INDIANAPOLIS — A collection of frustration, anger and resigned head-shaking filled the faces of Miami Dolphins players after they tried to put in words how they lost to the Indianapolis Colts on Sunday.
The Dolphins had the game in their hands. Then they blew it, quite possibly ending their playoff chances. The offense shriveled when it came time to secure the victory. Then they watched as Andrew Luck predictably made magic happen against Miami’s defense, erasing a 10-point fourth quarter deficit for a 27-24 win.
“I thought we were going to finish. We didn’t finish. S—, we’ve got to finish. That’s the key,” visibly angry running back Frank Gore said after the loss. “Especially when they got a f—ing guy over there that can get hot, who I respect, plays the game how it’s supposed to be played, the quarterback. Finishing, man. As an offense, we got to finish. As a team, we got to finish.”
Somehow, the Dolphins couldn’t find their finishing gear. That spoiled an otherwise solid return to action by quarterback Ryan Tannehill, who saw the ball taken out of his hand on the Dolphins’ final offensive play.
There’s plenty of blame to go around, but coach Adam Gase’s fourth-quarter playcalling deserves the most scrutiny.
Miami’s final two offensive drives were oddly scripted and poorly executed three-and-outs. The first of those drives started at Miami’s 25-yard line with 8:26 left in the fourth quarter and a 24-17 lead. The Dolphins took just 43 seconds off the clock. Tannehill threw two incompletions on short passes, and the drive ended with a Kenyan Drake draw on third-and-10 that lost 5 yards.
Gase said he started that drive with two passes, despite the team’s running the ball well with Gore and Drake, because the Colts were sending heavy run blitzes.
“They ran what we thought they were going to run. They pressured us both times. We got guys wide open,” Gase said. “We’ve got to protect, and you got to be able to make those plays. They’re pressuring because they don’t want us to run the ball.”
Miami flipped the field with a punt. Then Indianapolis quickly took it 89 yards down the field for a touchdown to tie the game.
The Dolphins’ final drive started at their 6-yard line. It began with a Gore run right into a sea of Colts defenders, then a pass to DeVante Parker for no gain, which drew an offensive pass interference penalty for a pick (the Colts declined it). Just like the drive before, this one ended with a draw to Drake — essentially conceding another drive.
“[We were] backed up. We were struggling on that distance to begin with. We got to make something happen on those first two downs. Third-and-10 on the minus-(6), it’s not going to be good,” Gase said. “It wouldn’t matter who was back there. That’s a s—ty situation. It’s third-and-long, you’re backed up. It’s a bad situation. I’ve been in that end zone before, and I watched a Hall of Fame QB [Peyton Manning] get sacked for a safety in this same stadium.”
Essentially, the determination was that throwing there would have been too big of a risk. Instead, the Dolphins ran a safe play, punted and never got the ball back.
“I’m a competitor, so I want the ball in my hand. I want to make that play, but I understand the situation,” Tannehill said before explaining why he didn’t appeal to Gase to throw in that situation. “It’s tough to do that when you’re standing in the middle of the field, and he’s on the sideline.
There were three third-and-10 situations — all at different areas of the field — Sunday in which Gase decided to run the ball and ended the drive with a punt. Gase cited trouble picking up the Colts’ stunts on third-and-long situations.
On the other side, Colts coach Frank Reich put the ball in Luck’s hand on a third-and-9 with the game tied at 24 and the Colts just out of field goal range. The Indianapolis QB made the play of the game in ducking defensive tackle Akeem Spence for a sack and delivering a 34-yard completion to Chester Rogers. That set up the Colts’ winning field goal.
The Dolphins forced three turnovers and blocked a punt, but Indianapolis had the better QB and better situational playcalling late in the game.
Gase has been unwavering in his support of Tannehill, and on Sunday we saw glimpses of why, beginning with the opening-drive touchdown. It was Miami’s first opening-drive TD in 21 games, and it was clear that Tannehill made the offense better. But too often when it counted, Gase didn’t seem to give his QB a chance to make the play when the situation wasn’t ideal.
Why? Tannehill’s shoulder, which isn’t 100 percent yet, would have been the easiest excuse. But both Gase and Tannehill said the QB’s shoulder had no effect on the game or the playcalling.
Dolphins players were diplomatic on shifting blame, and none who ESPN talked to after the game said he had an issue with Gase’s playcalling.
“Whatever Coach Gase calls, we are going to run,” said left tackle Laremy Tunsil, who admitted that it felt like the Week 5 loss at Cincinnati, in which the Dolphins blew a 14-point second-half lead. “I felt like we were rolling. We had a 10-point [lead], and it just went downhill as we lost.”
On the 17th anniversary of Jim Mora’s famous “playoffs?!?” speech, Miami left Lucas Oil Stadium with its playoff hopes on life support after squandering a golden opportunity.