More Fourth-Quarter Blues

If the Dolphins are going to regroup and resume a playoff run that had been looking promising until Sunday's 31-14 loss at Buffalo, they must figure out a way to win the fourth quarter. No team in the NFL has allowed more fourth-quarter points than the Dolphins, who were outscored 24-0 on Sunday after taking a touchdown lead into the final period.

"We did the things that quite honestly 3-7 teams do in the fourth quarter of the game: penalties, turnovers, let them run the ball, big plays allowed," Dolphins coach Tony Sparano said of a team that fell to 5-6. "That's not acceptable."

It's not like the Bills had some magic formula for the final quarter. They had been struggling down the stretch as well, a flaw that helped cost Dick Jauron his job.

"Twenty-four to nothing in the fourth quarter to a team that was having trouble finishing themselves," Sparano said. "My hat's off to them. They did a better job than we did. ... My fault. I've got to take responsibility for it. We had 10 days to prepare and I didn't do a good enough job obviously of preparing them."

Next up is New England, against whom the Dolphins opened the second half of their Nov. 8 game with a long touchdown drive, then promptly went into shut-down mode the rest of the afternoon in a 27-17 loss.

Over their last five losses, the Dolphins have been outscored 76-17 in the final quarter, including 49-0 over their last three defeats. They did manage to outscore the Falcons 7-3 in the fourth quarter of the opener, but that was basically a garbage-time touchdown after Atlanta went up 19-0.

"Obviously what we're doing now is not doing the trick," Dolphins linebacker Jason Taylor said of those fourth-quarter woes. "We need to go back and continue to work on it, continue to look at it. I can't diagnose it right now for you. It cost us the game again."

The Dolphins have tried everything imaginable to reverse this disturbing trend. They have taken to rotating players at every spot on defense except for cornerback, although the safety rotation has pretty much gone away.

They have tried blitzing in the final period, but Peyton Manning and Drew Brees, among others, have made them pay for that.

It could just be that a team starting three players age 30 or older (Taylor, Joey Porter, linebacker Akin Ayodele and strong safety Yeremiah Bell) wears down as the game wears on.

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