The Miami Dolphins have once again managed to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. The Dolphins fell to the Carolina Panthers 20-16 after dominating most of the game. Ryan Tannehill completed 67 percent of his pass attempts for 310 yards, which included a 53 yard touchdown strike to Mike Wallace. Tannehill completely outplayed former NFL Rookie of the Year and Pro Bowler Cam Newton for three quarters.
The Miami defense pressured Newton all afternoon. The Panthers quarterback threw for just 100 yards in the first half while being sacked twice and intercepted once. The Panthers defense came into Sun Life Stadium allowing just 209 passing yards per game, Tannehill nearly had that by halftime.
It didn't matter, after building a 16-6 halftime lead at home—on a day they could have gained sole possession of sixth place in the AFC—the Dolphins failed to score in the second half. Newton threw his only touchdown pass with 43 seconds remaining, finding Greg Olsen all alone in the corner of the end zone for the lead.
This forced Miami to attempt a Hail Mary pass with 18 seconds remaining. Wallace had a step on the defense before the ball bounced off his hands incomplete at the one yard line, on the next play, Tannehill was sacked, and the game was over. This was a script the Dolphins have followed far too often this season.
The 3-0 start and NFL.com's Judy Battista proclaiming that the Dolphins could "challenge the Patriots for the AFC East" seem like a very distant memory. Forget about winning the division, this team now has a mountain to climb just to claim a wild-card spot. All because they have consistently failed to play four quarters of football, this team has lacked the killer instinct needed to put teams away. In short, the Dolphins playoff hopes could be finished because the team cannot finish.
Miami now sits at 5-6 and tied with five other teams for the final AFC wild-card slot, through NFL tie breaking procedures the 'Fins lose the tie breaker with all five of those teams. Worst than that is the fact that Miami could just as easily be 8-3 right now. Eight of Miami's games have been decided on the final possession, and three of those involved Miami collapsing late or blowing a large halftime lead.
1. October 20th, Buffalo vs. Miami
Miami's first collapse of the season may be the ugliest. The Dolphins were 3-2 and coming off of their bye week, the Bills were 2-4 and starting former practice squad quarterback Thad Lewis in place of the injured EJ Manuel. Miami overcame an early 14 point deficit and held a 21-20 lead with less than three minutes remaining.
After keeping Tannehill clean for 57 minutes, the offensive line collapsed and gave up consecutive sacks to Mario Williams. The second sack would result in a fumble recovered by Buffalo on the 34 yard line with 2:48 to play. A few plays later Dan Carpenter, who was let go by Miami in the offseason, would boot a 31 yard field goal and give the Bills a 23-21 lead with just 23 seconds remaining.
Miami's Hail Mary wasn't answered that day either.
2. October 27th, Miami vs. New England
In what may be the biggest first half shock of the season, Miami traveled to Foxboro and had Tom Brady and company on the ropes. The Dolphins sacked Brady three times in the first half and intercepted his first pass attempt. The Patriots had just 59 total yards at halftime, and Miami held a 17-3 lead.
The Dolphins had more passing yards (145) and rushing yards (156) than the Patriots that day. They also had a 10 minute time of possession advantage despite three turnovers and Tannehill being sacked six times. The 'Fins would not score in the second half and halfway through the third quarter, the wheels completely fell off.
With 8:28 remaining in the third quarter, the Dolphins still held a 17-3 lead. Over the final 23:28, the Patriots would score 24 unanswered points and cruise to a comfortable 27-17 victory. For the second straight game, Miami outplayed their opponent and still came up short.
3. November 24th, Carolina vs. Miami
This brings us back to Sunday. Miami found a way to squander a late lead in what would have been the biggest win of the season and of Tannehill's career. Good teams find ways to win games and bad teams find ways to lose games. With each collapse it becomes more difficult to make a case for Miami as a good team.
Good teams finish games.
Miami is still very much alive for a playoff spot, but that is largely because outside of the Broncos, Chiefs and Patriots the AFC has been mediocre this season. Regardless, Miami needs to win four of these final five games to have a realistic shot at a wild card.
Assuming that there are no overtime games, the Dolphins have 300 minutes left in their season. Any hopes they have of making the playoffs will hinge on their ability to play solid football for each of those minutes. Or they can stay consistent and play an amazing 200 minutes with a miserable 100 mixed in as they march towards another 7-9 campaign.
The season has reached its final crossroad. The Dolphins better find a little bit of heart and toughness this Sunday against the Jets. Otherwise they are looking at another long offseason wondering what could have been.
All stats courtesy of ESPN.com