INDIANAPOLIS -- With the game on the line, Dwight Freeney got the best of Jake Long.
It was a theme throughout the day.
Miami, trailing by three with 1:48 remaining, had a fourth-and-15 at its 45. Freeney, the Colts’ pass rushing specialist and seven-time Pro Bowl selection, was matched up with Long, Miami’s four-time Pro Bowl pick at left tackle.
Freeney got pressure on Miami quarterback Ryan Tannehill, who avoided the rush and completed a 14-yard pass to Daniel Thomas, just short of the marker.
Even if he had gained the first down, it wouldn’t have counted because Long held Freeney on the play. The Colts declined the penalty, and Indianapolis ran out the clock in a 23-20 victory.
It was just the second matchup between Long and Freeney, and Long was impressed.
“He’s a hell of a player,” Long said of Freeney. “He’s strong. He’s got a good move. It was a good battle. He had a couple good plays on me. He’s one of the best in the league for a reason.”
The final play was indicative of the way the second half went for the Dolphins. Miami led 17-13 at halftime, but the Dolphins were held to three points in the second half. Tannehill, who went 10 for 14 for 158 yards in the first half, completed 12 of 24 passes for 132 yards in the second half. Though Tannehill was sacked just twice in the game, he was under pressure for much of the second half, with a fair amount of it coming from Freeney getting the best of Long.
“We’ll have to take a look at the tapes,” Dolphins coach Joe Philbin said. “It could have been a technique thing. It might have been minor little things and some adjustments he’ll have to make, but we expect better protection.”
Freeney, in his 11th year in the league, enjoyed the matchup.
“Jake is a great tackle, and he is definitely one of the elite guys,” he said. “I really do take pride in those old-school matchups. I really don’t see too many of them anymore, the [Jonathan] Ogdens, the [Orlando] Paces.”
Miami gained 210 yards in the first half and had a nice mix of the run and pass with 149 yards in the air and 61 on the ground. Freeney said the Dolphins had a good game plan in the first 30 minutes.
“They did a great job keeping us off balance in the first half,” Freeney said. “They were passing when we thought they were going to run the ball and running the ball when we thought they were going to pass.”
The Colts felt they couldn’t win if they didn’t improve defensively. Even though Colts quarterback Andrew Luck passed for 273 yards in the first half, Freeney felt Indianapolis couldn’t put all the pressure on its rookie phenom.
“We came in at halftime and said, ‘Look, man, we’ve got to shut them down,’ ” Freeney said. “We can’t have another 17 points in the second half or we will not win this one.”
Even with their offensive struggles in the second half, the Dolphins had a chance to win. With Miami trailing 23-20, the defense forced a three-and-out and gave the offense the ball at its 17-yard line with 2:39 remaining.
Tannehill hit Brian Hartline for a first down, then connected with Jabar Gaffney for another first down to move the ball to midfield.
Tannehill then missed two passes in a row to set up a third-and-10. Mike Pouncey was called for a false start to make it a third-and-15. Another incomplete pass set up the fourth-and-15, and Thomas came up just short and Long was called for holding.
“We take pride in getting pressure on the quarterback,” Freeney said. “We had to close the game. That’s what it’s about. We were just doing our job.”
Miami felt it missed a great opportunity.
“We’ve got to capitalize,” Long said. “Defense does a good job near the end and got us the ball back, and we’ve just got to capitalize. We’ve got to finish better.”
Long said the Dolphins just need to watch the film and learn from the loss.
“We’re a good team,” he said. “We’ve been doing some good things. We just didn’t play well enough [Sunday]. We’ll get back to work and learn from this.”