AFC East: 2013 Week 9 CIN at MIA

Dolphins' defense keeps season alive

November, 1, 2013
Cameron Wake, Andy DaltonAP Photo/Wilfredo LeeCameron Wake's sack of Andy Dalton for a safety in overtime was a game winner for Miami.

MIAMI -- This was the big-play defense the Miami Dolphins envisioned in the preseason. Although it took eight games, it could not have happened at a better time.

The Dolphins rode the wave of their aggressive defense and timely plays in a 22-20 overtime victory over the Cincinnati Bengals.

On a night when the offense sputtered, Miami’s defense provided a huge assist with a defensive touchdown and an overtime safety by Pro Bowl defensive end Cameron Wake against Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton. The Dolphins needed every point. It was just the third time an NFL game has ended with an overtime safety.

"You know what? It's almost like a movie moment," Wake said of the rare safety. "Right before the play, everyone is looking into each other's eyes like, 'Listen, we need a play right here.'"

Perhaps this is the start of Miami turning the corner. The Dolphins (4-4) snapped a four-game losing streak and picked up their first win since Sept. 22.

The Dolphins certainly cannot have consistent success this year without their defense. Dating back to training camp, it was clear that defense would be the strength of the team. But this group has underachieved until it was put in a must-win situation.

The Dolphins allowed plenty of yards (465) to an explosive Cincinnati offense. But they registered four turnovers, five sacks, a 94-yard interception return by cornerback Brent Grimes for a touchdown and a late safety by Wake.

“It’s a big win to get us back to .500,” Dolphins linebacker Dannell Ellerbe said. "To play a great Bengals team like that, that was rolling and scoring a lot of points on offense and doing what they wanted to do, it was a great win. Hopefully, it is something that we can build on and get back going in the right direction.”

According to the Elias Sports Bureau, only 1.7 percent of teams since 1978 have made the playoffs after suffering a five-game losing streak. The Dolphins essentially saved their season Thursday and gave themselves at least a chance to make a playoff push in November and December.

The Dolphins were a team coming into the game with a lot of issues internally and on the field. This week Miami star center Mike Pouncey was served a subpoena in relation to the ongoing Aaron Hernandez investigation following a loss to the New England Patriots. Starting right tackle Jonathan Martin also left the team this week after getting upset by ribbing from teammates.

These issues are ongoing and still need to be addressed. But winning cured some of those ills for the time being.

“It does a lot for us, not only record-wise, but our confidence,” Dolphins linebacker Philip Wheeler said of the win. “I feel like we can start fresh at .500 and get some wins.”

Things are suddenly looking up for Miami. Its schedule gets much easier in the second half of the season. The combined record of the Dolphins' remaining opponents is 27-33 (.450 winning percent). Miami travels to play the winless Tampa Bay Buccaneers (0-7) next and may be capable of stringing together a few wins.

It's early. But you can already pencil in five playoff teams from the AFC. The Kansas City Chiefs (8-0), the Denver Broncos (7-1), the New England Patriots (6-2), the Indianapolis Colts (5-2) and Bengals (6-3) are ahead of the pack. That leaves just one wild-card spot remaining for the rest of the field.

Why not the Dolphins?

Miami currently is in the mix with several other inconsistent teams: the San Diego Chargers (4-3), Baltimore Ravens (3-4), Tennessee Titans (3-4) and Oakland Raiders (3-4). The final wild card is anyone’s guess at this point and there is plenty of football left. The Dolphins join this list of inconsistent teams looking to find their way in the second half.

The Dolphins survived their rough, early-season schedule. They were able to overcome some ugly losses early to climb back to .500.

Miami’s first eight games in 2013 were a complete roller-coaster. But if its defense consistently makes plays like it did on Thursday night, that could provide some much-needed stability in the second half of the season.

“Everybody had to dig deep,” Wake said of the defensive performance. “If you look at the stat sheet, you see guys showing up all over the place. ... You couldn’t want it any other way.”

Locker Room Buzz: Miami Dolphins

November, 1, 2013
MIAMI -- Observed in the locker room after the Miami Dolphins' 22-20 overtime win over the Cincinnati Bengals:

Star treatment: Miami Pro Bowl defensive end Cameron Wake was the star of Thursday's game, with three sacks and the game-winning safety in overtime. Wake also got the star treatment afterward -- he was brought on the field to interview with the NFL Network cast and was all smiles. Wake had previously been struggling previously with a knee injury.

