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News » These Miami Dolphins games made the season

These Miami Dolphins games made the season

These Miami Dolphins games made the season
Jan. 4--The Dolphins won the AFC East on the fourth tiebreaker. They had to win their last five games just to get into position to win that tiebreaker. Their margin of error throughout the season would need stuffing just to bulk up to paper thin. Sometimes, pivotal moments are obvious, sometimes, obscured, their importance not revealed until later. Here are 10 moments from training camp forward that got the Dolphins every little thing they needed to get to the playoffs.


NOTEWORTHY: Sure Hall of Fame quarterback Brett Favre decides he wants to play at least one more season and the Packers decide they don't want him to play any more seasons in Green Bay. The Packers trade Favre to the Jets, who cut Chad Pennington. In two days, the Dolphins scooped up Pennington. He wins NFL Comeback Player of the Year while helping raise the play of the entire offense.

IF IT DOESN'T HAPPEN: Miami goes into the season with Josh McCown, whose seven-year career has seen more interceptions than touchdowns, or rookie Chad Henne at quarterback. That would certainly mean more turnovers than the NFL-record low 13 and more losses.


NOTEWORTHY: Maybe safety Chris Crocker didn't lose his starting job immediately when his blown coverage left Arizona Cardinals standout wide receiver Anquan Boldin open for a 79-yard touchdown pass on the Cardinals' first play en route to a 31-10 rout. But it's no accident after two weeks of coverage errors, Crocker was replaced by former starter Renaldo Hill, 11 months off a torn knee ligament.

IF IT DOESN'T HAPPEN: Early in the season, the Dolphins allowed the most pass plays over 20 yards in the NFL. It took a few weeks, but the return of Hill helped steady a secondary that gradually improved throughout the season. Crocker was cut Oct. 21.


NOTEWORTHY: The NFL debut of the Wildcat formation. All five Dolphins touchdowns were scored or set up by Wildcat plays. With running back Ronnie Brown throwing a touchdown pass and running for four touchdowns, three after taking direct snaps like a single wing tailback, the Dolphins shocked the NFL by blasting New England 38-13 -- its first regular season loss since 2006.

IF IT DOESN'T HAPPEN: The win solidified the players and coaches beliefs in each other. Another loss to drop the Dolphins to 0-3 could've easily sent the team spiraling into skepticism, self-doubt and another dismal season. The Dolphins would run Wildcat plays with varying effectiveness the rest of the year.


NOTEWORTHY: Fourth-year fullback Lousaka Polite out of Pittsburgh signed as a free agent. The Dolphins had ditched fullback Boomer Grigsby, and they were not entirely happy with journeyman fullback Casey Cramer in their search for a fullback. In addition to his blocking, Polite (23 carries, 85 yards) would go nine of 10 on third- or fourth-and-1 plays.

IF IT DOESN'T HAPPEN: Whether running or throwing a key block, Polite extends drives, some of which have ended up in points. And, most games, the Dolphins needed every score they got. Without Polite, the Miami Dolphins would have had at least one more loss, missing the playoffs.


NOTEWORTHY: Buffalo played cornerback Terrence McGee despite McGee being obviously gimpy coming off a knee injury. Speedy Ted Ginn Jr. torches McGee for most of his seven catches and 175 yards, setting up 17 points in a 25-16 win. Dolphins linebacker Joey Porter made a big stop on the goal line stand, ripped the ball from Buffalo quarterback Trent Edwards, and beat two blockers for a safety that also set up a field goal. Phew.

IF IT DOESN'T HAPPEN: Behind the first win of the season and the last, this was the third-most important win. If any of the above hadn't happened, the Dolphins could've easily been 2-5 with three straight losses. Also, this game boosted Ginn's confidence.


NOTEWORTHY: With 2:00 left and the Dolphins leading the Seahawks 21-19, the Dolphins' Chad Pennington fumbles while being sacked. A recovery by Seattle's Darryl Tapp gives Seattle the ball at the Dolphins' 25. Miami challenges the ruling and the play is reversed. A 50-yard punt forces Seattle into a two-minute drill and Seattle gives up the ball on downs.

IF IT DOESN'T HAPPEN: If the play had happened one snap later, after the two-minute warning, it might not have been reviewed at all. Had that happened or the play not been reversed, Seattle would've had the ball well within game-winning field goal range.


NOTEWORTHY: With Miami down 15-14 to Oakland, on the first play after the two-minute warning, 4th-and-5 from the OAK35, Chad Pennington hits Ted Ginn over the middle for seven yards. After the first down, Miami gets six more yards before Dan Carpenter nails a game-winning 38-yard FG with 0:38.

IF IT DOESN'T HAPPEN: Oakland gets the ball with 1:40 to 1:50 left. The Dolphins, with only two timeouts left, would need to force a turnover or get a stop then a punt block against yearly league-leading punter Shane Lechler. If Lechler gets the punt off after the Dolphins go for the block, forget a decent return.


NOTEWORTHY: Dolphins tight end Joey Haynos hangs on to his first NFL reception for a 19-yard touchdown in the second quarter. In the third, veteran San Francisco running back DeShaun Foster drops a sure first down and probable touchdown pass on third and 3 from the Dolphins' 5.

IF IT DOESN'T HAPPEN: Though seemingly half the plays in any 14-9 win have at least a medium level of importance, the difference between Haynos getting the job done in scoring position and Foster becomes monumental. The math's not tough on this one in a game the Dolphins lost everywhere but the scoreboard.


NOTEWORTHY: With Kansas City at first and 10 on the Dolphins' 13 on the third quarter's first drive and already ahead 28-24, cornerback Nate Jones blitzes and sacks Tyler Thigpen for a loss of 2. The Chiefs call two conservative plays and take the field goal. The Dolphins tie it 31-31 on the next drive and win it 38-31 in the fourth.

IF IT DOESN'T HAPPEN: Only halftime had kept the Chiefs' offense out of the end zone the previous five drives and they were moving in chunks on this one. A touchdown would've put the Dolphins down 35-24 with no indication to anyone they could stop the Chiefs. Jones' sack unplugged that drive and Kansas City's momentum.


NOTEWORTHY: Just 15 seconds after Miami takes a 7-6 lead on the Jets, rookie defensive end Philip Merling sniffs out a pass in the flat, intercepts it and runs it back 25 yards for a touchdown to put the Dolphins ahead 14-6. The Dolphins would lose the lead before coming back again for a 24-17 victory that puts them in the playoffs.

IF IT DOESN'T HAPPEN: Who knows? The Dolphins could've been subjected to the capriciousness of overtime. Aside from Merling's touchdown play, so much else -- points, first downs, yards, scoring drives -- were equal. In close big games, it's often a special teams play or a defensive runback that makes the difference.

To see more of The Miami Herald or to subscribe to the newspaper, go to http://www.herald.com. Copyright (c) 2009, The Miami Herald Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services. For reprints, email tmsreprints@permissionsgroup.com, call 800-374-7985 or 847-635-6550, send a fax to 847-635-6968, or write to The Permissions Group Inc., 1247 Milwaukee Ave., Suite 303, Glenview, IL 60025, USA.

Author:Fox Sports
Author's Website:http://www.foxsports.com
Added: January 4, 2009

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