Coming off a pretty solid performance in a close loss to a very tough Jets team, there was cause for some optimism heading into the Miami Dolphins' Monday Night Football battle with the New England Patriots in Week Four.
Things were still looking for the Dolphins holding a 7-6 lead at halftime, but the that optimism quickly evaporated when the Patriots returned the third quarter's opening kickoff for a touchdown and proceeded to blow out the Dolphins in the second half.
Chad Henne threw three interceptions the week after his best career performance against the Jets, while the Dolphins struggled to stop the run in the second half.
In addition, the Dolphins also allowed a blocked punt and a blocked field goal in the second half—the latter of which was returned for a touchdown.
Struggles on both offense and defense, combined with some of the worst special teams play I've ever seen at any level of the sport, resulted in a 41-14 demolishing of the Dolphins.
The Dolphins will have to carry this loss with them for a while, as they have a bye in Week Five before facing one of the NFC's top teams in the Green Bay Packers in Oct. 17.
Until then, here are my observations from the Dolphins' loss to the Patriots:
- Quarterback Chad Henne followed up one of his best performances in the loss to the Jets with one of his worst, throwing three interceptions and generally displaying poor decision-making and defensive reads. Henne stared down his receivers too often and simply made some bone-headed decisions that led to two interceptions by, quite frankly, a nobody in Rob Ninkovich. Marshall took responsibility for Henne's third interception, in which the receiver cut his route short.
- Despite his poor performance, I think the talk of Henne being on a short leash is absolutely ridiculous. Henne had a great game just a week ago and has generally played well so early in his career. He's got all the tools to be successful and needs the full support of the organization if he's going to get there. All young quarterbacks go through growing pains and rough games, but the one thing that the ones that succeed have in common is that their teams stuck with them. Teams that don't exhaust their efforts on their franchise quarterback prospects are constantly searching for the next one (see the Buffalo Bills). Henne's got the talent and he's shown it at times. Let the guy progress.
- In somewhat of a flip-flop from how things had been to date, Ronnie Brown couldn't get much of anything going on the ground, while Ricky Williams actually had a pretty good day. Some of it was just the luck of the draw, as Brown surely could have caught the dump off pass on which Williams scored. Still, Williams ran better overall and displayed better instincts, which is one thing he's always had on Brown.
- Brandon Marshall played well, but he was one of many Dolphins to lose focus late in the game and caused Henne's third interception by cutting off his route. Brian Hartline was practically invisible all game, except for when he let a ball bounce right off his chest in garbage time. It was Davone Bess would was really the star of the night, displaying great hands and and run-after-catch ability. He found the end zone on a nice crossing route and dive, and was a reliable third-down target as always. Bess too had a drop late, but overall it was an excellent performance.
- It was interesting to see Roberto Wallace get some time on offense in four- and five-wide sets, and he notched his first career reception on a 12-yard catch off a comeback route. His Marshall-like size really stands out, so if he can get the fundamentals of the position, he's intriguing.
- Anthony Fasano had some nice grabs at tight end and was a pretty reliable target for Henne when he was struggling to make his deeper routes. He's an ideal No. 2 guy, but you could do worse for a starter.
- Jake Long was strong as always, although he was flagged for a false state at one point. Long has such a great jump off the snap that it often looks like he's false starting when he isn't, which can actually be a problem for the refs. He neutralized Tully Banta-Cain however, and the team as a whole did a good job of keeping Henne upright.
- The interior line had their good moments, but they just don't open the running lanes as much as I'd like to see and are very much a work in progress. Pat McQuistan and Richie Incognito are not the best pulling guards in the world, which limits the offense. The Dolphins could definitely use John Jerry (illness) back in the lineup soon.
- Kendall Langford was one of the few brights spots on the defense. He's just a consistent player that rarely gets fooled or moved on the defensive line, which is why you don't want to run his direction. The rest of the defensive line wasn't nearly as good and had a ton of trouble stopping Danny Woodhead in the second half. Tony McDaniel was missed a bit as Ryan Baker and Lionel Dotson simply aren't good enough for significant roles.
- Cameron Wake got a ton of great pressure on Tom Brady in the first half and eventually got to him for a sack. I love seeing him on the national stage, allowing him to get the recognition he deserves. It feels like he disappeared a bit in the second half last night, but the reality is the Patriots were busy doing so much in other areas and running the ball on offense that there weren't many opportunities.
- Koa Misi notched another sack, but he's got to get more consistent. He disappears far too often in games and has to be better against the run.
- The Dolphins' inside linebackers as a whole struggled against the run and in coverage. Karlos Dansby wasn't terrible, but it was certainly his least impressive game as a Dolphin to-date. They had a ton of trouble tackling the Patriots' tiny running back and missed way too many tackles. If you let teams run over you like that, it's difficult to win.
- Vontae Davis went practically untested for the second straight week. Randy Moss had no catches for the first time as a Patriot and was rarely targeted, which shows just how respected Davis is becoming around the league. It also shows that teams much prefer to target Jason Allen and Benny Sapp, who struggled to contain Wes Welker in the slot.
- Where to begin... I have never seen a worse special teams performance in my life, and there is so much to talk about that was absolutely terrible. Important as it is, I've never seen poor special teams play as thoroughly seal a loss as I did last night.
- Brandon Tate's kickoff return for a touchdown was absolutely unacceptable. Yeah, Sammy Morris blew up Roberto Wallace early, but there is still no excuse for Tate to get to the edge and upfield. Jason Allen, Nolan Carroll, and Bobby Carpenter all took bad routes to the ball carrier.
- The blocked punt I would put in Bobby Carpenter and Lex Hilliard, with Ikaika Alama-Francis being somewhat involved as well. You shouldn't have multiple guys looking for someone to block while an opponent rushes in untouched.
- Tackle Lydon Murtha was 100% responsible for the blocked field goal, as he inexplicably let guys past him on each side without even blocking anyone. Murtha was apparently playing in suspended Tony McDaniel's spot, so it's possible he was uncomfortable in this role, but it's still unacceptable.
- I liked seeing Nolan Carroll finally out there on kickoff returns, even though he only got a few opportunities with Stephen Gostkowski consistently booming kicks through the end zone. Carroll is clearly more explosive than Patrick Cobbs and could be a legitimate threat back there. He was holding the ball high a la Tiki Barber, so obviously he's very cognizant of ball security.
After two wins and a well-played loss against the Jets, I was beginning to think the Dolphins could actually contend this season. I'm far less optimistic after this game.
I don't expect Chad Henne to play that poorly every week, and I do think he'll progress. But he's going to have his ups and downs, and the team around him has too many holes to really survive that in 2010.
The schedule gets pretty difficult in the months ahead, and the Dolphins have too much work to do on special teams, run defense, pass defense, run blocking, and at quarterback to dominate anyone.
The Dolphins are going to win some games they should lose and lose some games they should win, but in the end I expect them to come out of this season hovering around .500 with no playoff berth.
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