Faltering in the fourth

The Dolphins rarely have gotten blown out this season, but they still have a pitiful 2-11 record. That's because they have mastered the art this season of always finding a way to come up short.

Of the Dolphins' 11 losses, six have been by seven points or less and another by eight points.

If you look at it objectively, there were only three games the Dolphins had no shot of winning as the fourth quarter rolled around, and that was the opener against Tennessee, the game at New England and the Monday night disaster against the Jets.

Look at all the others:

At Cincinnati: The Dolphins lost on a last-second field goal after the Bengals drove in the final seconds.

Against Pittsburgh: The Dolphins trailed only 6-3 until rookie QB Ben Roethlisberger hit Hines Ward with a touchdown pass to make it 13-3 with about six minutes left.

Against the Jets: The Dolphins had the ball trailing 17-9 when Jay Fiedler fumbled to seal the outcome.

At Buffalo: The Dolphins lost 20-13 after allowing the Bills to run out the last six minutes and change.

Against Arizona: The Dolphins let the Cardinals drive for a touchdown in the last minute.

At Seattle: The game was tied when A.J. Feeley threw an interception that was returned for the game-winning touchdown and he then fumbled to end the last hope.

Against Buffalo: The Dolphins get the ball trailing by three late in the fourth quarter, but Feeley throws an interception that is returned for a game-clinching touchdown.

At Denver: The Dolphins trailed by three, but had the ball in the final three minutes. They couldn't get a first down and the Broncos then ran out the clock.

"It's really frustrating," said interim head coach Jim Bates. "That's a sign ... you know, teams get in modes, just taking New England versus us. New England's had those 27-26 victories, I don't know how many now. They have pulled through in the fourth quarter on several occasions.

"We have in the past been a good fourth-quarter team and right now we are not a good fourth-quarter team and we have to overcome this."

OK, but how?

Unfortunately, there is no magic formula. It's also not as though it's always the same player or same unit coming up short.

That would make things obvious: just bench that player or make changes along that unit.

But just look at the six games where the Dolphins fell short when they had a chance in the fourth quarter and where the blame would go: the pass defense at Cincinnati, the whole team against Pittsburgh, the offensive line and Fiedler against the Jets, the run defense against the Bills at Buffalo, the pass defense against Arizona, Feeley against Seattle, Feeley in the second Buffalo game, the receivers at Denver.

It's simple, good teams make big plays at key moments. The Dolphins just haven't done that all year.

The only exception was at San Francisco, and Jason Taylor's big sack in the end zone that forced a fumble that was returned for a game-clinching touchdown by Derrick Pope.

But that's only one game, and against a bad team.

And that's why the Dolphins are where they are.


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