The Miami Dolphins finally closed a game, and in doing so, they have also closed the book on a disastrous chapter in their 2013 season.
The Dolphins let go of another two-touchdown second-half lead, but they snapped their own four-game losing streak and snapped the Bengals' four-game winning streak in the most bizarre way possible: a walk-off safety on a sack of Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton by defensive end Cameron Wake.
"The engine light was on, the tire level warnings were going off, we just had to keep the pedal to the metal," said Wake on the NFL Network after the game.
Wake unleashed the beast on Thursday night with three sacks of Dalton, including the game-winner. He logged 2.5 sacks in the first game of the season against the Browns but has been shut out in the sack department the past five games (he missed a game with a knee injury and his workload has slowly increased since the bye week).
Wake was up to nearly a full snap count against the Bengals, which is a good sign for the Dolphins defense, which should now have its best defensive player back at full strength as they continue to try to save their season. When on top of their game, the Dolphins defense is among the best in the league.
They just haven't gotten much help from an offense, which had the fifth-lowest average yards per game headed into Thursday night, and which also had the ninth-most turnovers in the league.
The Dolphins, now even at 4-4, had also struggled mightily in the second half of games over the past few weeks on their way to losing four straight.
|Miami Dolphins' second-half struggles past 4 games|
|Half||Points for||Points against||Rushing att.||Rushing YPA||Passing att.||Passing YPA||Sacks|
In the last four games, they cumulatively scored 25 more points in the first half than the second half. They had a 13-6 lead over the Ravens, a 21-17 lead over the Bills and a 17-3 lead over the Patriots, and let each one slip away on their way to a loss.
They nearly let another 17-3 second-half lead escape their grasp on Thursday night.
Their struggles in the second half have been teamwide. They have yielded two sacks in the first half of the past four games, but that number shoots to 16 in the second half. For all their struggles in pass protection, they have kept quarterback Ryan Tannehill upright in the first half, only to watch him take a beating in the second half.
They have run the ball 58 times for 325 yards in the second half of the past three games, including 22 carries for 142 yards on Thursday night. In the second half of those games, however, those numbers dip to 28 carries for 108 yards (eight times for 15 yards on Thursday night)—granted, they possessed the ball for only 19 plays in the second half, and most of those plays were the game-tying field goal drive.
That drive, however, was orchestrated beautifully, and included a pair of big catches from wide receiver Brian Hartline.
Hartline's sideline awareness is remarkable, and he put it to good use, twice (although, on the above catch, there was some controversy as to whether or not he was in bounds).
Regardless, Hartline served as a great example of something Patriots coach Bill Belichick said back in September: "Dependability is more important than ability." It's players like Hartline who will have to be the key contributors if the Dolphins are going to turn their season around.
None of it mattered, because the Dolphins made the plays when they needed them the most, including the biggest play of the game to end it.
How fitting that, given all the chaos surrounding the state of the offense, it was the defense delivering the key play and final blow.
With 10 days to prepare for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the Dolphins could very well be back above .500 after their next game. They then, however, must handle the upstart Chargers and Panthers at home to stay above .500 for any extended period of time.
The season is far from over, but it would have been much closer to over if not for the bizarre win over the streaking Cincinnati Bengals.
Erik Frenz is also a Patriots/AFC East writer for Boston.com. Unless otherwise noted, all quotes were obtained firsthand or via team news releases.