AFC East: Saints-Dolphins 102509

Most absurd AFC East result: Browns 6, Bills 3

November, 6, 2009
11/06/09
9:28
AM ET
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Graham

A few days ago, I asked readers to submit their votes for the most absurd AFC East outcome through the first half of 2009.

 
 AP Photo/Mike Groll
 The ugly Buffalo-Cleveland game in Week 5 was a tough loss for Bills fans to endure.
While the comments section beneath that blog quickly turned into a trash-talking session between New York Jets and Miami Dolphins fans, a few readers actually attempted to make cases for the game they felt was supremely ridiculous.

The most compelling cases were made for the Week 5 disaster between the Cleveland Browns and Buffalo Bills in Ralph Wilson Stadium.

That catastrophe deserved to end in a tie, but the Browns won 6-3 thanks to a muffed punt deep in Bills territory in the final minutes. Browns quarterback Derek Anderson completed 2 of 17 passes for 23 yards. His 11.8 percent completion percentage was the second-worst for a winning quarterback since the NFL-AFL merger.

Coming in second was the Indianapolis Colts' 27-23 victory over the Dolphins in Week 2. The Colts became the first team since time of possession became an official stat in 1970 to win while holding the ball for less than 15 minutes. The Colts ran only 35 plays.

Here are some of the better submissions on the subject:

Jesse in Omaha wrote into the AFC East mailbag that the Browns-Bills game "was the lowest point I've had as a fan in a long time. Even if I were a Jets fan during the loss to the lowly Bills, at least I could stand by the fact that the opposing team tried to win the game. I'm not convinced Cleveland wanted to beat Buffalo that day."

In the comments section, glui8 declared the Browns-Bills was, "hands down, the most absurd result. Not only was it the worst football game I've ever seen played, whether it be Pop Warner, high school, college or pro, but the losing team (and this is the reason I'm picking it as the most absurd) got beat by a quarterback that completed two, yes, two passes for a whopping total of 23 yards. THAT IS ABSURD and, in my opinion, is way worse than any of the other games nominated."

DolflyerpacerV316 added: "Gotta be the Browns-Bills game. Seriously, they lost to the Browns? Who does that? How they only scored three on the Browns is the first mystery, but losing to them? That just defines absurd!"

Also in the comments section, mrf042579 weighed in: "I'm going to have to vote for the Colts-Dolphins game. As a Bills fan, I am tempted to vote for any of their games, but in all honesty, how do you lose a game when your opponent runs 35 plays and has the ball less than 15 minutes?"

There was no doubt in stevejdolphin's mind: "It was easily the Dolphins-Colts game. I watched that game, and the way the Dolphins completely controlled the pace of the game while their offense was on the field was incredible. This also needs to be put in perspective with all the coaching changes the Colts had in the off-season. This was the second week of the season, and the Colts had struggled the week before against the Jaguars. They didn't have their second-best receiver in Anthony Gonzalez. For Peyton Manning to pull out a win with everything stacked against him is impossible. It happened and it was without a doubt the most absurd AFC East result."

SportsFan1236 made the case for another game, going with the Dolphins frittering a 21-point first-half lead against the Saints: "They went from dominant to dominated. Sorry, but that was the most pathetic loss of the year. To lose a game in a final minutes is bad, but to lose your momentum and such a huge lead right before half is horrible. Could have beat one of the best teams, if not the best team, in the league and choked it away."

To refresh your memories, here are the thumbnails from the other runners-up:

Week 1: Patriots 25, Bills 24. The Bills don't trail for almost 59 minutes, but Leodis McKelvin fumbles a kickoff inside the final two minutes, setting up Tom Brady with a short field. Brady throws his second touchdown in a span of 1:16 to escape with a dramatic victory.

Week 4: Saints 24, Jets 10. The Jets' offense gives up more points than it scores and more points than its defense allows. The Saints score touchdowns on two of Mark Sanchez's four turnovers.

Week 6: Bills 16, Jets 13 (OT). The Bills allow 318 rushing yards, second-most in Jets history. Thomas Jones runs for the most yards of his career, setting a Jets record. His 210 yards are the fifth most in a defeat since the merger. But the Jets throw six interceptions, five of them by Sanchez.

Week 7: Saints 46, Dolphins 34. The Dolphins hold a 21-point lead for the first 29 minutes of the game but collapse the rest of the way, giving up 24 points in the fourth quarter to become the first team in 22 years to blow a 21-point lead and lose by at least a dozen.

Week 8: Dolphins 30, Jets 25. A sublime Jets defense holds the Dolphins to 104 total yards (third fewest in franchise history) and 1.9 yards per pass attempt. The Dolphins score one offensive touchdown, but two Ted Ginn kickoff returns and a Jason Taylor fumble return -- all in the third quarter -- make the difference.

