The Dolphin Report

By Ron Poltorack

GIVING AWAY A TRULY HAPPY ENDING

Capping a week in which Chad Pennington was overlooked for the MVP award and Tony Sparano was overlooked for Coach of the Year honors, the Fins were uncharacteristically guilty of giving away a truly happy ending to this turn-around season. The QB that lead the team to play heads-up, record-setting, turnover-free football during the 16-game regular season, threw 4 interceptions, including a pick-six, in a disappointing playoff loss to the Baltimore Ravens. It was the second time this football year that the Ravens beat the Fins with a help of a pick-six. Coming as it did in the playoffs, this one was much more disappointing, especially because it not only came a week after the big division clinching road win over the Jets, but also because it ended the Fins’ 5-game winning streak.

This loss falls squarely on the shoulders of Pennington. But blaming Chad Pennington, the team’s leader and undisputed MVP for the season, hardly seems fair given what he has done for the Dolphins. He is the on-field reason this team had its amazing turnaround season from 1-15 to 11-5. There’s just no getting away from the fact that he had an off-day in the Fins’ first playoff game since the 2001 season, coincidentally, a game that was also a loss to the Ravens. But Chad was still the guy that got the Fins their first AFC East title since 2000 and their first taste of playoff football in seven years. It’s not surprising that in his post-game comments, Coach Sparano cast aside his disappointment and let the reporters know in no uncertain terms that after the game he cornered Chad Pennington in the locker room and personally thanked him for all he had done this year and added, “that he’s my guy and that I believe in him.” Quite plainly, there will be no QB controversy with the 2009 Dolphins. Nor should there be.

There won’t be any uncertainty in the coaching department either. If only the average American had the job security of Tony Sparano, this nation wouldn’t be in its current economic turmoil. But the average American has not righted his employer’s ship the way Sparano turned around the Fins, the NFL’s laughing stock just last season. Even following the Fins’ first-round playoff loss to the Ravens, Sparano will not be getting a visit from the Turk any time soon. He may see a rather lucrative contract extension in his immediate future; and it’s a real shame he did not get the Coach of the Year award that was also soundly deserved.

Of course, Chad Pennington is another Dolphin with some serious job security, notwithstanding his poor playoff performance against the Ravens. He had an incredible year and was a major reason why the Fins won 11 games en route to the Division Title. He just couldn’t get it done against the Ravens’ stingy defense. It didn’t help his cause that the Fins managed only 52 rushing yards (2.5 yards per carry). The lack of a rushing attack forced the Fins to be one dimensional and the Ravens, known for their ball-hawking on defense, were primed for the pick. Although Chad only threw 7 interceptions in the 16-game regular season, the Ravens picked off 4 in one afternoon to end the Fins’ season.

With it all, the Fins had a chance to get back in the game in the fourth quarter. After scoring a touchdown (and having the extra point blocked on what appeared to be an off-sides call that was missed by the officials), the Fins had most of the fourth quarter left to try to overcome their 20-9 deficit. They got some help from No-Cam-Do, now the Ravens’ offensive coordinator, when the Ravens threw 2 incomplete passes in their 3 plays from scrimmage following the Fins’ touchdown. Although it was expected that they would run to take time off the clock, content to sit on their 11-point lead and not risk an interception, the Ravens used up very little time before giving the ball back to the Fins. Pennington then had the team on the move and, on a second down, the Fins attempted an end around with Ted Ginn that appeared to be set up very well for a big gain, if not a touchdown, but for the fact that Ginn mishandled the hand-off and had to chase the ball for a huge loss that set up a 3d and 28. Effectively, this was the Fins 6th turnover and it basically ended their chances of a comeback. But for that miscue, it appeared that the Fins were about to make it a one score game with a lot of time remaining. It looked like they were primed for another big fourth quarter win, but for Ted Ginn’s fumble. Coupled with the fact that Czarcells’ likes big receivers, one has to question Ginn’s job security. Don’t be surprised if the Dolphins sign some larger receivers and kiss Ted Ginn and his family good-bye before the start of the 2009 season.

The Dolphins’ defense performed well on the day. The only Ravens’ score that was not set up by a turnover was the last touchdown which came after Ted Ginn’s fumble that had already effectively ended the game. They held Ravens’ QB Joe Flacco to 9 completions in 23 attempts (39.1%) for a total of 135 yards. The Ravens managed only 286 yards in total offense, but it was the Ravens’ 108 return yards following the 4 interceptions that made the difference in the game.

The 2008 season should be, and will be, remembered not for the disappointing way it ended, but for the eleven-fold increase in wins from the 2007 season. These are not the No-Cam-Do Dolphins any longer. These are the proud Fins of the Czarcells era, an era in which their outstanding rookie head coach, Tony Sparano, had his team do a whole lot more than just turn the corner. A new breed of optimism surrounds the 2008 AFC East Division Champs. But, as Sparano would be the first to admit, all the optimism in the world will not overcome 5 turnovers in a playoff game. And while even in defeat this franchise now has the bright look of a team headed for a new era of excellence, the 2008 Fins were nevertheless guilty of giving away a truly happy ending.

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