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It is a statistic that is impossible to ignore, a statistic that says plenty about the current state of the Miami Dolphins, a statistic that underlines the razor thin difference – at least for this team – between victory and defeat.
In seven of the 10 games this season, the outcome has been decided on the final possession (not counting victory formation plays). Think about that. Swallow it hard. With the exception of a 13-point victory in Cleveland to open the season, a 21-point loss to the Saints and a 10-point loss in New England, the Dolphins have been in every game to just about the final whistle.
I guess you could look at this as both good news and bad news. The good news is that this football team stays close, makes things interesting and on four of those seven final possessions had the right ingredients to prevail. The bad news is that this team just can’t do things the easy way. A Sunday stroll? Apparently not in the cards.
It seems evident with six games remaining that this is a pattern that is likely to continue. Breaking down those seven games, three were decided by four points, two by three points and two by two points. That doesn’t leave much of a margin for error, but that’s what these Dolphins are all about.
Two Monday nights ago in Tampa, the Dolphins did not make those fourth quarter plays. There were penalties, missed tackles and some errors in judgment. That produced a discouraging loss. Last Sunday against San Diego, the Dolphins instead made those plays with some key sacks and, most notably, a last-second defensive stand. That produced an encouraging victory.
“I know there are a lot of things that go into winning football games,” said coach Joe Philbin. “But when you look at our team, it’s hard not to notice the impact of making plays or not making plays in the fourth quarter.”
Or, as defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle put it: “That’s how teams advance in this league. Somebody has to step up and make a play at the very end.”
You look at the first 10 games and, as you evaluate what transpired late in each game, it becomes evident that these Dolphins probably deserve to be exactly where they are – at 5-5 with six games left.
Let’s break down those seven final possession games a little bit further:
• Dolphins 24, Colts: 20: This one was up to the defense. First, there was a Brent Grimes interception midway through the fourth quarter, a huge play. Then, with time running out and the Colts facing a fourth-and-10 at the Dolphins 23 yard line, linebacker Philip Wheeler sacked Andrew Luck to put an end to the suspense. Looking back, this was the most impressive win of the season and it was all about making the right defensive plays late in the fourth quarter.
• Dolphins 27, Falcons 23: This may have been Ryan Tannehill’s finest moment of the season, a late drive that resulted in a short scoring pass to rookie tight end Dion Sims followed by a game-sealing interception by Jimmy Wilson after rookie Dion Jordan hit Matt Ryan’s arm as he threw the ball. This was a perfect mixture of everything Joe Philbin is looking for late in a game. A big drive on offense. A big stop on defense.
• Ravens 26, Dolphins 23: Pass protection, or a lack thereof, contributed heavily to this loss. An Elvis Dumervil sack cost the Dolphins a few precious yards and Caleb Sturgis’ 57-yard field goal attempt as time expired was wide of the mark. A huge fourth-down throw from Tannehill to Brandon Gibson – maybe Tannehill’s best throw of the season – got the Dolphins close. But that sack wasn’t enough to overcome. Still, Sturgis said afterward that he should have made the kick.
• Bills 23, Dolphins 21: Another story about poor pass protection late in the game. With the Dolphins holding a precarious one-point lead, Mario Williams’ bull-rushed past tackle Tyson Clabo, causing a sack and a fumble. The Bills recovered, which set up Dan Carpenter’s game-winning 31-yard field goal. This might have been the most disheartening loss of the season. The Dolphins had the game won late in the fourth quarter and couldn’t make a play to secure the outcome.
• Dolphins 22, Bengals 20: It all came down to Cameron Wake firing his body into the midsection of quarterback Andy Dalton at the Bengals goal line and jarring the ball loose for a game-ending safety. Somebody had to make a play. Somebody had to be the difference. On this day, it was a special kind of Wake-up call.
• Bucs 22, Dolphins 19: What will be remembered most from this loss was the inability of the defense to contain the Bucs’ offense after the Dolphins took a 19-15 lead in the fourth quarter. But the Dolphins still had a chance to re-take the lead on their final possession, which began dubiously when Marcus Thigpen called a fair catch on a punt at his own 5-yard line. After a couple of first downs, the drive ended with three straight negative plays: A sack, followed by a sack followed by an interception. Ugly stuff.
• Dolphins 20, Chargers 16: Once again, for the seventh time in 10 games, somebody had to make a play in the final seconds with the Chargers driving for a potential game-winning score. That somebody was cornerback Brent Grimes, leaping high to knock away a Philip Rivers pass in the end zone.
So next up is Carolina, coming to Sun Life Stadium Sunday with a sizzling six-game winning streak. Who knows how it will end? But one thing seems apparent: There is an excellent chance it will come down to the final possession.
On Friday morning, AC in the AM talks about the challenge of stopping a Carolina team on an impressive roll.
The opinions, analysis and/or speculation expressed by The Finsiders Blog represent those of individual writers, and unless quoted or clearly labeled as such, do not represent the opinions, policies or desires of the Miami Dolphins organization, front office, coaches and executives. Writers' views are formulated independently from any inside information and/or conversation with Dolphins officials, including the coaches and scouts, unless otherwise noted.