Take your pick: Most absurd AFC East result

November, 2, 2009
11/02/09
11:01
AM ET
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Graham

Nowhere else in sports have stats been more irrelevant than in the AFC East, where illogical verdicts have been rendered on a near-weekly basis.

The Miami Dolphins have had their share but came out ahead for a change Sunday by gaining 104 yards in a victory over the New York Jets, just the latest in a growing collection of incredible results relative to the box score.

There have been enough of these crazy outcomes to put them up for a vote. Take a look at the seven candidates below and then submit your vote and your reasoning in the comments section below. I will tally them up and compile the most compelling arguments for a blog entry later in the week that reveals your pick for the most absurd game through the first half of the 2009 season.
 
 Geoff Burke/US Presswire
 There have been several outcomes in the AFC East this season, including the Jets’ Week 6 loss to the Bills, that defied statistical probability.


Not sure if this explains anything, but I attended six of the seven games.

Week 1: Patriots 25, Bills 24. The Bills don't trail for almost 59 minutes, but Leodis McKelvin fumbles a kickoff inside the final two minutes, setting up Tom Brady with a short field. Brady throws his second touchdown in a span of 1:16 to escape with a dramatic victory.

Week 2: Colts 27, Dolphins 23. The Colts run only 35 offensive plays because the Dolphins hold the ball for an amazing 45:07. But the Colts average an obnoxious 10.7 yards per snap and 12.3 yards per pass attempt, becoming the first team to win with a recorded time of possession of less than 15 minutes.

Week 4: Saints 24, Jets 10. The Jets' offense gives up more points than it scores and more points than its defense allows. The Saints score touchdowns on two of Mark Sanchez's four turnovers.

Week 5: Browns 6, Bills 3. Browns quarterback Derek Anderson starts, plays the entire game and completes two passes for 23 yards. His 11.8 completion percentage is the second-worst since the NFL-AFL merger for a winning quarterback with at least 15 attempts.

Week 6: Bills 16, Jets 13 (OT). The Bills allow 318 rushing yards, second-most in Jets history. Thomas Jones runs for the most yards of his career, setting a Jets record. His 210 yards are the fifth most in a defeat since the merger. But the Jets throw six interceptions, five of them by Sanchez.

Week 7: Saints 46, Dolphins 34. The Dolphins hold a 21-point lead for the first 29 minutes of the game but collapse the rest of the way, giving up 24 points in the fourth quarter to become the first team in 22 years to blow a 21-point lead and lose by at least a dozen.

Week 8: Dolphins 30, Jets 25. A sublime Jets defense holds the Dolphins to 104 total yards (third fewest in franchise history) and 1.9 yards per pass attempt. The Dolphins score one offensive touchdown, but two Ted Ginn kickoff returns and a Jason Taylor fumble return -- all in the third quarter -- make the difference.

Ginn provides Dolphins many happy returns

November, 1, 2009
11/01/09
8:50
PM ET
AP Photo/Peter Morgan
Dolphins return man Ted Ginn gashed the Jets for 299 return yards Sunday.

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- In an orange-and-aqua streak, Ted Ginn bolted up the right sideline in front of his whooping, towel-waving teammates. Not once, but twice he ran from goal line to goal line, leaving New York Jets defenders and the critics singed by his afterburners.

Ginn became the first player in NFL history to run the length of the field for touchdowns twice, darting 100 and 101 yards on back-to-back kickoff returns in the third quarter to propel the Dolphins past the Jets, 30-25.

In their locker room all week, the Miami Dolphins embraced Ginn in a show of support. The besieged receiver lost his starting job for costly drops in last week's loss to the New Orleans Saints. He called it the worst game of his career and the days to follow one of the toughest weeks of his life.

On Sunday at the Meadowlands, the Dolphins were hugging him a little tighter out of gratitude.

Out of the offensive lineup, Ginn contributed the only way the coaching staff permitted.

"He was down the last couple weeks," Dolphins outside linebacker Joey Porter said. "Then it comes down to not being in the game like he wants to be.

"Two big plays like that will bring you out of the doghouse in a hurry."
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Ginn helped the Dolphins steal a game they probably had no business winning. Miami is now 3-4 overall, 3-0 against AFC East opponents.

"Sometimes, things just don't make sense," Jets coach Rex Ryan said. "Statistically, this game is not going to look close."

The Jets (4-4) outgained the Dolphins in yards from scrimmage 378-104, the third-fewest yards the Dolphins have gained in team history -- win or lose.

The Dolphins received the ball to start the second half. At one point Dan Carpenter had kicked three extra points, and the Dolphins had run three offensive plays. Sandwiched in between Ginn's kickoff returns, outside linebacker Jason Taylor returned a fumble 48 yards for his ninth career defensive touchdown and Davone Bess fumbled a punt.

"They were hungry on defense," Dolphins left guard Justin Smiley said. "They talked a lot of smack and did a nice job. They backed it up.

