Tim Tebow did it again.
The Miami Dolphins led the Denver Broncos 15-0 with under three minutes to play in Sunday's game, but Tebow mounted a comeback, forced overtime, and Matt Prater sent the 'Fins home losers by hitting a game-winning 51-yard field goal.
This is an absolutely devastating and demoralizing loss that the Dolphins will not recover from.
Spirits were high when Miami appeared to have secured their first win of the 2011 season, but that good mood was decimated by the Broncos' comeback. Such a swift emotional decline will take a serious toll on a locker room already struggling through this disastrous season.
The Dolphins remain winless, but there are still plenty of lessons to be learned.
Brandon Marshall and Davone Bess were the targets of widespread criticism this week. Entering Sunday's game, they had dropped a combined 11 passes—enough to rank them first and second respectively in the league in drops.
Both continued this troubling trend on Sunday.
Marshall and Bess both dropped extraordinarily easy passes. To make matters worse, Daniel Thomas also dropped two.
These drops stall drives and prevent touchdowns. Even if the Dolphins land Andrew Luck next year, he will not be successful unless Miami surrounds him with able-handed wide receivers.
Early in Sunday's game, Karlos Dansby was omnipotent.
He nearly intercepted an errant pass and was consistently on Tim Tebow's tail. Dansby finished the game with a team-leading 13 tackles and finally looked like the dominant force the Dolphins expected him to be.
Unfortunately, Dansby was nowhere to be found when the Broncos completed their 15-point comeback.
In order to live up to his $47 million contract, Dansby needs to be a domineering presence throughout the entire game—especially when the opposition is rallying late. This game was a step in the right direction for Dansby, but he still has plenty of work to do.
Whoever coaches the Miami Dolphins next year will inherit the foundation for a great defense.
Miami's front seven finally came alive today, generating seven sacks and nine quarterback hits from Cam Wake, Jared Odrick, Jason Taylor, Randy Starks, Kendall Langford, and even Yeremiah Bell.
And, for most of the game, Vontae Davis and Sean Smith were perfect.
It's impossible to defend their late collapse, but remember that Tim Tebow had only six passing yards after the first half. With better coaching, a quality nickelback, and a legitimate free safety, this defense could comeback as a top notch unit next season.
Losing in such devastating fashion emphasizes what many of us already knew: this is a losing locker room.
The Dolphins expect to lose and they find ways to do it.
Even though Miami's roster is loaded with talent, many of their best players might be shipped off when a new regime takes over. When losing becomes so deeply ingrained into a locker room, it's extremely difficult to expunge it.
Bringing in a fresh crop of players with positive attitudes might be the only way to fix things.
When the Dolphins announced their plans to honor the 2008 University of Florida national champion football team during halftime of today's game, it created a nationwide stir.
And when the Broncos announced that Tim Tebow would start, Miami's marketing department looked even worse.
Perhaps consequently, the 'Fins were able to sellout the game, but they looked pretty foolish in the process. Both Omar Kelly and Jeff Darlington reported that much of the crowd booed the honorees, making for a very awkward halftime show.
Sure, the Dolphins must find ways to sell tickets and generate revenue, but this was a huge gaffe. Honoring the University of Florida in the University of Miami's stadium is absurd by itself. But honoring the opposing quarterback? Poor judgement, Dolphins.
While the Miami Dolphins struggle through an abhorrent season, there has been one, lone bright spot: punter Brandon Fields.
Entering Sunday's game, Fields was ranked fifth in the league in net punting average—a stat that essentially measures punting distance, accuracy, and coverage.
Against the Broncos, Fields outdid himself, booting eight for a combined 397 yards—a 49.6-yard average. If the Dolphins can't score, at least they can rest easy knowing their opponents won't start their drives with favorable field position.
Miami's secondary deserves plenty of credit for their performance through the first three quarters of Sunday's game. They laid a blanket over each of Denver's wide receivers, completely stifling Tim Tebow and allowing the front seven to rack up sacks.
However, there were multiple instances where Broncos receivers were wide open and Tebow either missed them or didn't see them.
Had Kyle Orton started this game, there's a very good chance he would have sliced up Miami's secondary. In fact, few, if any seasoned quarterbacks would have missed those wide open targets.
The Dolphins' secondary may have enjoyed a good game, but you should temper any excitement you felt. Their true colors showed late in the game and they will likely be a liability when Miami faces quality quarterbacks for the remainder of the season.
Miami's inability to stop opposing tight ends is unbelievable. Literally.
Denver's primary tight end is Daniel Fells, a very marginal player who had only 11 receptions entering Sunday's contest.
Yet, even he managed to kill the 'Fins.
Fells didn't record a catch until late in the fourth quarterback when he caught two huge passes, including a touchdown with only 25 seconds left.
In Daniel Thomas' first two starts for the Dolphins, he racked up a combined 202 yards on 41 carries.
In Thomas' last two starts (Miami's last two games), he has mustered up only 100 yards on 34 carries—giving him a measly 2.9 yards per carry.
Without a formidable passing game in place, the Dolphins need to lean on Thomas to move the ball; however, he hasn't looked very good. He shows the occasional burst of power, but doesn't display overpowering strength or great speed.
We've seen Thomas look like a stud, but lately he's looked like a dud. He needs to prove that is the former—not the latter—over the next few weeks.
Well, this game perfectly sums up Tony Sparano's tenure as Dolphins head coach.
Things started out wonderfully but slowly deteriorated into disaster.
Moreover, every issue that has plagued Sparano's teams over the past few seasons surfaced against the Broncos. The Dolphins struggled mightily in the red zone, settling for multiple field goals, and they couldn't slow the opposing tight end. Plus, the team collapsed late in a home game against an inferior team.
Stephen Ross is going to fire Sparano at some point, it's just a matter of when. But after such a disturbing loss, Ross might not be able to hold back any longer.