The Dolphins were able to check off just about every one of their objectives on offense Monday night, but when they checked the scoreboard they were on the wrong end of a 27-23 loss to Peyton Manning and the undefeated Indianapolis Colts.
It's not often a team outgains its opponent 239 yards to 61 on the ground and loses. It's nearly impossible to lose when a team more than triples its opponent in time of possession and its only turnover came on the final play of the game.
However, when a second-year coach conservatively settles for a field goal and just a three-point lead with 3:50 left when Manning is leading the opposition, that's generally a losing proposition.
"I was absolutely willing to take the points in that situation," said Dolphins coach Tony Sparano, after calling for a simple run up the middle on third-and-6 from the Colts' 30 with 4:33 remaining and tied at 20. "That put us ahead. I have a lot of confidence in our defense."
Huh? Didn't he see Manning shred the secondary over and over while amassing 303 yards on just 14 completions?
Dan Carpenter made the 45-yarder but Manning needed only 32 seconds to spoil a frolicking, star-studded home opener on Monday Night Football. The Dolphins rolled out the orange carpet for part owners Marc Anthony and movie star wife Jennifer Lopez, Emmy-award singer Gloria Estefan, as well as tennis champs Serena and Venus Williams while Key West legend Jimmy Buffett delivered a pregame concert.
Alas, the Colts only had Tiger Woods roaming their sidelines to trump the Dolphins' star power.
All they really needed was Manning.
It's also doesn't bode well when Manning isn't pressured in the pocket and has time to throw with very few blitzes to fret about. It's also tough to win when your secondary knows coming in that tight end Dallas Clark will be Manning's main target and you still don't devise a game plan to contain him, allowing him to roam free down the middle for an 80-yard touchdown on the very first play from the line of scrimmage.
Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers, coming off a career-high 436 yards - albeit in a losing effort to the Ravens - must be licking his fingers ready to take aim against what was supposed to be a strength of the Dolphins - the safety tandem of Yeremiah Bell and Gibril Wilson - with the 0-2 Dolphins flying to the West Coast this weekend. Both safeties have been abused by stellar tight ends in two consecutive games - Tony Gonzalez in the season-opening 19-7 loss to the Falcons and Clark, who had 183 yards on seven catches.
Next up - Chargers Pro Bowl tight end Antonio Gates.
On the bright side, the Dolphins' much-maligned offensive line punched holes through the Colts, giving Chad Pennington time to throw while helping the three-pronged running attack averaged nearly five yards per carry on the ground. They also revitalized the Wildcat after its uneventful 2009 debut for 107 yards on 12 attempts. Running back Ronnie Brown regained some confidence with a 136-yard outing, including two touchdowns, and Ricky Williams and Patrick Cobbs combined for 92 yards on 21 carries.
The 239 rushing yards by Miami was the most since Dec. 1, 2002, when the Dolphins rushed for 270 yards in a 38-21 loss against the Buffalo Bills.
"We ran the ball well but we need to finish to get touchdowns. I think we beat them up physical, but they beat us on the scoreboard," said Miami center Jake Grove.
The tackling was horrendous, especially Wilson and middle linebacker Channing Crowder (one tackle).
Manning, who had just three series in the second half, managed to put together three scoring drives worth 17 points in a combined 87 seconds. The game-winning drive was done in 32 seconds, with the key play a simple wide receiver screen to second-year receiver Pierre Garcon. Veteran cornerback Will Allen jumped the play and Garcon, who is from nearby Palm Beach County, scampered for 48 yards.
"There was one or two plays I wish I had back, especially the pick. That's three points I could've saved," said Wilson, who was unable to hold on two what looked like an interception at the end of the first half. That enabled Manning to continue the drive and set up Adam Vinatieri with a 48-yard field goal as time expired to forge a 13-13 tie at halftime.
"That's probably one of the strangest losses that I'm a part of. I just felt like this team worked so hard and for us to come up short is very, very heartbreaking," Wilson said.
Holding The Ball Won't Win The Game
--The Dolphins dominated time of possession 45:07 to 14:53 and ran 82 plays to the Colts' 34 but still lost. According to Elias Sports Bureau the Colts are believed to be the first team to win a game while holding the ball less than 15 minutes, dating back to the mid-70s when time of possession was first recorded. "You just don't see what happened tonight, any time you have those type of statistics it's 99 percent in your favor most of the time. But with him behind center you never know what's going to happen." - QB Chad Pennington on QB Peyton Manning
-- The Dolphins gained 239 yards on the ground, averaging 4.9 yards per play, including 107 yards out of 12 Wildcat formations for an average of nearly 9.0 yards.
"We needed to give them different looks and I think we were able to be successful from that standpoint. But no matter what formation we're in we've got to get that seven points on the board," RB Ronnie Brown said on the Wildcat but also Miami having to settle for three field goals.
Porter On Manning
-- WLB Joey Porter notched Miami's only sack of QB Peyton Manning. It was his first of the season and fourth on Monday Night Football. He now has 3.5 sacks in four career games against Manning. "It's a tough one to take across the chin. ... The game plan was pretty simple, take care of No. 87 (Reggie Wayne) and take care of No. 44 (Dallas Clark), and make the other guys beat us and we didn't do that," said Porter.
--RB Patrick Cobbs took over kick return chores from Ted Ginn Jr., just like he did last season and for the last quarter of the season opener. Coach Tony Sparano vowed to get Cobbs more touches this week and he did, finishing with 122 multi-purpose yards, including a 19-yard run out of the Wildcat that helped set up a touchdown in the fourth quarter.
--WR Ted Ginn had a career-high 11 catches for 108 yards, but he was unable to haul down what would've been a game-winning 30-yard touchdown pass that was partially deflected. He also had a shot at a TD catch in the first quarter but didn't realize he had more room to run in the end zone. His previous high was seven catches, accomplished twice.
--Rookie QB Pat White made a couple of cameo appearances again this week for some snaps. Twice, White handed to Ricky Williams for no gain.
--SLB Jason Taylor, who is still learning a new position, didn't even show up on the stats sheet. That's how much of a non-factor he was.
--RB Ronnie Brown scored two touchdowns and now has 25 rushing TDs, tying Don Nottingham for sixth most in Dolphins history.
--Rookie CB Sean Smith, who had split the first game with fellow rookie Vontae Davis, stuck with Pro Bowl WR Reggie Wayne all night, and held him to three catches for 37 yards.