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Sunday, September 18, 2011
Miami takes life out of Sun Life Stadium

By James Walker

Andre Johnson
Dolphins fans made for the exits early after Andre Johnson's fourth quarter touchdown.
MIAMI -- You could hear a pin drop for long stretches in the second half.

To my left was a guy sleeping in a luxury box in the third quarter. His head was leaning on his left hand, occasionally bobbing back and forth.

Below me in the crowd another guy was asleep during the fourth. His feet up were on the guardrail while friends jokingly took pictures.

By the final quarter the upper deck could have used a tarp. It was Jacksonville-esque.

Welcome to the lifeless Sun Life Stadium -- home of the 2011 Miami Dolphins.

I won't pretend to know every reason many Dolphins fans don't show up to support this year's team. I'm new to the AFC East and new to Miami. But I'm sure the Dolphins' awful track record at home has a lot to do with it.

Miami had a plethora of miscues and sloppy play in Sunday's 23-13 home loss to the Houston Texans. It was the second straight loss for the Dolphins (0-2) at home. The team also fell to 1-11 in its past 12 games at Sun Life Stadium.

Yes, Miami is 1-11 in its past 12 home games.

How does this happen?

"It's just not acceptable,” Dolphins veteran cornerback Will Allen said. "There's no other way to really say it. It's not acceptable."

Dolphins starting running back Reggie Bush came from a winning franchise with the New Orleans Saints. He won a Super Bowl with New Orleans following the 2009 season. In Bush's previous three years with the Saints, they were 17-7 at home.

"I've always believed that you have to defend home at all cost -- no matter what," said Bush, who signed with Miami as a free agent. "It's your home. I look at it as if an intruder is coming into your home to rob you."

Many intruders have come into Sun Life Stadium to steal wins.

Here is Miami's roll call of home losses since Dec. 2009: Houston (twice), New England Patriots (twice), Pittsburgh Steelers (twice), New York Jets, Chicago Bears, Cleveland Browns, Buffalo Bills, Detroit Lions. It's a mix of good teams and bad teams. Twelve opponents came to Miami, and 11 have conquered.

Perhaps what's most disturbing about Miami's abysmal home record is there's not one particular thing you can put a finger on.

Miami lost at home in shootouts, such as its 38-24 defeat last week to New England. The Dolphins lost defensive battles, such as last year's home defeats to Buffalo (17-14) and Chicago (16-0). Miami also lost strange games, like last year's fumble-that-wasn't game against Pittsburgh.

Tony Sparano
Sun Life Stadium was emptying out long before Tony Sparano's Dolphins lost at home for the sixth straight time.
The only common theme is the "L" at the end of the game -- and it's showing in the stands. Many fans exited when Pro Bowl receiver Andre Johnson caught a 23-yard touchdown to give Houston a 10-point lead early in the fourth quarter.

There was still 10 minutes left for a potential Miami comeback. But Dolphins fans saw this story before. Miami is a vibrant town with a lot of options. Fans figured it was best to get a head start on traffic and move on to the next thing.

The Dolphins-Texans game could have been blacked out, but more than 10,000 tickets were reportedly purchased by the Dolphins so the game could be televised. The announced crowd of 51,032 people may have been generous. Sun Life Stadium holds about 75,000.

"Sure [you notice], but I mean we're not paying attention to that," said Dolphins quarterback Chad Henne, who threw for 170 yards, one touchdown and one interception. "We're worrying about winning the football game. People who are behind us are behind us. And if they're not, then we're still going to come out on Sundays and play the game."

The story this particular week was turnovers and mistakes for Miami.

Henne's interception led to Houston's only touchdown in the first half. A fumble by tailback Daniel Thomas (107 rushing yards) negated an otherwise good debut for the rookie. Former Pro Bowl kicker Dan Carpenter also had a field goal blocked and sailed one wide left.

That's all the edge a talented team like Houston (2-0) needs. The Texans didn't play their "A" game. But Miami's mistakes made for a double-digit road win for Houston.

Last week Miami head coach Tony Sparano said the team's theme was "On to Houston." Next week it's time to hit the road. It starts with the Browns (1-1).

The Dolphins have just one home game the rest of September and October. Although it's against conventional wisdom, maybe the Dolphins are better off that way. Miami was 6-2 on the road last season.

Every other team in the AFC East is off to a fast start. The Patriots, Bills and Jets are all undefeated. The division is deep and talented, and Miami is quickly falling behind.

"We made our bed," Miami linebacker Cameron Wake said. "and we're laying in it."