I apologize for not getting up my initial reaction to the big win last night. I was actually at Paul Brown Stadium yesterday and didn't get back home until late.
Anyway, this Dolphins team continues to show the resiliency of a champion. Some teams fold when hit with the adversity that comes with suffering the type of deflating loss the Dolphins did a week ago. But not this group of men.
They once again went into a hostile environment, against a desperate team, with their season flirting with being on the line, and came out with another tough road victory. Teams that know how to win on the road, are poised for deep playoff runs in January. Of course, this Dolphins team better learn how to win in South Florida too, or they probably won't make the postseason.
But for the time being, they are very much still alive, and with that win yesterday, they avoided falling out of the AFC conversation. And after seeing teams like the Jets, Titans, and Steelers lose this week, these Dolphins are now positioned to make a strong playoff push in these next two games against serious wildcard contenders (Ravens and Titans).
We have all week to talk about the next two critical games, though, lets savor what was a very fullfilling win in Cincinnati.
The Dolphins were far from perfect yesterday. In fact, they beat themselves far too often. The gift that was the Chris Clemons dropped interception that resulted in a fluke Terrell Owens touchdown immediately comes to mind. But the muffed punt by Bess, dropped passes by Hartline and Fasano, and the offense settling for FIVE FIELD GOALS yet again, could have easily cost the Dolphins against a better team.
In what is becoming the theme of the season, though, when this team needed a stop, this defense made another key stand. Sean Smith's game-sealing pick with just over two minutes remaining, put the exclamation point on a dominate second-half defensive effort.
After looking like Swiss cheese on the opening drive of the game, the defense completely shut down the Bengals' offense outside of that one lucky T.O. touchdown. The run defense was guilty of over-pursing a little bit in that first-half, but made the necessary adjustments at half-time to make the Bengals one-dimensional in the second, and overall, held Cedric Benson to only 3.4 yards per carry.
The changing moment of the game just might have been Sean Smith replacing Jason Allen as the starting corner opposite Vontae Davis. Allen was victimized pretty heavily on that first drive, and it could have been a lot worse if Owens would have caught that deep ball that hit him in the hands.
Outside of the obvious game-winning interception, Sean Smith had sound coverage all afternoon and really didn't allow T.O. to do much. Let's remember Owens' second touchdown came against Chris Clemons.
On the other side, Vontae Davis almost completely removed Ochocinco from the Bengals' offense. Chad caught two balls on the first drive of the game, both of which were tightly contested by Davis, and only managed one catch the rest of the day.
Yes, it was only one game, but it was also two of the most talented receivers in football. I'm willing to bank on Vontae Davis being the real deal, but obviously Sean Smith still has a lot to prove. If yesterday was a sign of things to come from this corner tandem, though, this defense is capable of great things.
The run defense has really stepped up these past two weeks, and if they can just set the edge consistently while avoiding over-pursuit, they should be able to go toe-to-toe with just about any running game this league has to offer. That means consistent play from the secondary would be the only thing standing in the way of this defense emerging as a complete unit. Still a big IF, but at least we now know it's possible.
Offensively, the Dolphins still have a long way to go. You can't settle for field goals in this league and be a great offense. It's just completely unacceptable to falter in the redzone ten times in two weeks. Yes, Dan Henning's play-calling has been a issue, but I do commend Sparano for not going for some of those fourth downs out of frustration.
Still though, it's calls like the run on 3rd and 6 inside the redzone that may be holding this offense back. But you can't blame it all on Henning, though. He made some gutsy calls towards the end of that game. The reverse play to Hartline set up the clinching touchdown, but the dropped pass by him on the flea flicker left the door open for the Bengals. That just shows it has as much to do with execution as the play calls themselves.
But the important thing is it's not too late to turn things around on the offensive side of the ball. The Dolphins are still very much in the thick of this heated playoff race, and if they can build off what we saw from the defense in the second-half and begin to exucute in the redzone offensively, this football team is going to play in some big games in the future.
Fab Five Fins
Sean Smith: What a time for this kid's first career interception. I expect him to start over Jason Allen next week and for the rest of the season.
Vontae Davis: Anytime you completely shutdown a talented receiver like Chad Ochocinco, you deserve to be named one of the top five players of the game.
Dan Carpenter: Yes, the redzone woes are troubling, but what a season Dan Carpenter is putting together. I may be a bit biased, but in a "what have you done for me lately" league, Dan Carpenter should be considered the NFL's best kicker right now.
Ricky Williams: When a offense is struggling to punch the ball in for six this much, the Dolphins' only touchdown needs to get some recognition.
Brandon Marshall: The numbers were far from impressive by Marshall's standards (5 rec. 64 yards), but sitting in the endzone it was clear how much he was opening up by drawing double coverage nearly all game. Lean Hall, who is widely considered to be one of the league's best corners, shadowed Marshall all day and had the luxury of safety help over the top. That was enough attention to open things up for Bess and Hartline to put together pretty productive days.