This loss was hard to stomach because we had every opportunity to win the game. I will go through and recognize The Good aspects of the game but instead of doing The Bad and The Ugly, I will do an autopsy on how we gave this one away.
Connor Barth. It looks like we have solved our kicker problem. Barth was 3 for 3 on field goals with each one being 50 yards or better. That is pretty damned impressive and during the game I believe they said it was a team record. We can only wonder if we would have one a game or two earlier in the season if we had had a better kicker but at least it looks like we now have a weapon that can help us pull out close games going forward.
Kellen Winslow Jr. Winslow was outstanding again, catching 7 balls for over 100 yards. Its obvious that he and Josh Freeman have some good chemistry and that should be exciting for the team's fortunes going forward. Winslow was especially good at the run after the catch in this game. He is a guy that other teams are going to have to account for and hopefully here shortly that will open things up for other guys in the passing game as well.
Josh Freeman. The kid made some more rookie mistakes but he continues to impress with his ability to make plays. He got out of some very hairy situations with the Dolphins pass rush bearing down on him and used his legs to get out of it and get positive yards. He also made plays when it counted most including hitting Maurice Stovall a touchdown in the 4th quarter. He also had a nice scramble on what could have been the game winning drive to pick up a first down and get us inside the 20. If I have one complaint its how loose he carries the ball at times when he is scrambling away from the rush. Teams are going to notice that and really go after the ball from now on, especially since the Dolphins got the ball out by stripping him from behind on just that kind of run. Still you can't overlook how well he has performed considering the situation he was thrown into. I think if he can keep developing we will surely win a few more games before this season is all said and done.
Special Teams. Clifton Smith was big again on both punt and kickoff returns and he helped insure that we had pretty good field position all day. We also had the blocked extra point which could have been the difference in a very close game. An overlooked big play was the kickoff at the end of the game where we were backed up because of a penalty. There was a potential for the Dolphins to come away with excellent field position especially with their dangerous return man Ted Ginn Jr back deep. Instead a combination of a muff by Ginn Jr and excellent coverage by the kickoff team kept the Dolphins back inside their own 20 yard line. Our special teams units have really kept us in these last two ball games and gave us a chance to win at the end.
A Word About Our Defense
There has been a lot of griping about our defense because of this loss. I have already said my piece about some of the things that have been said but I wanted to make a few more points.
The perception is that our defense got kicked around all day by the Dolphins running game. The thing of it is most fans, even many of the most fervent of them, don't really know how to dissect what they are seeing. So as soon as you hear that a team had a big day running the ball the assumption is that our front seven was horrible. Sometimes that perception is right, many times however its wrong. The problem you see is that on a defense all it takes is one guy to be wrong on a running play to let one out of the gate. That one guy doesn't always have to be a defensive lineman or linebacker either.
The Dolphins gained 72 yards on two running plays, one each by Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams. You take away those two plays and we held the Dolphins to 124 yards on 32 carries for an average of 3.8 a pop from the running back position. Now that is still a bit high, but its respectable. Its a helluva lot better than 196 yards on 34 carries for an average of 5.7 yards a pop that's for damn sure. And the thing of it is, on those two carries both times a safety missed the tackle.
Now the thing about football is we can't take those plays back. And even if we could whose to say there wouldn't have been other big runs to take their place. My point is however that perception isn't always reality. For the majority of the day our defense held up pretty well against the vaunted Dolphins running game. We also held them to a respectable 35% on third down conversions. What we have to do is find away to eliminate those big breakout runs.
Its also worth noting that it was a tremendous play on 3rd and 7 with 1:52 left by Quincy Black that gave us even a shot of winning the game. His interception of Chad Henne gave our offense the ball at the Dolphins 25 yard line.
We certainly didn't have an outstanding day on defense, of that we can all agree. But I would just caution you that it also wasn't the "implosion" that some are making it out to be.
How Did We Lose This Game?
I want to highlight two reasons why we lost the game. The first is a sequence of a events right before halftime. The second is what I have explained in my "Bull Rush" post as a perfect play at the end of the game.
With 2:36 left in the first half we kicked a 50 yard field goal to make it 9-6 Dolphins. It was pretty apparent that we were hanging with them in every facet of the game and it appeared that all the momentum was going in our favor.
We punt the ball to the Dolphins and our defense gets a three and out. They punt it back to us with 1:49 left in the half and this is where things started going wrong.
First off we get a block in the back penalty with pushes us back to the 7 and a half yard line. At that point in the game and with our defense playing relatively well, if its me I run the ball twice to milk the clock a little, call a conservative pass on 3rd down and if we don't get it, punt the ball back to the Dolphins with less than a minute on the clock.
At worst I am banking on going into the half maybe with allowing another field goal. At best we stop them and go in down 3.
Instead our offense starts off running a draw out of shotgun that fools no one on the Dolphins defense on first down. On second down we throw what ends up being (correctly)* ruled as an interception. With a short field, made even shorter by a penalty on Coach Morris for arguing the call, the Dolphins score a touchdown to go up 16-6. We get the ball back again with 1:16 on the clock.