Lost and found: The Dolphins had plenty of internal turmoil this week. The team had lost four in a row, center Mike Pouncey was subpoenaed in relation to the Aaron Hernandez investigation and offensive tackle Jonathan Martin left the team Monday after being ribbed by teammates. However, when asked if the team finally found its way, Dolphins head coach Joe Philbin offered some dry humor. “I didn’t know we were lost,” Philbin joked.

Meeting of the minds: Miami general manager Jeff Ireland and defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle shared a pleasant conversation in the locker room after the big win. Ireland looked relieved, and Coyle was a big reason for it. Coyle’s defense played well most of the game and accounted for nine total points, on a defensive touchdown by cornerback Brent Grimes and the safety by Wake in overtime.

Rapid Reaction: Miami Dolphins

October, 31, 2013

MIAMI -- A few thoughts on the Miami Dolphins' 22-20 overtime win over the Cincinnati Bengals.

What it means: The Dolphins (4-4) climb back to .500 at the midpoint of their season. The game was won on a safety in overtime by defensive end Cameron Wake, who had three sacks in the game. Miami also snapped a four-game losing streak by beating a solid Bengals team (6-3). The Dolphins showed flashes of what they can be when everyone is on the same page. Miami suffered through a lot of issues behind the scenes during the week but held the team together to pick up its best win since Week 2 against the Indianapolis Colts. This was a gritty overtime win that might be the game that can energize the Dolphins' season.

Stock watch: Besides Wake, who was the star of the game, Dolphins cornerback Brent Grimes also stepped up big. Opponents often have thrown away from Grimes. But the Bengals were not afraid to test him, and they paid for it in the third quarter when Grimes returned an interception 94 yards for a touchdown. It was the first touchdown of Grimes’ career. Miami's defense picked off Dalton three times in the game.

The stock down goes to the second half and overtime for Miami’s offense, which went cold after intermission and allowed the Bengals to get back in the game and force overtime. Miami’s defense was on the field most of the third and fourth quarters. The Dolphins also couldn't get anything going offensively in overtime. Miami's defense scored a touchdown in the third quarter and the game-winning safety in overtime.

Injury wire: The Dolphins lost three key players in this game. Starting guard Richie Incognito suffered a neck injury in the first quarter and didn’t return to the game. Miami starting cornerback Dimitri Patterson also got injured late in the fourth quarter. Backup cornerback Nolan Carroll suffered a concussion in the second quarter and did not return.

What’s next: The Dolphins will host the winless Tampa Bay Buccaneers (0-7) on Nov. 11 on “Monday Night Football.” Miami will get 11 days to prepare for this game. This is perhaps the most winnable game of the season for the Dolphins.

Will Dolphins lose confidence, morale?

October, 29, 2013
The Miami Dolphins began the season with playoff aspirations. Miami came off a 7-9 season and spent more than $200 million in free-agent contracts to improve the team. A fast, 3-0 start only added to the hype.

But Miami’s playoffs dreams have taken a significant blow in recent weeks. The Dolphins are on a four-game losing streak and hasn’t won a game since Sept. 22. Each week it appears more difficult for the Dolphins to get over the hump. They blew a 14-point, halftime lead this past Sunday to the New England Patriots by allowing 24 unanswered points.

Losing confidence and morale could become issues if the losses keep piling up for Miami (3-4).

“If you don’t have a strong locker room, if you don’t have good character individuals in the locker room, I think it could be a concern,” Dolphins head coach Joe Philbin said Monday. “I have a lot of faith in our guys. I believe in them. I think we’ll get this thing right and fixed. We have to do it quickly.”

Things do not get easier for the Dolphins. They will host the first-place Cincinnati Bengals (6-2) Thursday on Halloween night. Unlike the Dolphins, the Bengals are streaking in the right direction. Cincinnati enters this game having won four in a row.

The Dolphins already face an uphill climb for the postseason.

According to the Elias Sports Bureau, only 10.6 percent of teams since the NFL expanded to 16 games in 1978 made the playoffs after a four-game losing streak. The odds are reduced to 1.7 percent for teams that have a five-game losing streak during the regular season.

Thursday is very much a must-win game for the Dolphins if they want to play beyond December.