"Thank goodness our defense came to play and Ted Ginn did his thing."

Ginn has been the source of ridicule since the moment Miami drafted him ninth overall in 2007. He's symbolic of the failed Cam Cameron era, generally viewed as a wasted opportunity. He was projected as no better than a No. 2 receiver. Who takes a return specialist with the ninth pick?

Dolfans begged the front office to draft Notre Dame quarterback Brady Quinn, but even if management wanted to address another position, prospects still on the board included future Pro Bowlers Patrick Willis, Marshawn Lynch and Darrelle Revis.

But Dolfans got Ginn, and they've been mostly dissatisfied ever since. He was dazzling on returns at Ohio State. It's what he did best, but he couldn't even keep that job.

Ginn occasionally flashed his thrilling play-making ability. He scorched Revis for a long touchdown in Week 5. But Ginn also elicited boos for dropping catchable passes and scurrying out of bounds to avoid contact.

Dolphins coach Tony Sparano apparently had seen enough drops and benched him in favor of a fellow Buckeye, rookie Brian Hartline.

Had original return man Patrick Cobbs not suffered a season-ending knee injury against the Jets three weeks ago, Ginn might not have been on the field much at all against the Jets. He had one pass thrown his way all afternoon.

"This was probably one of the toughest weeks I've ever experienced playing football," Ginn said. "Last week was one of the toughest games I ever had, the worst game of my career."

Ginn bobbled a pass three plays into the second half against the Saints. Darren Sharper pounced on it and returned the interception for a game-changing touchdown.

A photo in this week's Sports Illustrated showed Ginn had hustled back into the play and stripped Sharper at the 1-yard line. The ball bounced out of the end zone and should have been a touchback, giving the Dolphins the ball on their own 20. But the touchdown stood, and Ginn would have to wait a week for vindication.

Ginn conceded that losing his job to Hartline was a wakeup call.

"Me not being in that starting lineup hurt me deep down inside," Ginn said. "I just wanted to be able to make plays however I can make plays. Nobody said you have to be a starter to make plays.

"Being a big-play guy, a player that started when he was so young, to not be a starter really hurt."

Ginn's first return was pure speed. He ran up the middle for a piece and then bolted up the right sideline. He was a blur. The only contact he felt came from three diving defenders slapping in vain at his ankles.

At the end of the third quarter, after Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez cut the Dolphins' lead to four points with a brilliant fake handoff and touchdown run, the Jets made the mistake of kicking to Ginn again.

"We have a lot of faith in our coverage," Ryan said. "We're one of the best coverage teams in the league. We thought we had a good plan."

Ginn made them look foolish. He fielded the kick a yard deep and ran up the right hashmarks, then dashed to the left and came to a dead stop at the 15-yard line.

"I'm like a mouse trapped in a corner," Ginn said. "You always wonder how that mouse gets out."

He sidestepped to the left to dodge Larry Izzo, then to the left to avoid Ryan Fowler.

"I really felt like I was trapped," Ginn said. "I tried to use what I have as far as my feet, play off my blocks. My motive was to get to the outside. Once I get that opening and turn on them burners, I'm gone."

In a whoosh, he was. Ginn found an opening and exploded, untouched the rest of the way.

Ginn is the eighth player to return two kicks in the same game, but the first to go 100 yards or more on both of them. His 299 kick return yards for the entire game -- no, the Jets didn't kick away from him -- rank second all-time, five yards behind Tyrone Hughes (Saints vs. Rams) in 1994.

Ginn's return average of 49.8 yards is the highest in NFL history for players who fielded at least five kickoffs.

"You have a couple bad games, they'll throw you away in this league," Porter said. "That's just how it goes. Everybody loves a guy when he makes plays, but as soon as you have a bad week or two, then they hate you.

"It'll be exciting to see everybody get back on the bandwagon and holler about how great he is."

Porter should know. He has been there before. Porter said he wants to see Ginn build from this, not merely assume that one sensational game will be good enough to silence the critics for good.

For now, though, the Dolphins can be happy he responded.

"Some people, they rise up. Some people, they don't," Sparano said. "Teddy rose up."

Sharper fumbled on game-altering TD versus Fins

October, 29, 2009
10/29/09
5:08
PM ET
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Graham

I haven't had time to shuffle out to the mailbox yet, but curled up inside should be this week's issue of Sports Illustrated.

If you haven't seen it either, Edgar Thompson of the Palm Beach Post provides a glimpse of a photo that will be of particular interest to Dolfans -- and probably make them a little ill.

In Sports Illustrated's "Leading Off" photo section is a shot of New Orleans Saints safety Darren Sharper's game-changing interception return on the third play of the second half Sunday.

A Chad Henne pass bounced of Ted Ginn's hands, ricocheted off Tracy Porter and was caught by Sharper, who ran it in for a touchdown that swung momentum and propelled the Saints to a 46-34 victory after trailing by 21 points in the first half.