Now obviously being down 10 I don't mind aggressive play calling at this point, especially since we started the drive out past the 21. But on 3rd and 5 from our own 27 yard line Freeman takes a sack that pushes us all the way back to our own 18. This is a HUGE mistake in terms of field position. We end up punting the ball away to Ginn Jr who returns it to about their 48 yard line with 52 seconds left. The Dolphins complete two passes to get down to our 27 yard line but we keep them in bounds and they have to call their final time out.
Now they have 16 seconds left and no time outs and if they don't gain another yard they would have to try about a 44 yard field goal. If they do throw a pass and complete it and we can keep them in bounds then they would have to try to rush their offense off and their field goal unit on to try a rushed field goal more than likely. Instead Ronde Barber ends up jumping a short route, Sabby Piscitelli can't get over fast enough to cover Dolphins receiever Davone Bess and instead ends up knocking him out of bounds after he makes the catch stopping the clock with 11 seconds left. The Dolphins kick the short field goal and we go in the locker room down 13 points just over two minutes after being down just 3.
Pretty frikkin depressing.
Still our guys battled back and ended up going up 1 with 1:19 left in the game.
Now the Dolphins drove the ball down the field to get close to field goal range, but with 23 seconds left they would have had to make a 51 yarder to win the game from where the ball was spotted. And then they called the perfect play.
The reason why this play was perfect is because earlier in the game the Dolphins had used the same formation with the same motion and the same backfield action to throw a play action pass. At the time we reacted to it relatively well and our defensive end got up field to pressure the the throw.
This time with the game on the line the Dolphins again lined up the same way. They had two tight ends in the game and they were both lined up to their left with one off the ball. The tailback and fullback were in an I set and the single receiver was to the right of their formation.
We countered this look with a five man line. We put 3 defensive tackles in the game and put two of them in the B gaps and one right over the center.
On the earlier play the tight end motions across the formation stopping right in front of our left end before the snap. On the snap of the football the right offensive tackle steps down to block our defensive tackle and the motion tightend takes a route outside of the defensive end and runs into the deep flat area. Both backs in the backfield stepped to their left and acted as if they were running the ball that way, then the fullback cut back behind the offensive line and ran to their right side underneath our defensive end who was getting upfield. The play was designed to sneak the fullback out into the flat and let him run with the ball while showing run action which would make our defensive line and linebackers hesitate before reacting.
On the play at the end of the game everything looked virtually the same. The tightend motioned over again. The offensive tackle blocked down again and the tailback and fullback both took a step to their left again at the snap of the football.
The difference this time was that instead of running a pass route, the fullback came behind the offensive line like a pulling guard looking for someone to run block. The ball was handed off to Ricky Williams who immediately cut back and followed his fullback to the right. The offensive tackle who blocked down this time came off late to block the linebacker or safety coming up to fill the gap. And because our defensive end was upfield thinking it was a passing play, as the offensive tackle game off the hole just kept expanding. Our defensive tackle, in this case Ryan Simms, in theory should have been able to make the tackle in his B gap where Williams ran after the offensive tackle came off. But in practice he now had to come off a double team block and try to play off the guard to tackle Ricky Williams who was running through a hole at least two gaps wide coming down hill and full speed. I don't know very many defensive tackles in the game who could have made that play honestly and that's why I say it was the perfect play call. Even though it was a call that likely cost the Bucs the game in that it set their kicker up for a chip shot field goal to put them up 3 points, you still have to appreciate the genius of the call.
Had that play not worked for any reason and their kicker doesn't make the 51 yarder or so which means they lose, the Dolphins offensive coordinator would have been pilloried for "going too conservative" because he called a running play. But as it was he knew that he had set that play up and had a high probability of being successful. I can't really do anything but tip my hat to him, not much else you can do in that situation.
Well folks I know this was a bit longer winded than normal, but I figured people might want to know more specifics about how we lost this game and not just the usual coach speak or rhetoric coming from the so called "experts". Hope you enjoyed it and perhaps even learned something, and I hope you come back again.
*I know a lot of people are upset about the interception call by the refs on the play before halftime. But the thing of it is they made the right call but the ref gave the wrong explanation at the time. This year the rules have been tweaked so that if a player is going to the ground will making a reception they have to maintain control after they hit the ground for it to be ruled a catch. This has caused controversy all through out the season beginning in week one. Louis Murphy of the Oakland Raiders made a catch on San Diego in the endzone that looked to be a touchdown. But on review it was shown that after he went to the ground he didn't maintain possession and so it was ruled, correctly, an incomplete pass. The howls about the refs after that game were loud and insistent. Everyone claimed that they got it wrong but the truth was they had gotten it right. If you go back and watch our game on Sunday you can hear that at first John Lynch is sure that its a catch and Michael Clayton is down by contact, but when reminded about how the rule has been tweaked then he concedes that its probably an incomplete pass.
But the problem is, the ball never touched the ground. If the ball doesn't ever touch the ground then it has to be a catch....by someone. So the refs had two options here, either it was a catch by Clayton and he was down by contact OR it was an interception. It couldn't be a fumble because to fumble it Clayton would have had to have possession. If he had possession then he would have been down by contact. Now because he didn't maintain possession after he hit the ground and because the ball never touched the ground it HAD to be ruled an interception. I know most Bucs fans won't like to hear that, but I am just giving you the truth.