Late-Game Struggles Continue

If the Miami Dolphins' first three games have carried a common theme, it'd probably be this: The Dolphins can't finish.

In their first game of the season, they allowed the New England Patriots to pull away late.

The next week, they allowed the Houston Texans a game-clinching touchdown drive after the Dolphins had cut the Texans' lead to just a field goal early in the fourth quarter. And then, on Sunday, the Dolphins gave away what appeared to be a sure victory against the Cleveland Browns, who rallied in the final minute for a 17-16 victory.

As has been the case in every game to this point, the Dolphins on Sunday failed to execute late in the game — both on offense and defense. Improving their play late in games will be paramount if the Dolphins are to crawl out of their 0-3 hole.

They'll have their first opportunity for redemption on Sunday at San Diego.

"Winning is a habit and losing is a habit," Dolphins safety Yeremiah Bell said on Sunday. "You keep doing the same thing and things aren't going to change."

And, so far, the Dolphins keep doing the same things. Or, in other words, making the same mistakes. Their three losses have all come with defensive breakdowns at key moments during the second half.

Equally disturbing, the Dolphins have continued to struggle in the red zone. In fact, they've become worse inside their opponent's 20-yard line.

Entering the game against the Browns, the Dolphins had scored touchdowns on just four of their 10 red-zone trips. Against the Browns the Dolphins drove three times inside the Cleveland 20-yard line. The Dolphins ended just one of those drives with a touchdown.

The red-zone struggles didn't include a Reggie Bush fumble near the 20-yard line that ended one drive. Nor did they include a key fourth-quarter drive that stalled on the Browns' 20. The Dolphins ended that drive with a field goal when a touchdown likely would have put the game out of reach.

Dolphins coach Tony Sparano expressed disappointment on Sunday with his team's continued problems in the fourth quarter.

"The last (Browns) drive of the game, we did a couple of dumb things," Sparano said. "We had a couple of penalties that gave them opportunities to extend drives. The fourth quarter we had four penalties and that is not good in crunch time. We had some opportunities in the red area again, and we didn't score touchdowns."


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