Let’s get it out of the way right from the beginning so as not to make anyone who’s reading this be confused about anything. The Miami Dolphins ran the “Wildcat” formation effectively last night and beat the New York Jets 31-27.
They scored the game’s winning touchdown from the formation in dramatic fashion on a Ronnie Brown two-yard rush with 0:06 seconds left, in one of the greatest fourth-quarter shootouts between these two bitter rivals anyone has ever seen. Now, on with my take on everything.
I’d started a piece on the Miami Dolphins after three games into the preseason that I never finished and never posted. Even though the ‘Phins were 3-0 at that time in the preseason, I wrote I hadn’t been too impressed.
Inconsistency had been their hallmark through those first three games of the preseason, and it continued into the first three games of the regular season, with the result being an 0-3 start for my beloved Miami franchise and despair seeping into me about the season.
The biggest thing I’d noted during those games before real football began was the fact Miami didn’t seem to have a clear idea who their No. 1 receiver was going to be. They seemed to be envisioning Ted Ginn Jr. in that role, but through those first three games of the preseason they had appeared to forget Ginn even existed.
Given all that, I was a bit apprehensive, yet I still had confidence in Tony Sparano and Bill Parcells. After all, these were the football “Gods” who had orchestrated a miraculous 11-5 season and won the AFC East just one year removed from a 1-15 debacle. To me, these men were simply infallible; they could do no wrong.
Sure, I questioned why they’d cut a player like Ernest Wilford (no matter that he was a mediocre player), because cutting him resulted in paying an extra $1.5 million and I felt that was a waste. I wondered about some other moves that were being made as well, but I bit my tongue, even to myself, and hid my doubts amid a string of predictions to my best friends that the ‘Phins were going to repeat as division champs.
After the first three games of the year, I was singing a different tune to them, as you can imagine. In fact, by that time I was wondering if this year would end up looking more like two years ago than it would the year of the “Wildcat.”
Forgive me, Tony Sparano, for doubting you. I humbly offer my contrition, oh football god, Bill Parcells. I should never have doubted your great minds and staunch hearts, oh great ones. You knew what you were doing, and you never doubted it, and though we started off roughly, you’ve trudged through and have us on the brink of the Promised Land.
Sure, the ‘Phins had started out 0-3, and had just lost their starting star quarterback, Chad Pennington for the season during that third game. Sure, the season looked incredibly bleak. But there were so many positives to take away from those first three games that people simply ignored because of that record.
For instance, the ‘Phins were running the ball incredibly well. They were pounding it on the ground like no other Miami team since the squads of the early 70’s. Against the Indianapolis Colts, the ‘Phins controlled the ball for more than 45 minutes of the game.
Yes, they lost, because of the magic of a QB who reminds most people, including myself, of another magical passer named Dan Marino, but they had dominated the Colts in every way except on the scoreboard, and that shouldn’t have been ignored just because of the final score and the record with no wins in the W column.
They’d played well in the other games, too, but simply hadn’t gotten the breaks. Against the Buffalo Bills that all changed, and Miami looked less like an 0-3 team hoping for their first win than the defending AFC East Champions they actually were. They stomped on the Bills like few ‘Phins teams have over the past three decades.
Even with all that. Even with the knowledge that Miami probably wasn’t as bad a team as their record indicated, I was hesitant in believing too greatly in them. For one thing, they were facing their most bitter rival, the New York Jets. More than that, they were facing them on Monday Night, which, other than when Dan Marino patrolled the sidelines, hasn’t been all that kind to the ‘Phins.
Before the game, I’d told all my friends I was hoping for a Miami win, but that I was pretty sure they wouldn’t be able to beat the Jets. After all, the Jets had a dynamic young quarterback in Mark Sanchez who had been impressing even me (prior to the season I thought he would be a bust). The Jets looked like they might actually be the team to beat in the AFC East, and I wasn’t going to get too big for my britches; not with a 1-3 record.
Count me convinced, though. On a night that was supposed to be a shining moment for Sanchez and the Jets, the Dolphins and their new QB, Chad Henne, stole the spotlight. On a night when the New York franchise was supposed to win in easy fashion to extend their record to a division-leading 4-1 on the year, instead we saw the Miami Dolphins regain hope that this season might just be beginning.
The New York Jets Mark Sanchez wasn’t terrible by any means. He was 12 of 24 for 172 yards, one touchdown, and one interception, for a QB rating of 87.5. That isn’t a stellar performance, but it’s also not the numbers of a complete bum. He had an iffy game, that’s all. And if the rest of his team had been able to make a few plays here or there, the Jets might have overcome Sanchez’ slight slump and still have come away with the victory.
They didn’t, however, and the star of the show last night was Chad Henne, who went 20 of 26 for 241 yards, two touchdowns, and no interceptions for a QB rating of 130.4; which is near perfect.
And Henne was even better in the fourth quarter than he was overall, completing 9 of 12 passes for 121 yards and directing two scoring drives, including a 53-yard touchdown strike to Ted Ginn Jr., that rallied the ‘Phins from deficits.
Earlier in the quarter Henne had commanded a 15-play drive that ate up nearly nine minutes of the clock and was capped off by a two-yard touchdown pass by Chad to TE Anthony Fasano that game Miami the lead over the Jets 17-13.
Miami had entered that fourth quarter trailing the Jets 13-10 after a scoreless third quarter by both teams. The ‘Phins had watched the Jets take the lead going into the half on two Jay Feely field goals of 40 and 43 yards during the second quarter as they themselves were unable to score. Effectively, the Jets shut the Dolphins down for two quarters; it simply wasn’t the right quarters.
