Football is a results-oriented game. So in the end, the gut-shot result was the same Sunday as the week before — a Dolphins loss, in overtime, on a walk-off field goal.
But in a way, the most recent heartbreak, a 24-21 loss to the Arizona Cardinals, seemed so much worse. Last week could be chalked up to flukiness, two missed field goals from a kicker who is usually clutch.
There was no explaining away this one, however. Not with three Dolphins turnovers in the final 7½ minutes of regulation and overtime. Not with a seven-point lead and the ball with three minutes to go.
The Cardinals gave the Dolphins every chance to win Sunday. Miami simply couldn’t accept the charity. In turn, the Dolphins left the field dejected again, defeated for the third time in four games, and for a second consecutive week in overtime.
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“We have to find a way to close, find a way to finish,” said cornerback Richard Marshall. “We keep finding a way to lose.”
They somehow lost Sunday despite getting career days from four different players. Brian Hartline set a franchise record with 253 receiving yards on 12 catches. Davone Bess grabbed seven passes for 123, the first time two Dolphins went over 100 yards in the same game since Oronde Gadsden and Chris Chambers did it in 2001.
Cameron Wake, meanwhile, was a menace, sacking Cardinals quarterback Kevin Kolb 4 1/2 times Sunday, a personal best.
And Ryan Tannehill completed 26 of 41 for 431 yards — a Dolphins rookie record, and the sixth-most yardage by any Miami quarterback in the team’s 46-year history.
But on a day that could have been his coming of age party, Tannehill showed his youth late. He turned the ball over three times, including twice with the game on the line.
“You don’t play for moral victories,” said Tannehill, who has committed seven turnovers in four games as a pro. “You play for wins.”
Tannehill’s fumble in the fourth quarter and his interception in overtime were too much for the Dolphins to overcome. Former Dolphins kicker Jay Feely made the inevitable official, booting a 46-yard game-winner in overtime. But in truth, Feely’s dependable right foot was not the reason the Dolphins lost.
Rather, the game got away from the visiting team over a cringe-inducing final half-hour, with breakdowns in most every conceivable area.
The Dolphins took a 21-14 lead with 7:05 left when Tannehill found Hartline, completely alone, in the Cardinals defensive backfield, a touchdown connection that went for 80 yards.
After a defensive stop, Miami had the lead and the ball, and simply had to run out the clock. Instead, the Dolphins ran into trouble. The Cardinals sold out on the blitz, rushing up the middle on most every play, and it ultimately paid off. Daryl Washington hit Tannehill as he cocked to throw, the ball came out, and Vonnie Holliday recovered it near midfield.
Given new life, Kolb made the Dolphins pay. He converted two fourth downs — including a fourth-and-10 from the Dolphins 15. On the do-or-die play, Kolb hit Andre Roberts for a touchdown, their second scoring connection of the afternoon.
The Dolphins were in a zone defense, allowing Roberts to find enough space on the left side. Kolb finished 29 of 48 for 324 yards, three touchdowns and two interceptions.
“I’ve just got to make a play,” said Smith, who spent much of the night matched up against Larry Fitzgerald, holding him to 64 yards on eight catches. “Regardless of what the situation was, the call was, I’ve got to make a play.”
The defense actually did make such a play in overtime’s opening drive, forcing a three-and-out. But again, the offense didn’t hold up its end. On third-and-6 from the Miami 38, linebacker Paris Lenon blitzed past guard Richie Incognito and blasted Tannehill as he threw.
The pass, intended for Hartline, fluttered. Kerry Rhodes was in position for an easy pick.
“For three-quarters of that ballgame, we had a good feel for [the blitz], then we let guys run free and take shots on Ryan,” Incognito said. “The turnovers were 100 percent our fault.”
While honorable, accepting blame won’t change this indisputable fact: The Dolphins blew a 13-point lead, and are all alone at the bottom of the AFC East because of it.
“It’s frustrating,” Hartline said. “Two back-to-backs that we played well in, felt confident about, and we’ve got nothing to show for it.”