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Another close loss. Another disheartening finish. Another locker room filled with players shaking their heads and wondering: What if?
The roller-coaster ride that is the Dolphins season continued Sunday afternoon and it’s hard not to feel a little sick to your stomach. For so long, this day offered promise. For so long, we thought this would be a signature victory. For so long, it looked like the Dolphins were about to cool off the hottest team in the league.
Weren’t they just up 16-3? Didn’t they have this game under control? Weren’t two long passes to Mike Wallace enough to seize this day? Didn’t the defense play well enough, harass Cam Newton long enough and stop the Carolina rushing attack sufficiently enough to earn a breakthrough victory?
Not on this day. Not when you give up an inexplicable field goal just before halftime. Not when you get outscored 14-0 in the second half. Not when you settle for field goals instead of touchdowns. Not when your starting running backs produce 16 yards on 13 carries. Not when your defense, so overpowering for most of the sun-splashed day, gives up an 80-yard drive in the final minutes, not to mention a fourth-and-10 completion that had “game over” written all over it.
You look back and point to so many things. A bomb to Wallace that is slightly overthrown. Another bomb to Wallace in the final seconds that was so close to being the story of the day. A late out-of-bounds hit by safety Reshad Jones that gave Carolina important yards on that final drive. That fourth-and-10 completion from Cam Newton to Steve Smith.
Through it all, though, the undeniable bottom line is this: The Miami Dolphins had a wonderful chance to finish off their finest performance of the season, beating a team that had won six-in-a-row, but like so many other games this season it all came apart in the final heartbreaking moments.
That’s the reason the Carolina Panthers are 8-3 today and that’s the reason the Dolphins are 5-6. You make plays when they matter most. The Panthers did; the Dolphins didn’t.
Start a list: Baltimore. Buffalo. Tampa Bay. Now Carolina. That’s four games lost in the final minutes. That’s four games by a total of 12 points. Hard to overcome.
“When our defense is playing well like that,” said Ryan Tannehill, “we’ve got to score more points.”
Tannehill is right. You can’t get shut out in the second half and expect to beat a team the caliber of Carolina. Then again, the 16 points would have been plenty had the Dolphins defense come up with one more stop, one more big play, in those final seconds.
There will be a lot written and said, I’m sure, about the final few plays of the first half when the Dolphins held that 16-3 lead. There were eight seconds left and Carolina was at its own 43-yard line. The Dolphins were in a prevent defense. They had a handful of players rushing and the rest of the defense lined up deep, obviously waiting for a Hail Mary.
Instead, Newton hit Brandon LaFell on a pass over a wide-open middle and LaFell somehow made it out-of-bounds with one-second left, enough time to convert a 46-yard field goal.
“That was a big play,” said Carolina’s Cam Newton. “An extremely big play for us.”
Those three points would have changed the dynamics in the second half. Who knows how much and to what extent? The Dolphins, I would imagine, have to be second-guessing themselves for going with a prevent defense in that situation.
Yes, when you lose a game like this one, when you play so well for so long and then see it all slip away, there are so many moments, so many plays, that you replay over and over in your mind. What if? How come? Why didn’t?
No, the season is not lost. There are back-to-back road games next on the schedule against two teams – the Jets and Steelers – in direct competition with the Dolphins for that final playoff spot in the AFC. There is still time for a finishing kick, still time to regroup and find some answers.
The Dolphins showed how well they can play for much of Sunday’s game against Carolina. Now they have to figure out a way to consistently finish what they start.
On Tuesday, AC in the AM takes a look back at Carolina and a look ahead to the Jets.
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.