The photo proves Sharper didn't score a touchdown.

The play was ruled a touchdown on the field and reviewed. The ball came loose near the goal line and went out of bounds in the end zone. If the play wasn't a touchdown, it would have been ruled a touchback, with the Dolphins re-gaining possession at their own 20-yard line.

There wasn't a decisive video replay that could overturn the call.

But the Sports Illustrated photo provides no-doubt evidence the ball was coming out at the 1, and line judge Ron Marinucci is gazing right at the play.

Sharper's touchdown very well could be the difference between 2-4 and the Dolphins riding a three-game win streak at 3-3.

Sparano said he has seen the photo but declined to comment.

Let's drop the subject: Who can't catch?

October, 28, 2009
10/28/09
3:51
PM ET
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Graham

Drops aren't an official NFL stat, but that doesn't make fans any less aggravated when they witness one.

In an attempt to measure how well AFC East receivers are handling the ball, Matt Lyon of ESPN Stats & Information crew crunched the two official numbers we have: targets and receptions.
AFC East wide receivers: 2009 catch percentage (minimum 20 targets)
Player Team Pct.
Greg Camarillo Dolphins 90.5
Davone Bess Dolphins 78.8
Wes Welker Patriots 75.4
Julian Edelman Patriots 67.7
Jerricho Cotchery Jets 66.7
Randy Moss Patriots 64.2
Lee Evans Bills 46.7
Ted Ginn Dolphins 46.2
Braylon Edwards Jets* 45.0
Terrell Owens Bills 42.9
* Does not include Browns stats

Is it any surprise that the three worst wide receivers when it comes to catch percentage (the number of catches divided by the number of times thrown to) are three players who have become synonymous with dropping the ball?

As the accompanying chart shows, Terrell Owens, Braylon Edwards and Ted Ginn have the lowest success rate of receivers who've been targeted at least 20 times.

Ginn has drawn the ire of Dolfans for his cement mitts in Sunday's loss to the New Orleans Saints.

One well-placed Chad Henne pass bounced off Ginn's hands and caromed to Saints safety Darren Sharper, who ran the interception back for a tide-turning touchdown.

Of the 84 wide receivers who've been targeted with at least 20 tosses, Ginn ranks 72nd in catch percentage. He has made 18 of 39 attempts to connect.

What makes his low percentage even more striking is that his quarterback for a good chunk of the season was Chad Pennington, one of the more accurate passers in the NFL. You wouldn't be able to tell by looking at other Dolphins receivers that there's a quarterback problem.

Greg Camarillo has caught a NFL-best 90.5 percent of the passes delivered (19 of 21). Davone Bess is fourth at 78.8 percent (26 of 33).

It should be mentioned here that New England Patriots receiver Wes Welker, who has had a couple of uncharacteristic drops this season, caught all 10 passes Tom Brady threw to him Sunday in London.

How I See It: AFC East Stock Watch

October, 27, 2009
10/27/09
11:00
AM ET
NFC Stock Watch: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Graham

Falling

Ginn
1. Ted Ginn, Dolphins receiver: All signs point to the ninth overall pick of the 2007 draft watching a lot more plays from the sideline while rookie Brian Hartline gets more snaps. Nobody on the roster possesses Ginn's speed, but half the roster has better hands. It would be hard to find another Dolphin who can't maintain better focus.

Ginn was sensational in getting behind Pro Bowl cornerback Darrelle Revis for a 53-yard touchdown to help beat the Jets in Week 6. But the bobbles and timidity have irked the Dolphins far too often. Saints safety Darren Sharper snagged one of his drops and returned it for a touchdown Sunday. Ginn flubbed another pass that would have been a first down with three minutes left in the game.

Owens
2. Terrell Owens, Bills receiver: Bills fans are about done with T.O. Through seven games, he has 18 catches for 242 yards and one touchdown. Those stats can be explained away by erratic quarterback play and general offensive chaos.

Not even the most ardent Owens apologist can excuse the continual drops and what appears to be a lack of effort on some plays. And if he's not dogging it, then Owens has lost a step and simply is showing his age.

Mankins
3. Logan Mankins, Patriots left guard: He went into Wembley Stadium with one penalty all season. Mankins committed four penalties in an easy victory over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers -- three false starts and one holding.

One of his false starts turned a third-and-1 into a third-and-5 the Patriots failed to convert. Mankins' holding penalty put the Patriots in a second-and-20 situation. Two plays later, the Buccaneers sacked Tom Brady.

Rising

Greene
1. Shonn Greene, Jets running back: In his first substantial NFL action because Leon Washington went down with a broken leg, Greene showed why the Jets traded up so they could open the second day of the draft with the hard-charger from Iowa.

