Miami Dolphins: 2013 Week 12 CAR at MIA

MIAMI – The big connections between Miami Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill and receiver Mike Wallace have been few and far between this season. Through their first 10 games together, Wallace was averaging just 12.1 yards per catch.

But something clicked on Sunday that may have lit a spark with both players. Tannehill and Wallace connected on a pair of deep balls, for 53 and 57 yards, in a 20-16 loss to the Carolina Panthers.

[+] EnlargeMike Wallace
Chris Trotman/Getty ImagesMike Wallace caught passes of 57 and 53 yards, the latter for a Dolphins touchdown.
Wallace finished with five catches for a season-high 127 yards in a losing effort. His 53-yard catch, on which Wallace zipped by Carolina cornerback Captain Munnerlyn, was Miami’s longest touchdown passing play of the season.

Big-play capability was the reason the Dolphins signed Wallace to a five-year, $60 million contract in the offseason. Before Sunday’s game, Wallace hadn’t scored a touchdown since a Week 2 win over the Indianapolis Colts.

“It felt awesome,” Wallace said. “I hadn’t been able to score a touchdown in so long. I got the game started. Our team got kind of hyped, so that’s always good. We just got to have more of that.”

The bad news is the pair just missed on two more deep balls in the second half, both of which could have produced touchdowns against a very tough Carolina defense.

Tannehill had been criticized this season for underthrowing Wallace, but the quarterback let it rip in this game. In the third quarter he overthrew Wallace streaking down the middle of the field. And on a broken play in the fourth quarter, Tannehill spotted Wallace in one-on-one coverage, but Wallace said he struggled to locate the football and couldn’t make the catch.

“That's tough for me to say; I don't know what he told [the media] on that play,” Tannehill said when asked whether Wallace should have made that final catch. “That's a tough play. It's basically a hope and a prayer and get it out there.”

Tannehill and Wallace need to be on the same page and making big plays if the Dolphins (5-6) are to have any chance at the final wild card in the AFC. They are grouped in with several teams, including the Baltimore Ravens (5-6), Pittsburgh Steelers (5-6) and New York Jets (5-6). The Dolphins will travel to play the Jets and Steelers in back-to-back weeks, and these essentially will be elimination games.

Miami Dolphins lacking killer instinct

November, 24, 2013
MIAMI -- There is something missing with the Miami Dolphins this year that is hard to put a finger on.

The Dolphins have talented players. They compete hard on most weeks and can compete with just about anyone in the NFL.

But there is one key reason Miami is 5-6 this season, and it's something that is difficult to measure: The Dolphins simply lack the killer instinct necessary that it takes to build a consistent winner.

The Dolphins' inability to finish was on full display Sunday during their 20-16 loss to the Carolina Panthers. Miami blew a 16-6 halftime lead in a game that could have done wonders for its playoff chances. The Dolphins were outscored 14-0 in the second half and allowed 17 unanswered points .

[+] EnlargeMike Wallace
Joe Rimkus Jr./Miami Herald/MCT via Getty ImagesMike Wallace was one of the few bright spots for the Dolphins on Sunday.
"I think we kill ourselves," Dolphins receiver Mike Wallace (five catches, 127 yards) said after the game of Miami's second-to-last drive when the Dolphins could have gone up 10 points. "I think we could have put them away on the drive before that. We just didn't. We've got to have killer instinct. I don't think we really have it that well.

"We've got to do a better job of finishing teams off when we have them coming back out of the half. That's the biggest thing."

Getting outplayed in the second half and fourth quarters have been troubling trends for the Dolphins all season. Miami also blew a 17-0 halftime lead to the New England Patriots on Oct. 24.

There were many of the same ingredients in Sunday's collapse to Carolina, which won its seventh straight game. The Dolphins became predictable and one-dimensional on offense and couldn't get key stops on defense late in the game.

Miami's inconsistent running game produced just 52 yards on 17 carries. Quarterback Ryan Tannehill was the Dolphins' leading rusher with 36 yards. Carolina's front seven dominated Miami's patchwork offensive line, which is missing two starters due to the Jonathan Martin-Richie Incognito scandal.

With Miami becoming predictable on offense, it became easy for Carolina to shut out the Dolphins in the second half.

"Penetration," Dolphins head coach Joe Philbin said of Miami's inability to run. "We were running one or two times an outside zone play, [and] the defensive ends are 4 yards in the backfield and we tried to bend and weave. Again, if you don't get the ball at any point to the line of scrimmage it's tough. You have to do better."

