Despite a thrilling 37-35 victory over the Minnesota Vikings on Sunday, the Dolphins were eliminated from the playoffs. The defense wasn’t stellar against the purple and gold allowing 15 points in a 15-second span − a factor which almost cost them the win. The sub-par performance on that side of the ball has caused concerns for some time now.
The steady decline began after a pair of strong outings versus Jacksonville and San Diego. After two pick-six’s versus the Jags, the Phins shutout the Chargers at home. Then, the team suffered an agonizing last-second loss to Detroit as the defense surrendered a fourth-quarter touchdown. Two weeks later, the team allowed 39 points to Denver in a week 12 loss. A season-ending week-14 ACL injury to safety Louis Delmas did not help as Baltimore basically ended Miami’s playoff hopes with a 28-13 victory in South Beach.
On Sunday, the Dolphins were exposed by a rookie quarterback. Teddy Bridgewater passed for 259 yards and two scores nearly leading his team to a fourth-quarter, come-from-behind victory.
“There were some missed tackles but again, football is a team game,” said Dolphins Head Coach Joe Philbin. “Sometimes the offense has to step up, and like you said we scored in the second half on every possession and that’s what we needed to do. We’ll take a look at the tape and make the corrections.”
Known for his premier pass-rushing abilities, Cameron Wake returned to his old form registering two sacks in the game. No. 91 is still graded as the best 4-3 defensive end in the league by Pro Football Focus this season − earning a mark of 29.8, which is just over seven points higher than the next best end − despite his lack of production in previous weeks logging just one quarterback hurry against the Ravens (PFF) in week 14.
“It was important,” Philbin stated when asked about Wake’s production. “It was big. Those are big plays. They can ignite a football team and provide momentum and energy, not just for the defense but the offense, so I thought they were big and important.”
Wake’s presence helped the Dolphins regain footing in a game they found themselves down early. The Vikings posted two quick touchdowns in the first half before Miami found an answer.
“We just understood the situation that was in front of us,” said defensive end Dion Jordan. “We had to make plays, stop them from running the ball, and pretty much force them to pass. Then at the end of that last drive, that’s exactly what we did. We got a couple stops, we got some timeouts, had a timeout in our back pocket and on that last third down, Cam (Wake) was able to put a good rush on and get the sack.”
After quarterback Ryan Tannehill and the offense tied the game at 35-all, it was time for the special teams to step up. Defensive end Terrence Fede blocked a punt attempt and the ensuing safety gave the Dolphins the win what turned out to be a tumultuous contest.
“I think we did a good job,” said linebacker Jelani Jenkins. “It wasn’t pretty. We had some ups and downs, but overall I felt like we just kept fighting. We were able to get a three and out late to get the offense a chance to get the ball again, but (DE) Terrence Fede made a great play on that block to seal the game.”
The win gave Dolphins owner Stephen Ross just enough to bring back the coaching staff for another season as Philbin and company were notified. Now, it’s up to Philbin and defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle to ensure the defense sees progression come 2015.
“We got put in some tough positions and they got some great field position off turnovers and off special teams plays, but we were able to withstand,” said Jared Odrick. “We were able to win the game. The W is what counts, especially in December football.”
This story was written by Steven Wilson. Follow him on Twitter: @StevenJWilson11