Greene stepped in and propelled the Jets to their second straight 300-yard rushing game with Thomas Jones. Green recorded the third-best performance by a rookie running back in Jets history: 19 carries for a game-high 144 yards and two touchdowns. His 6.7-yard season average ranks third among all NFL backs with at least seven carries.

Byrd
2. Jairus Byrd, Bills safety: He's just a rookie, but the son of former Chargers defensive back Gill Byrd has been a revelation for a team that hasn't had many players step up on a regular basis.

Jairus Byrd has five interceptions, all in the past three games. The only player with more is Saints star Darren Sharper. Byrd, a second-round pick out of Oregon, intercepted Jake Delhomme twice Sunday to help the Bills win their second straight game.

Pace
3. Calvin Pace, Jets outside linebacker: Pace finally had his big welcome-back game. He served a suspension the first four games of the season. The Jets lost his first two games back. They won big on Sunday, and Pace was a factor.

All he did was record three sacks, two forced fumbles and pass defensed. He unofficially was credited with a team-high seven tackles.

Dolphins draw deep breath with rookie CBs

October, 26, 2009
10/26/09
4:48
PM ET
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Graham

With top cornerback Will Allen gone for the rest of the season with a knee injury, the Miami Dolphins will line up two rookies at a critical defensive position.

First-round draft choice Vontae Davis will replace Allen. Second-round pick Sean Smith has started at right cornerback all season.

When asked if Davis and Smith were ready to handle the job for the remaining 10 regular-season games, Dolphins coach Tony Sparano sounded apprehensive.

"I'll be honest with you: I don't know the answer to that question," Sparano said a day after blowing a 21-point lead and losing to the New Orleans Saints. "They need to mature really fast. I don't know. I don't really know if they're equipped for 10 games in a row of doing full-time duty without having Will Allen out there."

"But I would say this: They’re both in good shape, and they're both smart players, don’t have a lot of mental errors. They both like football. They like to compete."

The problem, however, isn't necessarily physical. Rookies are coping with the NFL grind for the first time.

"These guys are playing at pretty good levels," Sparano said. "You're asking me for the long haul, and I'm saying that sometimes some of these young guys are ready to check out around Thanksgiving.

"We need to do a great job with these two guys of really refocusing and understanding that we do have 10 of these left. It is going to be a long haul."

The only other cornerbacks on the active roster are nickel back Nate Jones and Jason Allen, who barely made the team this year despite being the 16th overall draft choice in 2006. Jason Allen has started 11 games in his four NFL seasons, with nine coming at safety the year the Dolphins went 1-15.

The Dolphins rank 19th in pass defense, giving up an average of 233.5 yards a game. But opponents have thrown for just seven touchdowns against them. Only six teams have allowed fewer.

Davis and Smith will have a few difficult tests down the homestretch. They'll have to defend Tom Brady and Randy Moss twice, Matt Schaub and Andre Johnson and Ben Roethlisberger and Hines Ward.

The schedule is soft in spots, too. The Dolphins still have a pair of winless teams -- the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Tennessee Titans -- and the Buffalo Bills, Carolina Panthers and Jacksonville Jaguars.

AFC East injury roundup: T.O. hurts his knee?

October, 26, 2009
10/26/09
9:43
AM ET
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Graham

A roundup of significant AFC East injuries from Sunday ...

Terrell Owens, Bills receiver: This injury didn't appear in any of the dispatches from Charlotte, but Owens tweeted after the Sunday's victory over the Carolina Panthers: "banged my knee up a lil bit!" This bears watching. Owens has been frustrated in the Bills' offense and also tweeted Sunday night "man i'm just trying 2 remain positive & push thru the trying times!" What would be the impact if Owens can't play? Hard to say. He has been more of a phantom or a decoy than a threat. Owens made three catches for 27 yards Sunday. He has just 18 catches for the season.

Rochester Democrat & Chronicle reporter Sal Maiorana writes about Owens being at the end of the line: "Forget Terrell Owens. He's done. He dropped the first ball thrown to him, and then seemed to give no effort on a deep ball that was slightly underthrown in the second quarter. It looked as if he could have slowed down and fought for the ball, but he didn't. He also dropped a pretty easy one on an out pattern in the third quarter."

Leon Washington, Jets running back and kick returner: Washington won't play again this year. One week after the Jets lost nose tackle Kris Jenkins for the season with a knee injury, Washington broke his leg in Sunday's 38-0 blowout over the Oakland Raiders.

Washington certainly will be missed. He's a Pro Bowl return man and a dangerous option in the offense. But his absence can be dealt with much easier than Jenkins'. Washington is second in rushing with 331 yards and no touchdowns and tied for second in receptions with 15 for 131 yards and no touchdowns. Rookie Shonn Greene received his first significant touches and rolled up a game-high 144 yards and two touchdowns on 19 carries.

Will Allen, Dolphins left cornerback: The Dolphins' top pass defender suffered a season-ending knee injury in the third quarter of Sunday's demoralizing loss to the New Orleans Saints.

