Both teams began trading blows in the fourth quarter, but the Dolphins defense couldn't slow the Cowboys aerial attack late in the fourth quarter. Kicker Dan Bailey split the uprights as time expired, giving Dallas their seventh victory of the season.
Despite a stout defensive effort and an effective, well-balanced offensive game-plan, the 'Fins simply could not topple Tony Romo and the streaking Dallas Cowboys. Even though this loss buries all remaining hope for a Dolphins playoff berth, there are plenty of lessons to be learned.
After nothing their third consecutive victory against the Bills last weekend, the Dolphins figured to give the Cowboys a test, but few predicted they would give the Cowboys such a scare.
Playing in Dallas on Thanksgiving is no easy task. With today's win, the Cowboys are now 28-15-1 on Turkey Day. Dallas' past dominance on the holiday makes Miami's performance look even more impressive, and it has to make you wonder if this team could have made the playoffs if Matt Moore started from Week 1.
Unfortunately, we'll never know, but it's far more comforting and entertaining to see the Dolphins compete than get dominated every week.
During Miami's three-game win streak, Matt Moore compiled an impressive stat-line. He completed 54 of 72 passes for 613 yards, tossed six touchdowns and threw only one interception.
However, he accrued these statistics against a trio of lowly teams (Bills, Redskins, Chiefs). So, Thursday's game provided Moore with a chance to prove that he can succeed against formidable defenses as well—and he delivered.
Moore completed 19 of 32 passes for 288 yards and a touchdown. This is the kind of game we have come to expect from Moore, but it's encouraging nonetheless. He kept the Dolphins alive throughout, spread the ball around and didn't throw any interceptions.
Even though Moore has done an admirable job this season, he simply lacks the elite traits that the game's best possess. Rest assured, the Dolphins will be drafting a quarterback in the first round of the 2012 NFL Draft.
Prior to the start of this season, Vontae Davis and Sean Smith christened themselves the best cornerback tandem in the league. Immediately after they made this bold assertion, Tom Brady torched them for 517 yards, and we haven't heard much from the duo since.
However, they finally resurrected their games on Thursday. Both Davis and Smith picked off Tony Romo, reviving hope that this tandem will soon become an elite one.
Davis was particularly impressive, restricting Cowboys stud receiver Dez Bryant to just three receptions for 35 yards.
Smith, however, yielded a pair of touchdowns to Laurent Robinson. His struggles are puzzling, but Smith has plenty of time to recoup and rebound this season.
Set aside Brandon Marshall, the Miami Dolphins wide receiver corps is flat out bad. Sure, Brian Hartline and Davone Bess are fan favorites, but their production is dismal. The pair has combined for only 54 receptions this season.
A lack of reliable, productive targets severely limits what Matt Moore and Miami's offense can do.
Moore was sacked multiple times because Dallas double-covered Marshall and nobody else could get open. This might be acceptable against an elite secondary, but the Cowboys pass defense only ranks 13th.
Hartline and Bess both stepped up in the second half, but it was too little too late. Unless either elevates their play over the next few weeks, the 'Fins might have to make wide receiver an offseason priority.
When the Dolphins drafted Mike Pouncey last April, there was only one caveat that anybody could offer about his prospectus: He can't snap the ball well.
Pouncey struggled with snaps during the early portions of his senior season at Florida, but he quickly rectified the problem and soothed most outstanding concern about it.
On Thursday, however, Pouncey fired off three wild snaps. Moore was able to scoop up two of them, but the Cowboys recovered the third and promptly scored a touchdown.
There's no reason to panic yet, especially considering how consistent Pouncey has been thus far. But, if this becomes a recurring issue, then we might have a problem.
Sixth-round draft pick Charles Clay burst onto the scene over the past few weeks, racking up a combined eight receptions for 123 yards and one touchdown. His success parlayed with Mike Pouncey and Daniel Thomas' has given Miami's 2011 draft class a promising start.
And on Thursday, another rookie started to make an impact: Clyde Gates. The fifth-round pick has returned kicks all season, but has been largely anonymous.
Against Dallas, however, Gates broke off a 39-yard kick return and caught his first pass of the season. Gates might be taking baby steps, but his progress is promising nonetheless.
Before Miami rattled off three straight victories, two issues continually plagued them: third down and red zone conversions.
On Sunday, those problems resurfaced. The Dolphins went a measly 3-for-12 on third downs and went a shocking 0-for-4 in the red zone.
Tony Sparano, Brian Daboll, Matt Moore and Miami's offense are all at fault for this abhorrent performance. Had the 'Fins managed just one successful red zone trip, they could have won the game.
Earlier this season, Kevin Burnett was the most maligned player on the Dolphins roster. The 'Fins inked him to a lucrative $21 million contract, but he was a liability on the field and even lashed out at beat reporter Omar Kelly for calling him out.
However, Burnett has recently solidified himself as a staple in Miami's linebacker corps.
Against the Cowboys on Thursday, Burnett led the team with 12 tackles, marking the third time in Miami's last five games that he has registered double-digit tackles. More impressively, Burnett helped limit Jason Witten to just four receptions for 43 yards.
As the Dolphins built momentum from their three-game win streak, speculation about Tony Sparano's job security began to emerge. The team has played hard for Sparano despite their monumental struggles, which suggests the players believe in his schemes and philosophy.
However, Thursday's loss essentially eliminated all outstanding playoff hope, and the team's futility in the red zone reflects very poorly on Sparano.
There's no doubt Sparano will finish out the 2011 season as the Dolphins head coach, but these next five games will be his last in Miami.