did a good job of containment. How else can you explain winning a game when giving up 27 first downs (while getting only 14 first downs)? The Chargers converted 11 of 19 third down situations and 3 of 4 fourth down situations while the Dolphins were only a scant 2 of 10 on third downs.

Frerotte had a truly great game. He completed 14 of 22 (63.6%) for 229 yards (an incredible 10.4 yards per attempt) and two touchdowns. He was not intercepted and had an impressive 128.8 quarterback rating for the day (or roughly double his rating for the season going into this game). It was a game that Frerotte had to win because Ricky and Ronnie combined for only 58 yards rushing on 22 attempts (a mere 2.6 yard average).

Chris Chambers had his third great game in a row. Catching 8 passes for 121 yards and 2 touchdowns against the Chargers, Chambers has now been the star receiver in each game of the Dolphins’ current winning streak. In the last three games he has 29 catches for 460 yards, both of which are team records.

Speaking of great games, don’t overlook Olindo Mare. Mare not only went 3 for 3 on field goals, but he also had his first career fumble recovery. It wasn’t a loose ball that found its way to him, either. Olindo went right into the thick of it to come away with the turnover.

From the look of the last three weeks, there will be no late season Dolphins’ collapse this year. With consecutive home games coming up against the Jets (3-10) and the Titans (4-9), the Dolphins can head to New England for the season finale with a chance to end the season on a six-game winning streak and a 9-7 record. While that won’t be good enough to make the playoffs, it would be a nice way for Saban to finish off his inaugural season. However, if Dolfans have learned one thing about their team this year, it’s not to take anything for granted. So let’s be happy the Fins are 3-2 thus far in the second half and let’s just take them one at a time for the duration.

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