The Dolphins likely will insert first-round draft pick Vontae Davis in his place, putting two rookie cornerbacks (Sean Smith is on the right side) on the field for a remaining schedule that includes Eli Manning and Tom Brady in the next two games but then gets considerably more cornerback-friendly with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Buffalo Bills and Panthers.

Dolphins ensure time not on their side again

October, 25, 2009
10/25/09
11:54
PM ET
 
 Doug Benc/Getty Images
 Dolphins coach Tony Sparano called the timeout that helped the Saints get back into the game.
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Graham

MIAMI -- Everything was going right for the Miami Dolphins. Almost everything. Enough of everything to be in total command over the New Orleans Saints.

The Dolphins were forcing turnovers, ripping off untouchable runs, wringing the league's best quarterback and most powerful offense Sunday in Land Shark Stadium.

The Dolphins were working over the mighty Saints, up by 21 points heading toward halftime.

"It was ours," Dolphins running back Ricky Williams said of the momentum, a surge he helped create with touchdown runs of 4 and 68 yards on back-to-back carries in the first quarter.

Then the Saints hit one play. Drew Brees threw deep down the seam to Marques Colston for a 20-yard gain. The play was ruled a touchdown on the field. The replay booth reviewed it, and found Colston was down at the 6-inch line with five ticks left. The Saints had no timeouts. The clock would start running as soon as the ball was set. Kicker John Carney and holder Mark Brunell were taking their marks.

But the Dolphins called a timeout. What a break for the Saints. Brees and the rest of the offense charged off the sideline like a scene out of "Braveheart." Brees crashed into the end zone -- not for a field goal, but a touchdown -- with two seconds left on the clock.

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A game-changing touchdown. The type of touchdown that boomerangs momentum. The type of touchdown that was worth so much more than four bonus points.

"It was a turning point," Dolphins safety Yeremiah Bell said. "They got seven points instead of three. That hurts, too. I don't really know what happened in that situation, but it happened.

"It ended up turning out pretty bad for us in the second half."

New Orleans dominated, crumpling up Miami's hopes like a candy wrapper.

Thirty-six points later, the Saints finished well ahead of the Dolphins, 46-34.

"It just seemed like they took off," Bell said.

Dolfans will look at each result that makes up their team's 2-4 record and justify they should be 4-2, with a pair of victories over otherwise undefeated opponents. The Saints (6-0) and the Indianapolis Colts are among the elite this year, and the Dolphins should have beaten them both.

Yet they did not. As Dolphins football operations boss Bill Parcells once famously said, "You are what your record says you are."

The Dolphins choked away those games on their home field. Both defeats were epic in how they unraveled.

No team this year has blown a 21-point cushion and lost. The last time a team led by at least 21 points but lost by at least a dozen was 22 years ago, when the Saints beat the San Diego Chargers 41-24 after trailing 24-3.

The Colts loss was historic. They failed to win despite holding the ball for 45:07, the greatest time of possession for a loser since the stat became official in 1977.

Maybe the Dolphins are the NFL's best 2-4 club. They certainly were the best 0-3 team when they stumbled out of the gate.

The Dolphins have shown flashes of playoff-caliber football. They'll compete all season long, but if they think they're good enough to give away points and make the playoffs, they need a reality check.

They self-destruct. They miss way too many tackles (look up footage of safety Gibril Wilson) and drop way too many passes (Ted Ginn at the top of the list). They get eaten alive by tight ends. Young quarterback Chad Henne won't always play like an All-Pro (two interceptions returned for touchdowns Sunday). The Wildcat isn't unstoppable (Ronnie Brown: 16 carries for 48 yards). They commit too many silly penalties. Their injury list is growing. Top cornerback Will Allen left the game with a knee injury and reportedly will miss the rest of the season.

And on Sunday their coach made a rare gaffe that might have cost them the game.

Tony Sparano called the timeout that helped the Saints get back into the game.

"We played pretty well in the first half except for the last drive and kind of gave away some momentum there, allowed them to get a touchdown," Dolphins outside linebacker Jason Taylor said. "They should have had only a chance for a field goal there."

The Saints won much more comfortably than by the four points the Dolphins allotted them two seconds before halftime. But Sparano's decision to call a timeout and allow the Saints' potent offense back on the field was significant.

"If you could've been in here at halftime," Brees said of the Saints locker room, "it was 'Hey, we have them right where we want them.' To get to the six-inch line and come out of with a field goal would have been disappointing."

Saints coach Sean Payton said he intended to kick the field goal. Carney and Brunell were on the field for what they hoped would be an extra point, but when the replay spotted the ball outside the goal line and referee John Parry announced the clock would run as soon as the whistle blew, nobody in a black jersey flinched.

