On Sunday, the Dolphins lost in overtime to the Arizona Cardinals, 24-21.
Led by an impressive passing attack, the Dolphins were able to jump out to a quick 13-0 halftime lead, but couldn’t finish off Arizona in a thrilling second half.
Here are my five key takeaways from Sunday’s loss to the Arizona Cardinals:
- Tannehill on Track: If you start a rookie quarterback in the NFL, it’s going to be a bit of baptism by fire, no matter what his preparedness level is. You’ll see some definite growing pains, but you may also get to see a player make a week-to-week evolution. It was nice to see the rookie throw the ball with improved accuracy, which allowed him to push it down field for some big plays. He, of course, set a Dolphins rookie record with 431 yards, breaking the previous mark by Hall of Famer Dan Marino — Marino had also set the previous record in a three-point overtime loss. Tannehill’s 199 yards before the half were the most in a first half by a Dolphins quarterback since 2009. As he continues to mature and make better decisions, it will only allow the offense to continue to grow.
- 1, 2…3?: Brian Hartline and Davone Bess have impressed, no doubt, but the Dolphins are still waiting for a third receiver to step up. Hartline and Bess became the first Dolphins duo since 2001 — Oronde Gadsden and Chris Chambers — to each record at least 100 yards receiving in the same game. Hartline consistently beat man-to-man coverage on the way to a career-high 12 catches and a Dolphins-record 253 receiving yards. Even though he missed nearly the entire the offseason, Hartline has been Tannehill’s favorite target, giving the rookie plenty of room to deliver his passes. With Bess occupying the short middle of the field, Hartline consistently got behind the Arizona secondary from some intermediate and deep shots. On any other afternoon, Bess, the Dolphins’ slot threat, wouldn’t have been relegated to supporting star. He was one of the best players on the football field, and he will continue to make an impact in 2012.
- Dominant Defense: It was only a matter of time before so many near misses turned into a handful of sacks. The Dolphins defense ended up with eight and added two takeaways; it was the type of performance that should have led to an easy victory. Though it ended up being in a losing performance, Cam Wake erupted with 4.5 sacks and plenty of pressure on Kevin Kolb. Dolphins cornerback Sean Smith, who asked for the opportunity to go toe-to-toe with Larry Fitzgerald, limited the All Pro to just eight receptions for 64 yards and came down with two acrobatic picks, his first two-interception game as a pro. Smith should have plenty of opportunities to prove his breakthrough performance was no fluke because opposing teams will keep throwing on the Dolphins defense, if only because the run defense has been nearly unbeatable early on. The NFL’s No. 1 run defense was outstanding again, holding Arizona to just 28 yards.
- Turnovers = 1-3: In each game the Dolphins have had multiple turnovers, they’ve come up short on the scoreboard — and that’s no surprise, really, even though they’ve played well for extended stretches. For a team learning to close out games, three giveaways with fewer than nine minutes remaining is just too tough to come back from. They’ve reacted differently each time they’ve dug themselves into a hole — there has been no complete collapse like the season opener in Houston — but a flurry of turnovers can erase a lot of positives quickly. Unless this problem is corrected, Miami will continue to play tight games, even if it dictates a game’s pace and out-gains its opponent.
- Feast or Famine: There were plenty of fireworks in the desert. The two teams combined for an eye-opening 10 plays of 20+ yards. It went both ways — Tannehill’s 80-yard touchdown strike to a wide open Hartline in the fourth quarter; the 57-yarder where Hartline was tripped up just shy of the goal line; another 30-yard completion to Hartline on the right sideline — but the Dolphins defense again gave up some explosive plays at inopportune times. Two different 15-yard pass plays may have ended up being the difference. Despite forcing Arizona into a 3rd and 18 following Tannehill’s ill-timed fumble, the Dolphins defense gave up a chunk pass play, and the game-tying touchdown came on a 4th and 10. Teams are going to attack through the air, so, naturally, they’re going to have to defend more passes. Going forward, especially in late-game situations, they’ll have to keep plays in front of them–that’s how the last two games have been decided.