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Sunday, September 15, 2013
Dolphins' defense is learning how to finish

By James Walker

INDIANAPOLIS -- It would have been understandable if the Miami Dolphins' defense crumbled late in the fourth quarter against Andrew Luck. The Indianapolis Colts' franchise quarterback was in his house and already has eight career fourth-quarter comebacks in a little more than one year in the NFL.

Luck was on the move and driving deep in Miami territory in an effort to make the Dolphins his ninth fourth-quarter victim. But these were not your typical Dolphins on Sunday. This Miami defense made crucial plays when it needed it most to pull off a 24-20 victory.

Wheeler
The Dolphins' defense used a bend-but-don't-break approach to eventually get the best of Luck. The biggest play was a sack by Dolphins linebacker Philip Wheeler in the final 2 minutes to end the Colts' rally. Down four points, Luck drove Indianapolis to Miami’s 23-yard line with a chance for the go-ahead touchdown.

Miami sacked Luck three times, but none more important than Wheeler bringing the Colts quarterback down late in the fourth quarter.

"I missed a sack earlier in the game, because I never played against him before,” Wheeler said. “He’s big. He’s bigger than I thought, and I just wanted to get him to the ground on the last play.”

Miami’s defense is learning to finish when it matters most. Luck threw for 321 yards and had the upper hand on the Dolphins for most of the game. But Miami’s faster, revamped defense made the clutch plays in the fourth quarter to preserve its second consecutive road win.

The Dolphins spent a lot of money in free agency to add talented playmakers on defense, and it's paying dividends. Miami signed Wheeler and Dannell Ellerbe at linebacker. Both players combined for 26 tackles and a key sack against Indianapolis. The Dolphins also signed top cornerback Brent Grimes, who made a fourth-quarter interception in the end zone. Grimes out-fought Colts receiver Reggie Wayne on another big play for Miami’s defense.

“We stayed even-keeled,” Grimes said of Miami’s fourth-quarter defense. “We knew we had to step up and make some plays. We knew [Luck] would extend some plays, breaks some tackles and do what he does. ... We just kept our cool and played fundamentally sound football.”

Miami’s defense is showing a lot in the first two games of the season. In Week 1, the Dolphins rattled the offensively inept Cleveland Browns and recorded six sacks and three interceptions. In Week 2, Miami faced a much better offense and top-level quarterback in Luck. The confidence of this unit continues to grow with each game.