But Sparano did. He was emphatic in ordering linebacker Channing Crowder to call a timeout because "we wanted to be in the right personnel, and we called a time out to bring in the right personnel," Sparano said, even though he should have waited to see if Brees would sprint off the sideline to stop the clock. Brees wouldn't have.

"We were getting lined up," Carney said.

Brees claimed they were going to run it all along, but that comes off as wishful lobbying on his part. Besides, with the ball on the goal line and players on the sidelines not permitted to stand beyond the 35-yard line, all of the Saints offensive players would have needed to be world-class sprinters to get on the field, in formation and set for a second to either run a play or stop the clock.

"If no one calls timeout," Payton said, "they're going to whistle it ready for play and it's got to be snap, hold, kick. ... We were prepared to kick it initially. Obviously, we had enough time after the timeout was called to give some thought to that and change our minds."

Given the final score, would 24-6 at halftime been any safer for the Dolphins than 24-10? Does the second half fall apart the way it did if the Saints don't find a spark? There was an evident flicker after Brees plunged into the end zone. He reacted as though he were auditioning for the WWE.

"That is how they get hot," Dolphins nose tackle Jason Ferguson said. "So that's what they did."

There's no guarantee Carney even makes the field goal. He missed an extra point later in the game.

But the touchdown happened. Both sides believed it swung momentum and transformed the game.

"We can't give a team that chance, and this is our second time getting a learning experience from that," Ferguson said. "I am sure it's in our heads, but we have to fix it."

Rapid Reaction: Saints 46, Dolphins 34

October, 25, 2009
10/25/09
7:54
PM ET
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Graham

MIAMI -- Please forgive me. I'm a little dizzy as I write this. And I'm short of breath.

This was an exhausting, thrilling game to watch.

But I'm sure the Miami Dolphins didn't find the result too entertaining.

The Dolphins blew a big lead at home and were thoroughly overtaken in the second half by the New Orleans Saints, who remained undefeated with a rousing 46-34 victory in Land Shark Stadium.

The Saints posted 36 points in the second half. The Dolphins answered with 10 points in the third quarter, but came up empty in the fourth.

The AFC East's defending champs are 2-4. The feeling in their locker room must be similar to Week 2, when they held the ball for more than 45 minutes but lost by four points to the Indianapolis Colts on "Monday Night Football."

The Dolphins were borderline dominant in the first half, especially when you consider the opponent. They rolled to a 24-3 lead before the Saints scored a touchdown with two seconds left before recess. Ricky Williams scored two touchdowns, including a career-long 68-yard run.

Miami's defense knocked Drew Brees around, sacked him three times and intercepted him twice. He had a 29.4 passer rating in the first half.

But a different Saints offense emerged from the tunnel for the second half, and the Dolphins couldn't trade punches with a real contender.

Brees finished 22 of 38 for 298 yards and one touchdown with three interceptions. He did sneak in for two touchdown runs, including a momentum-changing play with two seconds left in the first half. The Saints were going to rush a field goal with the clock about to run out after a replay challenge. But the Dolphins called a timeout, allowing the Saints to put their offense back on the field.

Miami quarterback Chad Henne, after a great game two weeks ago against the New York Jets and a bye to prepare for the Saints, completed 18 of 37 attempts for 211 yards and no touchdowns. He threw two interceptions, both of which were returned for touchdowns.

Henne's receivers didn't help him with multiple bobbled balls.

Williams added another touchdown in the second half, giving him three scores for the first time since he played for New Orleans in 2000. He finished with nine carries for 80 yards, keeping him on pace for a 1,000-yard season.

Halftime observations from Saints-Dolphins

October, 25, 2009
10/25/09
6:05
PM ET
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Graham

MIAMI -- The game is merely at the halfway point, but the Miami Dolphins look like world beaters -- or at least for the first 29:58 of the game.

The Dolphins lead the undefeated New Orleans Saints 24-10 at halftime, but it shouldn't be that close.

The Dolphins' defense not only has handled the high-powered and undefeated Saints, but the Dolphins have dominated so far in Land Shark Stadium.

Saints quarterback Drew Brees is having an awful day. He has thrown two interceptions, fumbled once (one of his linemen recovered) and came dangerously close to getting tackled for a safety. The Dolphins have sacked him three times.

Miami's defense has been on New Orleans tighter than a second coat of paint.

For the first 29:58 of the first half, the Saints' only points were set up by an 87-yard Courtney Roby kickoff return.

But a questionable decision by Dolphins coach Tony Sparano gave the Saints a touchdown instead of the field goal coach Sean Payton was willing to settle for.

A video replay took away a Marques Colston touchdown with five seconds left in the first half. The ball was spotted on the half-yard line, and with the Saints out of timeouts, the clock was going to run when the official set the ball.

The Saints had their field-goal unit on for what would have been an extra point. But Sparano called a timeout. That allowed Payton to send his offense back out, and Brees plunged in for a touchdown. The drive began on a Davone Bess fumble in Saints territory.

