In half the time, Manning squishes soft Dolphins
September, 22, 2009
By Tim Graham | ESPN.com
|Douglas Jones/US Presswire|
|Colts tight end Dallas Clark helped Peyton Manning make the most of their time on offense|
MIAMI -- The Miami Dolphins' defense defied everything that established its identity last year.
A proud defense went limp Monday night and gave away a game that was absurdly lopsided in Miami's favor. The Indianapolis Colts defeated the slack-jawed Dolphins 27-23 at Land Shark Stadium, a result that was far from unexpected until you looked at the box score.
"It's really disheartening," Miami coach Tony Sparano said in his postgame news conference. "I'd like to ask you guys how many times you've seen games like that."
Nary a one, Coach.
The Dolphins kept the ball out of Peyton Manning's hands like few teams could. Miami had the ball for 45 minutes, 7 seconds -- eclipsing their team time-of-possession record by 88 seconds. They rushed for 239 yards. They ran 84 plays from scrimmage. The Colts ran just 35 -- three in the entire third quarter; their previous record for fewest offensive plays in a game was 37.
The Colts converted only three third downs, for crissakes. The Dolphins converted an incredible 15 of 21.
"That's exactly the formula to beat that team," Sparano said, "exactly the formula."
Miami's smashmouth defense, however, turned toothless.
Dan Carpenter kicked a 45-yard field goal to give the Dolphins a three-point lead with 3:50 remaining.
Manning glanced up at the clock and knew that would be more than enough. The Colts had all three of their timeouts and the two-minute warning. With the way he was turning the Dolphins into ribbons, he could have taken a knee or two just to make the finish a little more interesting.
|Steve Mitchell/US Presswire|
|Joey Porter could not rattle Peyton Manning when it counted.|
Four plays are all it took. Even with AFC reigning sackmaster Joey Porter and NFL active career sacks leader Jason Taylor on the field and Manning certain to be throwing, the Dolphins still couldn't disrupt him.
Manning found Reggie Wayne for 15 yards to give the Colts some breathing room.
"Once you give them a chunk play like that and let them out of that end of the field," Sparano said, "all of a sudden the candy store's open."
Then Manning found tight end Dallas Clark -- as he had all evening -- for 17 more yards to close in on field-goal territory with a comfy 3:39 to play.
But that possibility was rendered moot when Manning threw a screen pass to Pierre Garcon, who darted past a few Dolphins who probably should have brought him down at some point before he traveled 48 yards for a touchdown.
It was vintage Manning, yet that provided no solace in Miami's locker room.
"There's no consolation prizes," Taylor said. "You don't get anything for being in second place besides a T-shirt, and that thing will shrink in two weeks.
"Who cares about finishing close, or 'You had them until the end and they're just great?' The Colts are a good football team, but they’re beatable. We should have won the game, and we didn't."
Since the NFL started tracking time of possession in 1977, no team has won with such a paltry number (14:53), according to the Elias Sports Bureau.
So you can imagine what Manning did with those 35 measly plays. Even without injured No. 2 receiver Anthony Gonzalez, the Colts averaged 10.3 yards a snap.
Manning and Clark connected on the game's first play for an 80-yard touchdown to render Land Shark Stadium a mausoleum. Clark finished with seven catches for 183 yards, often abusing inside linebacker Channing Crowder.
Miami's offense, meanwhile, was relentlessly efficient.
Brown made the Wildcat look dangerous again after so many games of pedestrian results. He took a direct snap and darted for a 14-yard touchdown on Miami's first drive, its first Wildcat touchdown since Week 10 of last year.
And the Dolphins wasted all of it in their home opener.
"They did a good job tonight, and we failed them," Taylor said of the offense. "We failed the team on defense."
Miami surrendered crucial gains throughout the night, but they were scattered about because Indianapolis never seemed to be on the field.
Manning hit Clark for a 20-yard gain to set up a 48-yard Adam Vinatieri field goal with two seconds left in the first half. That "cheap field goal," as Porter put it, tied the game at 13.
But the Dolphins' offense downright dominated in the second half. Miami opened with an 11-play drive, held the Colts to a three-and-out and went on a 13-play touchdown drive that ended 1:37 into the fourth quarter.
As Sparano said, it was the perfect game plan. But his team is 0-2, the only team in the AFC East without a victory.
"Nobody's crowned champion after two weeks," Porter said. "True enough, we would love to be 2-0 instead of 0-2, but we're not good enough to give away games.
"Those are the games that are going to hurt. When you have a team in position to put them away, you've got to put them away. Good teams do."