Coming off their Week 5 bye, the Miami Dolphins couldn’t capitalize on the opportunity to make a bold statement, instead losing to the Green Bay Packers 27-24. The loss was especially painful because of the last-second touchdown that Packers’ quarterback Aaron Rodgers completed to tight end Andrew Quarless.
Miami was in a position to seal a home victory with just four minutes to go in the game, but questionable offensive play-calling once again led to great pressure on the defense to make a game-winning stop.
Although the offense sputtered in the first half, totaling just 10 yards on 10 rushing attempts, the unit found their groove in the second half, running 13 times for 102 yards. The passing game greatly improved as well, with quarterback Ryan Tannehill getting the ball out quicker, and more accurate after a dreadful first half. Even with that momentum, Miami found itself questioning situational play-calling at the end of the game.
On Miami’s second offensive possession, it found itself stuck on the 1-yard line after an unsuccessful inside zone run with Knowshon Moreno and incomplete pass by Tannehill. Showing rare in-game courage, coach Joe Philbin decided to once again run the ball on fourth down and pass up three points. The subsequent play led to a two-yard loss by Moreno.
With hindsight being clear, it’s easy to criticize this move. The defense played extraordinarily well against the high-powered Packers’ offense in the first half. A touchdown on that play would’ve been a great confident boost, but the decision to pass up three points proved fatal in this game.
#Dolphins dared Aaron Rodgers to win the game by running on 3rd-and-long on their last possession.— Andrew Abramson (@AbramsonPBP) October 12, 2014
Where Philbin really failed his team was in the late second half. Up only four points with four minutes left on the game clock, Miami decided to call a passing play featuring a five-step drop on second down. Tannehill felt pressure from two defenders instantly and had no time to let the play develop, so he got rid of the ball safely. Then, instead of following that aggressive move with a similar play call to get the first down and end the game, Miami ran a simple outside zone for a one-yard gain.
Explaining why Miami passed on 2nd down with 3-plus min. left,Philbin said his orders were to try to get 1st down. So why run on 3rd and 9?— Barry Jackson (@flasportsbuzz) October 12, 2014
After Miami punted, Rodgers had 62 yards to navigate the Packers offense to a touchdown, or the Dolphins would seal a victory. The Dolphins defense struggled to slow down the Packers passing attack in the second half, but found them in a 4th-and-10 situation with one minute left. Instead of forcing Green Bay to hastily make a good play call and execute, Philbin called a timeout.
The result was predictable, with Jordy Nelson continuing his dominance on Brent Grimes, breaking free on a crossing route for an 18-yard gain. Worse yet, that may have not been the most egregious error on the drive. After getting fooled on a fake spike by Rodgers, and cornerback Cortland Finnegan providing poor effort on a tackle attempt, Philbin called another timeout.
Linebacker Philip Wheeler, who has been playing at a much higher level this season than his 2013 campaign, was purposefully put into the game to cover Quarless, who is a glorified receiver for the Packers. This came after the timeout that Philbin called, again allowing the Packers to get their preferred personnel on the field and find the mismatch with the defense.
Philip Wheeler said it was 50 percent bad play call, 50 percent bad play on his part on Packers' game winning TD.— Andrew Abramson (@AbramsonPBP) October 12, 2014
The rift between the players and Philbin will only continue to grow as he makes elementary mistakes. He justified his timeout usage by saying he wanted to be sure his defense was in order.
Philbin made clear he feels strongly about calling defensive timeouts in the situations like today, to make sure his team knows what to do.— Barry Jackson (@flasportsbuzz) October 12, 2014
Until the final touchdown, Miami held the Packers to just 20 points, and the defense just needed to execute on a single play to walk away with a win. Instead, Philbin allowed the Packers to gain the advantage by regrouping twice, and with an all-world quarterback and deep receiving core, executing on a few plays isn’t as hard.
Philbin’s excuses and lack of accountability are astounding. The Dolphins have a talented roster, and their second-half performance should give the team confidence they can compete with almost any team in the NFL. But overcoming their head coach in the final 11 games will be a major challenge, if not impossible.
All stats used are from Pro Football Focus' Premium Stats (subscription required) or sports-reference.com. All contract information is courtesy of Spotrac.com.
Ian Wharton is a Miami Dolphins Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report, contributor for Optimum Scouting, and analyst for FinDepth.