Davis: Gase, Tannehill, battered O-line, penalties fail Dolphins in collapse
The Dolphins’ debacle last week at New England told more about the Patriots. They haven’t slipped, still great.
Sunday’s 27-17 epic collapse at Cincinnati was tougher to stomach because it told everything about the Dolphins, all of it damning.
They lacked fortitude, smarts, discipline, and ultimately they were outmanned. With a third starter injured on the offensive line (tackle Laremy Tunsil, concussion) there was no impetus for the offense to push back after the Bengals seized momentum on the way to 27 unanswered points.
Toss in a bizarre bounce off a helmet that led to a pick-six and another touchdown off a strip-sack of Ryan Tannehill, and it was a total unraveling that, as someone lamented on Twitter, was so Dolphins.
It never changes, and a look ahead at the schedule gives no reason to believe this season will turn out any better than so many others have.
In an inexplicable fourth quarter, the Dolphins gave up 24 points and a hurried and harried Tannehill committed three turnovers.
Momentum changed fast
These are the type of losses that lead to coaches getting fired.
Sunday’s started with Adam Gase deciding to eschew the run on third-and-1 with a 17-3 lead and just under 19 minutes remaining. Tannehill threw downfield to Kenny Stills who was closely covered and had no chance to catch it.
The game swung with whiplash suddenness after that with the Bengals aided on the way to their first touchdown by two killer penalties. Newly signed Martrell Spaight got flagged for taunting on punt coverage.
A tough-luck helmet-to-helmet penalty on T.J. McDonald negated what should have been a third-down incompletion.
It was a call that could have gone either way. The Dolphins have a knack for being on the wrong side of those.
Last week, Gase chided his team for lack of physicality. In essence, they didn’t man up against the Patriots, who pushed them around.
Give both injury-plagued lines credit for the way they responded, winning the point of attack on both sides during the first half on the way to a 14-0 lead that had Bengals fans booing their team.
Running game showed promise
Offensively, Miami got the neglected running game motoring for 61 yards on a 6.1-yard average at the intermission. Ageless Frank Gore was the fulcrum, averaging 5.9 yards on seven attempts in the opening 30 minutes.
On that fateful third-quarter possession, back-to-back runs by Gore put them in the third-and-1 situation.
The oft-cited remedy for the Dolphins’ woes on third down has been to pound the ball on the ground, get appreciable gains on the early downs to avoid third-and-long.
Did Gase think his offense lacked the physicality to keep pushing the Bengals back, as they were at that point, to keep the chains moving and valuable time ticking off the clock?
For whatever reason, he thought it made sense to throw a low-percentage pass 20 yards downfield.
Electrifying kick returns by Jakeem Grant and the occasional razzle-dazzle that catches the opposition by surprise will only get you so far.
Yet, Gase always wants to default to getting fancy.
What wins in the NFL are quarterbacks, given adequate protection, who make good decisions throwing with consistent accuracy to receivers able to find openings in the defense.
Does that sound like anything we’ve seen from Tannehill and company the past two weeks?
Granted, the beleaguered line left Tannehill vulnerable. Instead of rolling him out, Gase kept him in the collapsing pocket.
Tannehill got flustered, as he often does, and committed the sort of killing turnovers that have made him a suspect quarterback throughout his career – he finished with a 57.5 passer rating.
Four fourth-quarter Miami possessions while the game was in the balance ended with the pick-six, punt, the strip-sack for another Bengals touchdown and a second interception.
Receivers can't get open
Tannehill did connect on some deep balls during the three wins, but he’s been off on those throws in the two losses.
The receiving corps hasn’t helped him much. For all their touted speed, these receivers can’t seem to get any separation against press coverage.
And let’s not even dwell on DeVante Parker, who was a no-show again with his nagging quad injury. It’s always something with the 2015 first-round flop.
You want to look for some positives to cling to. Grant’s flying feet are the Dolphins’ best weapon.
The defense did a commendable job against the NFL’s No. 4 scoring offense. They added their 10th interception of the season by Kiko Alonso off a Reshad Jones deflection. Jones was impactful in returning from two games missed to a shoulder injury, and rookie Minkah Fitzpatrick had another solid game.
Still, the Dolphins got run out of Ohio in a game they should have walked out of with a win.
On Friday, Gase sounded miffed when he said, “Let’s not everybody get all riled up about the first four games of the season. We’ve got a long way to go.”
Next up are potential Defensive Player of the Year Khalil Mack and the 3-1 Bears, another team with a talented offense coming off a bye week following a rout of the Buccaneers.
It’s Week 6. It’s already starting to feel like a long season.
Craig Davis has covered South Florida sports and teams, including the Dolphins, for four decades. Follow him on Twitter @CraigDavisRuns