The Dolphin Report

By Ron Poltorack

ANOTHER SUNDAY SURVIVAL

In a scene becoming all too familiar in this turnaround season, the Fins had yet another Sunday survival, this one coming against the Oakland Raiders. In a game that should have proven to be a whole lot easier, the Dolphins needed the 38-yard field goal coolly kicked with 00:38 left on the game clock by rookie Dan Carpenter to win the game 17-15. And the way that the coverage teams have been playing, Dolfans were still holding their collective breath in fear that yet another long kickoff return would set up the Raiders’ strong-legged kicker Sebastien Janikowski for a game-winning field goal in those last 38 ticks of the clock.

The game started off easy enough. After the Fins’ defense stuffed Oakland on a 3 and out (thanks to bad coverage on the opening kickoff that gave the Raiders the ball at their own 40-yard line), Chad Pennington led the team on a 93-yard drive that culminated with a 40 yard end around by Ted Ginn for a 7-0 lead. After yet another stop, the Fins, who again started inside their own 10, were driving in Raiders’ territory when Ronnie Brown was stripped of the ball following an 11-yard run. That’s when things went south for the Fins.

The Raiders made it 7-3 at the half thanks to a Janikowski field goal. They closed to 7-5 in the third quarter when they sacked Pennington in the end zone for a safety. A third quarter Patrick Cobbs’ 10-yard touchdown run on a beautifully executed misdirection play seemed to put the game on ice, but then disaster struck. After the Raiders’ closed to 14-8 on another Janikowski field goal, the Dolphins’ not-so-special teams gave up a 93-yard punt return for a go-ahead touchdown that left the stadium stunned with the sickening thought that the Fins could actually lose to these Raiders. There was only 4:30 left on the clock and the Fins were down 15-14.

For the third week in a row, the Fins managed a game-winning drive in the fourth quarter. This one started at their own 20-yard line and included a key fourth down conversion. Coach Sparano elected to run a play on fourth and 5 rather than sending his rookie kicker out for a 52-yard field goal attempt. The gamble paid off as the Fins converted on a fourth down pass to Ted Ginn. Three plays later Dan Carpenter made the kick of his young career which proved to be the game winner.

The score was a lot closer than the stats would have suggested. The Fins out-ran the Raiders 222 to 70. The Fins out-passed the Raiders 160 to 116. Total yards were more than double in favor of the Fins (382 to 186). The score should have been lopsided, but for the poor play of the special teams and the two offensive breakdowns (Ronnie Brown’s fumble and Chad Pennington’s sack). Those mistakes turned the double yardage victory into the second consecutive fourth quarter two-point win against a team with only 2 wins to date.

The 222 rushing yards managed by the Fins were not a true measure of the play of the offensive line. All in all, it was an unimpressive performance by the offensive line, which seems to be having its troubles week in and week out. It was the o-line that gave up a sack in the end zone which gave the Raiders 2 points that almost made the difference in the game. And Chad Pennington was frequently harassed by Oakland’s pass rush. This unit better step up next week to avoid a total disaster in the Fins’ upcoming re-match with the Patriots. And you can bet that the Patriots will not only be ready for the Wildcat formation this time, but they will also be eager to avenge their early season home loss to the Dolphins.

The defense did an excellent job against the Raiders, giving up only 6 points (which was about the average points scored by the Raiders this season). They stuffed the run most of the day. They also limited Oakland QB JaMarcus Russell, who displayed a rather impressive arm that was both strong and accurate, to 116 yards passing. He squeezed in a number of throws into some very tight spots, proving that there are some passes which just can’t be defended. But he was also sacked 6 times, none bigger than Joey Porter’s sack on what turned out to be the last play of the game as Oakland was out of time outs when Joey took him down inside the last half-minute of the game.

The worst play of the day belonged to a zebra who called a horrendous pass interference which led to the Raiders’ first score, a second quarter goal. The penalty was purely a gift. A double-covered Raiders’ receiver actually ran into the back of Jason Allen who was incredulously flagged for interfering with him, giving Oakland a 41-yard gain, and putting the Raiders into field goal range. If a penalty call could be red-flagged by the head coach, then this one would have been surely overturned. It was that blatant.

Meanwhile, the 6-4 Dolphins head into their third consecutive home game next week when the Patriots come into town in a battle for second place. One thing for sure, they will have to play much better to have any hope of beating the Pats. Of course, another win against the Pats will be sweet even if it is Another Sunday Survival.

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