What Went Right, What Went Wrong

When a team raises expectations on a weekly basis it's tough to count any first-round playoff loss as a moral victory. But it's also tough to argue with the logic that going from 1-15 to 11-6 could be viewed as anything less than a successful season in which the foundation was set by Bill Parcells and Co. for a return to prominence by the Miami Dolphins in the years to come.

The Dolphins won nine of their final 10 games to win the AFC East and the third seed, but they drew a tough first-round opponent in the very balanced Baltimore Ravens, who methodically dismantled Miami, 27-9, Sunday by taking the league's No. 1-ranked team in ball security and turning them into a turnover machine.

Baltimore forced five turnovers against a team that tied the NFL record with just 13 turnovers all season. More remarkably, they picked off Chad Pennington, the most accurate passer in NFL history, four times after he had just seven all season.

All-world safety Ed Reed proved why he should be the NFL Defensive Player of the Year with two more picks, giving him 11 this season. He also returned one back 64 yards into the end zone for his fourth defensive touchdown of the season to give Baltimore a 10-3 lead late in the second quarter they wouldn't relinquish.

"I certainly didn't expect for it to end this way," Pennington said. "My whole vision was to move on to next week and I felt really good about the preparation this week.

"If there's ever been an epitome and a picture of a team I think it's been our team."

WHAT WENT RIGHT: Parcells staying in the background but still instilling a winning culture and teaching his players how to win close games by playing intelligent, tough, mistake-free football while staying out of the trainer's room.

Parcells picking Tony Sparano to be his coach. Sparano has an eye for details and knows how to motivate his players.

Parcells and General Manager Jeff Ireland signing several former Cowboys, including nose tackle Jason Ferguson, tight end Anthony Fasano, linebacker Akin Ayodele and cornerback Nate Jones. All were valuable contributors to this success story.

Signing Pennington to mentor Chad Henne and spread his work ethic, intelligence and leadership throughout the locker room.

Drafting Jake Long at No. 1 to be the cornerstone left tackle of this franchise. Long made some rookie mistakes but mostly kept Pennington's jersey pretty clean.

Quarterbacks coach David Lee and Sparano cooking up the Wildcat after an 0-2 start, and then having wily offensive coordinator Dan Henning weave it into the weekly game plan. It also enabled Ronnie Brown to get his hands on the ball and led to his first Pro Bowl season.

Undrafted rookie receiver Davone Bess turned out to be an absolute find, helping to erase the giving away of Wes Welker to the Patriots a few seasons ago.

Versatile Patrick Cobbs turning into a valuable cog on offense as well as on special teams.

Safety Yeremiah Bell remaining healthy for an entire season and proving that he is indeed a playmaker and worthy of being re-signed to a long-term contract.

Cornerback Andre' Goodman playing at a Pro Bowl level for the last two-thirds of the season after a rocky start, and meriting consideration for the Dolphins to re-sign him.

Dumping veteran kicker Jay Feely for unheralded, undrafted Montana kicker Dan Carpenter, who turned out to be a clutch performer.

WHAT WENT WRONG: While wide receiver Ted Ginn Jr. did flash big-play ability on a couple of end-around touchdowns and he did improve as a receiver, he was unable to display his Ohio State kickoff return skills and lost the job to Patrick Cobbs. He remains a No. 2 receiver at best.

While being among the healthiest teams in the league for most of the season, left guard Justin Smiley, the most experienced lineman on the roster, was lost with a season-ending leg and ankle injury in Game 12 against the Rams. The running game suffered.

Ditto for wide receiver Greg Camarillo, who signed a contract extension as a reward for his work ethic and steady play as the team's leading receiver before sustaining a season-ending knee injury in Game 11 against the Patriots.

While Long and Smiley held their own, the running game needed trickery to truly be effective as the right guard spot never truly stabilized after rookie Donald Thomas went down with a season-ending foot injury in the season opener.

Wide receiver Ernest Wilford was clearly the worst offseason signing made by the Dolphins as the former Jaguar was inactive in nine of 17 games, including the playoff game, and had just three catches for 25 yards.

Middle linebacker Channing Crowder is a fine tackler but still lacks the big-play ability to change games and merit a lucrative, long-term contract.

PLAYER/PERSONNEL NOTES

-- DE Randy Starks, one of the Dolphins' integral players on the D-line rotation, was inactive for the first time this season with a sprained ankle.

-- DE Rod Wright was activated for the first time this season after starting nine games last season with 37 tackles and 1.5 sacks. He played sparingly.

-- WR Ernest Wilford was inactive again, leaving the Dolphins with just three active receivers in Ted Ginn Jr., Davone Bess and Brandon London. Bess hurt his thumb at one point and running back Patrick Cobbs took some snaps at receiver. Bess returned and had a huge 45-yard catch and run to set up Miami's fourth-quarter touchdown.

-- RB Ricky Williams was a non-factor Sunday, getting just four carries for 17 yards and one catch for eight yards.

-- Rookie K Dan Carpenter was 40 of 40 on extra points this season but had his first and only playoff attempt blocked by CB Frank Walker.


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