Miami jumped out to a 7-0 lead on Ronnie Brown’s 1-yard touchdown rush with 7:31 left in the first quarter, and things looked pretty good for the Dolphins. No one was popping champagne on the Miami sideline, though; as everyone knew it would be a long night against the New York club.
Mark Sanchez and the Jets didn’t waste too much time in answering the scoring by Miami as New York’s star-studded QB (who’s featured in GQ magazine) connected with newly acquired deep-threat receiver, Braylon Edwards, on a three-yard scoring strike with 3:51 left in the first quarter to even the score at 7-7.
Miami then drove down the field, with Ricky Williams hauling in a 59-yard catch and run from Henne to set up a 35-yard field goal by Dan Carpenter with just 0:57 seconds left on the clock to regain the lead, 10-7, but wouldn’t score again till the beginning of the fourth-quarter.
That score in the final quarter had actually begun mid-way through the third, and was a staunch reminder of just the kind of football Miami intends to play the majority of the time they’re on the field this year. It was smash-mouth football at its best, eating up clock and yards like a great attack should.
Sure, the Wildcat formation was used to great effect in that drive, as it was on the opening and final drives of the game, but there was plenty of smash it right at you football in there as well. Miami seems to have proven in their first five games of the season that they’re a very effective rushing team.
But Henne proved this night he wasn’t just capable of shepherding the team down the field handing the ball off to his running backs. Sure, he did that impressively enough too, making sure to get the ball in the breadbasket of Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams, who scampered for 74 and 68 yards respectively as Miami ran for 151 net yards on the night.
However, it was through the air that Chad most impressed, giving many Dolphins fans hope that this young quarterback might be the one to finally rid the ‘Phins of the ghost of Dan Marino.
After that amazing, nearly nine-minute drive capped off with Fasano’s TD catch, the young Chad Henne, making only the second start of his career, was quickly called on to do something special finally.
Mark Sanchez and the Jets had taken only two minutes to answer that drive, as Sanchez connected with Braylon Edwards on 53 and 35-yard passes to set up a one-yard rush up the middle by Thomas Jones with 12:17 left on the clock for a touchdown and the lead again for the New York franchise, 20-17.
Henne, as if he were singing “Anything You Can Do, I Can Do Better” in his head, came out and whipped that 53-yard scoring strike to Ted Ginn Jr., who beat Darrelle Revis and two other Jets deep, to top the man, Mark Sanchez, many are comparing to fabled Jets hurler Joe Namath and to give the ‘Phins the lead again, 24-20, just two short minutes later with 10:10 left on the clock.
The game, and the excitement, was far from over, though.
While I might just be biased in my opinion of this, the referees made an incredibly bad pass interference call against Miami’s Will Allen that ultimately resulted in a go-ahead score by the Jets with 5:12 to play to put New York up 27-24 as Thomas Jones again rushed the ball up the middle for a short 3-yard score following a journeyman drive by Sanchez and the Jets.
All that did was set Chad Henne up for the hero status he now holds.
In a drive where the dolphins snapped the ball to four different players from the “Wildcat” formation, including twice in the final 23 seconds, Henne was beyond brilliant, connecting on two critical third-down completions that kept the drive alive, and showed this young man just might have begun a quarterback duel between himself and Sanchez reminiscent of the Dan Marino duels with Jim Kelly of the Buffalo Bills and the man the Jets passed Marino over for in 1983, Ken O’Brien.
In those halcyon days the shootouts between the Dolphins and Jets were legendary. One such shootout on Monday Night Football is considered one of the greatest games between the two teams in their history. Marino was on the losing end of that battle, although he won his fair share of games against the New York franchise; can anyone ever forget the “Spike” game?
Henne was not going to be on the losing end of his battle Royale with the Jets, though. Capping that brilliant last drive off, Henne didn’t ultimately throw a touchdown pass, but instead deferred to the great mind of his coach, Tony Sparano, and allowed Ronnie Brown to take the ball in from the two-yard-line out of the “Wildcat” formation to cap off all scoring in the game giving the Dolphins the lead for good, 31-27.
The doubt even the Dolphins had to be feeling during that final drive, running the ball so much out of the formation many in the NFL have denigrated as already obsolete, fell by the wayside as the cheers washed over Sparano and his team following Brown’s touchdown.
Miami defensive tackle Jason Ferguson summed it up nicely saying, “That’s why we are players and not coaches. All of us were talking about, ‘Why won’t you pass it?' Because we got a touchdown, that’s why.”
The ‘Phins proved the Wildcat is still relevant last night, and Chad Henne, in only his second start, proved he may just be the One. Like the fabled savior from the movie the Matrix, Henne might just be able to save this franchise from the matrix that is the NFL season. He’s won two games as a starter, and is well on his way to reaching legendary status faster in M-Town faster than any player not named Marino.
Don’t get me wrong, either. Chad Pennington was great last year, and everyone, including myself, was singing his praises. Yet, we all knew he was fragile, and even at my most optimistic I still had serious doubts he would ever lead us to a Super Bowl. With Henne, if he stays healthy, and continues to improve, those doubts don’t exist.
From the first time I’d heard they’d drafted him I was excited. He had to wait over a year learning and apprenticing behind Pennington, and I began to worry that such a role might eventually ruin his potential. Sadly for Pennington his year has come to an end. Thankfully for the Dolphins, Chad Henne’s career has just begun.
The Dolphins are now 2-3, just one game behind both the Patriots and Jets who share a spot at the top of the AFC East with 3-2 records. Next up for the ‘Phins will be an incredible challenge, as they’ll face the undefeated New Orleans Saints and another stellar quarterback, Drew Brees.
Hopefully Henne will be able to continue his winning ways and Miami will shock the world even more with a win over the boys from the Big Easy. I’ll be looking forward to it, and I hope you will too.