Two weeks of turning late-game leads into overtime losses made Sunday in Cincinnati start to seem all too familiar for the Dolphins.
Except this time, instead of mistakes to learn from, the Dolphins found success they can reference the next time they’re trying to get a win at the wire.
“We’ll find out next week,” Dolphins coach Joe Philbin said. “I think it’s a good step. It’s a step in the right direction. We made plays at a critical when we had to, to close the game out, and that’s a positive.”
Though they didn’t add to their lead in Sunday’s 17-13 win, the Dolphins held the ball for 8:47 of the fourth quarter; picked up three first downs on a drive that started at their own 3-yard line to change field position; and ended the Bengals’ final drive after four plays on Reshad Jones’ interception.
Defensively, “I think we kept pressure on the quarterback at the end of the game,” defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle said.
That includes not only the third-down sack on third-and-5 from the Dolphins’ 35 that pushed the Bengals outside reasonable field-goal range, but Jones’ interception. Cincinnati quarterback Andy Dalton overthrew 5-7 wide receiver Andrew Hawkins.
“[Defensive tackle] Randy Starks is right in the throwing lane with his hand up,” Coyle said. “I think that had something to do with the trajectory of the ball coming off Dalton’s hand. We had some push into the pocket and didn’t give him a chance to have great vision down the field.”
Coyle also credited cornerback Nolan Carroll for staying aggressive and knocking away a sideline throw to Armon Binns on a comeback route.
Offensively, “We protected the ball better than we’ve done in the past,” wide receiver Davone Bess said. “I think we just executed overall.”
Although offensive coordinator Mike Sherman agreed that the lack of turnovers — such as the fumble that preceded Arizona’s game-tying touchdown on Sept. 30 — counts as good, he was dissatisfied with the Dolphins’ fourth quarter: no points and only 1:15 run off the clock when the Dolphins got the ball with three minutes left.
“Well, I don’t feel like we did close out the game because we turned the ball over to the defense,” Sherman said. “If we had finished the game with the football — I know, the defense got the [interception] and we ended up on the field — but I felt we didn’t close out the game [Sunday].
“I hate the fact that we had to turn the ball over there [after] third-and-8.”
That third down from the 50 stood out as falling among the “don’ts.” Tight end Charles Clay ran out of bounds after getting only 5 yards on the first play after the two-minute warning. Clay tried to outrun safety Reggie Nelson to the first-down marker, failed and stopped the clock by going out of bounds.
Philbin said, “That falls back on me probably not preparing the player well enough. Ideally, on the positive side, the kid is trying to get a first down to end the game. On the negative side, our defense bailed us out but we left 38 seconds on the clock that shouldn’t have been there. That’s part of coaching.”
Philbin dismissed the idea that he should assume Clay knew the situation and what to do.
Said Bess, “It’s a learning experience. I told him personally, ‘You won’t make that mistake again.’ Because sometimes you’ve got to learn the hard way in order to learn.