The Wildcat offense hasn't been as prolific as in previous games, but Dolphins running back Ricky Williams has had a big day. He has two touchdowns, the second on a career-long 68-yard run.

Brees' mistakes give Dolphins big lead

October, 25, 2009
10/25/09
5:22
PM ET
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Graham

MIAMI -- Drew Brees looks very un-MVP-like.

The Miami Dolphins are giving Brees fits here at Land Shark Stadium. The New Orleans Saints quarterback has thrown two interceptions, one that sailed long to Dolphins safety Tyrone Culver and nearly returned for a touchdown, and another that was tipped at the line by blitzing safety Gibril Wilson and caught by linebacker Reggie Torbor.

The Dolphins turned both interceptions into touchdowns and lead 24-3 with 8:55 to go in the first half. Brees has 22 yards passing.

Ricky Williams, who scored on back-to-back carries, punched it in one play after Culver's interception to put the Saints behind on the scoreboard for the first time this year. Williams also scored on a career-long 68-yard dash one Dolphins snap later.

Good afternoon from Land Shark Stadium

October, 25, 2009
10/25/09
3:15
PM ET
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Graham

MIAMI -- The sun is shining at Land Shark Stadium, but conditions will be muggy for the New Orleans Saints and Miami Dolphins.

The temperature as of this posting is 81 degrees, and the humidity is 73 percent. Industrial-sized fans already are blowing on the sidelines.

No big surprises on the Dolphins' inactive list, but rookie safety Chris Clemons, a fifth-round draft pick out of Clemson, will make his NFL debut.

Here are the scratches from each team's lineup:

New Orleans Saints
Miami Dolphins

Video: Saints at Dolphins predictions

October, 24, 2009
10/24/09
11:00
AM ET
ESPN analysts Mark Schlereth and Tedy Bruschi are split on their picks for Sunday's game between the New Orleans Saints and Miami Dolphins in Landshark Stadium. One of them doesn't think Chad Henne can pull it off.

Final Word: AFC East

October, 23, 2009
10/23/09
4:00
PM ET
NFC Final Word: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Graham

Five nuggets of knowledge about Week 7:
Mike Stobe/Getty Images
Mark Sanchez is coming off of a five-interception game against the Bills.
Mark Sanchez better outperform JaMarcus Russell. In 20 years, Sanchez can only hope he looks back on last Sunday's five-interception nightmare as the worst day of his NFL career. But in reality, the New York Jets rookie will have many more opportunities to turn in a worse performance.

This week, Sanchez will be on the same field as Russell, the embodiment of awful quarterbacking. Russell, the No. 1 overall draft pick in 2007, already has been slapped with the "bust" label. If Russell outplays Sanchez, Jets fans will be calling for Kellen Clemens.

The key to victory for the Buffalo Bills is getting Jake Delhomme to throw. But can they? Delhomme and Sanchez are tied for the NFL lead in quarterback turnovers with 10 interceptions and two fumbles apiece. The Bills' defense proved it could catch when it snagged five interceptions -- and another on special teams -- against the Jets.

The problem, though, is that Delhomme might not throw often enough. The Carolina Panthers can run, and the Bills own a run defense that's projecting among one of the worst in league history. The Bills are allowing an average of 181 rushing yards a game. DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart have the Panthers ranked eighth in rushing offense.

The New England Patriots have recorded consecutive shutouts only once in franchise history. Not to jinx the Patriots' defense, but they would match a club record Sunday by blanking the lowly Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Wembley Stadium. The only other time the Patriots have recorded back-to-back shutouts was in December 1982 against the Miami Dolphins and Seattle Seahawks.

The Patriots are facing their second straight winless opponent. They shelled the Tennessee Titans 59-0 last week in Gillette Stadium. Next up is a team that averages 14.8 points per game, 27th in the league. The New York Giants shut out the Buccaneers at home in Week 3.

The Dolphins need to hit the turf running out of their bye week. There won't be any time to wade back into the season. They get to play the undefeated New Orleans Saints.

The Dolphins had built up some nice momentum. After an alarming 0-3 start, the Dolphins climbed back to divisional relevance with confidence-restoring victories over the Bills and Jets.

Just as the Dolphins were getting rewarded for their efforts, the NFL forced them to take a Sunday off. The extra week of first-team reps no doubt will help quarterback Chad Henne get comfortable in the starter's role. But the Dolphins must avoid a slow start against the Saints and pick up where they left off.

Kris Jenkins' absence will force systemic changes to the Jets' defense. The behemoth nose tackle was so big he has his own gravitational pull. With Jenkins out of the lineup, the Jets' constellation will shift around, probably gravitating more to a 4-3 than the 3-4 scheme he anchored.

Jenkins is irreplaceable, and with nose tackle the keystone of a 3-4 defense, the wise move will be to change the front. Outside linebacker Bryan Thomas is a former defensive end.

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