The Dolphin Report

By Ron Poltorack

FINS HAVE NEVER LOST TO THE BILLS (IN TORONTO)

In the first regular-season NFL game played in Toronto, the Fins beat the Bills 16-3, behind a sterling effort by the defense, that kept their division title hopes intact. The Dolphins D stifled the Bills offense the entire afternoon. In taking a 13-3 halftime lead, the Fins out-gained Buffalo 190-63 while holding the ball for almost 21 minutes. Then, they shut out the Bills in the second half, thanks to a Will Allen interception in the end zone when the Bills were threatening to close the game to 13-10 late in the third quarter. From there, the 8-5 Fins just had to hold on for the victory that would put them in a three-way tie for first place. At this point last season the Fins were 0-13 and mired in last place. What a difference a year makes.

With the loss of Justin Smiley last week, the coaching staff came up with a game plan designed to take the pressure off of the offensive line. The game plan called for Chad Pennington to throw more often on first down. And it worked well. Pennington was 23 of 29 (79.3%) for 181 yards. He threw a 20-yard touchdown pass to Anthony Fasano to give the Dolphins a 7-0 lead in the first quarter and he was not intercepted at all. Pennington’s throws helped open up some room for the running game which produced 115 yards. This typically efficient Chad Pennington game produced what little offense was needed given the great effort of the defense.

Davone Bess again filled in admirably for Greg Camarillo, catching 9 passes for 74 yards. And special teams showed improvement in coverage. Only one poor kickoff hurt field possession and, considering the year that rookie kicker Dan Carpenter has been having, that was forgivable. Even so, Coach Sparano almost blew a gasket yelling at him as he came off the field following that disaster that gave the Bills great field position. To his credit, Carpenter made his first 3 field goal attempts on the day, including a career best 50 yarder, before barely missing his last attempt (wide right) that snapped a team rookie record of 14 consecutive field goals.

Joey Porter continued his drive to become the second Dolphin in the last 3 years to win the Defensive Player of the Year Award (Jason Taylor won it in 2006 when he led the NFL in sacks). He had 2 sacks to increase his season’s total to 16.5.

The defense held Marshawn Lynch, a very tough running back, to 31 yards on 13 carries (2.4 per carry) and held Lee Evans, a top-flight receiver, to 3 catches for 23 yards. Evans came into the game averaging 18.2 yards per reception and torched the Fins with 7 catches for 116 yards earlier this season in Miami. The defense really shut the door on back-up QB J.P. Losman, holding him to under a 50% completion percentage and a meager 4.6 yards per attempt. One of the biggest plays came on a fourth and five when Yeremiah Bell made a solo tackle of Marshawn Lynch 2 yards short of the first down marker to give the Fins the ball with 6:05 left in the game, essentially sealing the win.

With the Jets losing to the Forty-Niners, the Fins have pulled into a tie for first place with the Jets and the Pats. As a result, their destiny is in their own hands. If the Fins can win out (by beating the Forty-Niners, the Chiefs and the Jets), they will finish on top of the AFC East. Of these final 3 opponents, only the Jets have a winning record.

All in all, it seems incomprehensible. A year ago No-Cam-Do’s Dolphins had Dolfans sitting in the stands with bags over their heads. In comes the new Czarcells’ administration and suddenly this team is in the thick of a playoff hunt. Not only are the Fins now 8-5, but they have also won 6 of their last 7. Still, they have needed some help getting this far. Special thanks go to the Jets parting with Chad Pennington and Tom Brady parting with his knee. Without Chad, the Fins would not be this far along on their return to playoff contention, and without Brady’s injury, nobody would be dethroning the Pats any time soon.

So here we are in December and the skies still shine brightly for Tony Sparano’s Dolphins. Only the Forty-Niners, Chiefs and Jets stand in the way of this improbable journey from 1-15 to the division title. It’s still a long-shot, even with the Jets suddenly on a two-game losing streak, but its there for the taking now that the Fins are undefeated against the Bills (in Toronto).

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