With the offense stalling, it became more and more difficult for Miami's defense to hold the lead.

Miami's defense did a solid job bottling up Carolina quarterback and MVP candidate Cam Newton for much of the game. Newton threw for 174 yards, one touchdown and one interception. But his 80-yard touchdown drive in the final three minutes of the fourth quarter sealed the victory for Carolina. Newton capped the drive with a 1-yard touchdown pass to tight end Greg Olsen with 43 seconds remaining.

"I feel like they started making adjustments," Dolphins linebacker Philip Wheeler said. "They blocked up a few plays differently. They are a good team and they made some plays and we didn't make them towards the end when it counted."

The Dolphins have the talent to be a playoff team. But they often don't play that way, especially in crunch time.

Whether that's a player or coaching issue is debatable. Opposing coaches have made good halftime adjustments against Miami's coaching staff. Yet, at the same time, it's up to the Dolphins players on the field to produce. Too often that does not happen late in games.

That leaves the Dolphins with a mediocre 5-6 record with five games remaining. There is a strong chance they will end up regretting tough losses like Sunday's when their season is over.

Rapid Reaction: Miami Dolphins

November, 24, 2013

MIAMI -- A few thoughts on the Miami Dolphins' 20-16 loss to the Carolina Panthers on Sunday.

What it means: Every game is crucial down the stretch, and the Dolphins lost a big one in the final minute to fall to 5-6. Panthers quarterback Cam Newton threw a game-winning, 1-yard touchdown pass to tight end Greg Olsen with 43 seconds remaining. The Dolphins led 16-6 at intermission and couldn’t hold on against Carolina at home. They are now grouped with several teams in a battle for the final wild-card spot in the AFC.

Stock Watch: Dolphins receiver Mike Wallace’s stock is certainly up after this game. Wallace had two huge catches of 53 and 57 yards in the first half that gave the Dolphins some early momentum. Wallace beat Captain Munnerlyn with ease on both plays and finished with five receptions for 127 yards and a touchdown. But Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill did miss on a deep connection late in the game that could have made a difference.

As far as stock down, Miami’s running game again pulled a disappearing act. The Dolphins struggled moving the ball on the ground all game and had just 52 rushing yards. Tannehill was the team’s leading rusher with 36 yards. The inconsistency of Miami’s running game has been an issue all year.

Thomas injured: Miami lost a key contributor in the second half in running back Daniel Thomas. He injured his left ankle in the third quarter and didn’t return. Thomas led the team in rushing in last week’s win over the San Diego Chargers. If he misses time, that may provide an opportunity to rookie running back Mike Gillislee to get backup reps next week.

What’s next: The Dolphins have their first of two huge games upcoming against the AFC East rival New York Jets (5-6). Miami will travel to East Rutherford, N.J., next Sunday for a road game with major playoff implications. Both teams are fighting for the final wild-card spot in the AFC.
MIAMI -- The Miami Dolphins lead the Carolina Panthers, 16-6, at intermission.

Here are some notes:
  • Dolphins fans have been waiting for big plays from new receiver Mike Wallace, and he exploded Sunday for his biggest first half of the season. Wallace had two big receptions from quarterback Ryan Tannehill, for 57 and 53 yards, respectively. The latter catch was for a touchdown. Wallace is having his way with Panthers cornerback Captain Munnerlyn. Wallace ran by him twice with ease for big plays.
  • Miami's defense is doing a good job of rattling Panthers quarterback Cam Newton. The Dolphins got to Newton early with a couple of hits. Newton has been out of synch since. Newton is 10-of-19 for 100 yards and an interception.
  • Panthers receiver and former Dolphins draft bust Ted Ginn Jr. received jeers when he was introduced Sunday. But Ginn responded early in the first half with a good punt return of 53 yards. The return led to a 52-yard field goal by Graham Gano.
  • It’s been an up-and-down first half for Miami’s special teams. In addition to allowing Ginn’s 41-yard return, the Dolphins also blocked a field-goal attempt. Dolphins rookie defensive end Dion Jordan got his hand on the ball.
  • This is a big second half for the Dolphins (5-5). They're tied with the Jets (5-5) for the final wild-card spot in the AFC. The Dolphins also need this game to hold off other wild-card contenders such as the Baltimore Ravens (4-6) and Pittsburgh Steelers (4-6).