Dolphins defensive end Cameron Wake stood in a locker-room shell-shocked to silence Sunday and tried to explain the inexplicable.
“That’s the thing about football” he said. “There’s no script.”
If there were, this one surely was penned by Marquis de Sade.
This one had an ending that was equal parts bizarre and cruel, and might have even qualified as almost laughable, if it didn’t hurt so much.
The Dolphins would lose to the nemesis New York Jets 23-20 in overtime Sunday, but how it got to that finality had to leave both teams’ fans shaking heads in disbelief.
First reliable Dolphins kicker Dan Carpenter missed what would have been a winning 48-yard field goal in OT, pushing it wide left.
“We lost because of me,” Carpenter would say later, admirably. “It’s my fault.”
It wasn’t that simple, though.
Miami and perhaps Carpenter were then denied a chance at redemption when an ill-timed timeout called by the Dolphins negated a blocked field goal by Randy Starks and gave the Jets a second chance they didn’t miss.
Such a timeout is a common tactic called “icing” the kicker.
Except this one put Miami’s victory chances in the deep freeze.
Dolphin Randy Starks had burst through Jets blockers to bat down the first 33-yard field goal try, setting a stadium thunderous in cheer … until officials started waving their arms to indicate Miami had called timeout a second before the snap.
Dolfans’ hearts sank.
The many Jets fans on hand began to crow.
Sure enough, the second kick was perfect.
This Dolphins-Jets rivalry might not be in its best days; Miami failed to sell out Sunday’s game and didn’t come close. But this crazy finish, after a game taut as violin strings, qualified the game among the most memorable in this series’ 94 meetings.
It is said that bad teams find ways to lose? If so the Dolphins got very creative with this one, and that creativity left a home team and its fans with little to do but sift through the disappointment and wonder what the heck had just happened.
Good teams win games like this, games led 10-0 at home. Playoff teams and those who fall short are separated by games like this, results like this, luck like this.
“Very frustrating,” said defender Karlos Dansby of The Infamous Icing Backfire.
“You never see that happen,” added rookie quarterback Ryan Tannehill. “It’s a weird thing. I never even heard of that happening.”
Tannehill was one of two Dolphins rookies who had a rough day Sunday.
The other was first-year NFL head coach Joe Philbin.
Ultimately, Tannehill had the better day.
He would complete only 16 of 36 passes for 196 yards, and had an interception returned for a touchdown. But ultimately he did his job when put in the most pressurized situation of his young career.
Keep in mind Miami’s opener was a lopsided loss in Houston and their second game a rout-win vs. Oakland. This was the first game in which the result teetered late and the verdict was on Tannehill’s shoulders late.
He came through, capably if not heroically.
Tannehill drove the team to its go-ahead touchdown in the third quarter, to the tying field goal late in regulation, and then led Miami to what should have been the winning field goal in OT if Carpenter had been his usual reliable self.
During a timeout during that last drive, the cameras zoomed in on Tannehill as he trotted to the sideline to speak with coaches. His face showed on the stadium Jumbotron. He had a giant grin. Biggest moment of his young career, and the kid is enjoying himself.
A moment later, he stuck a 41-yard pass onto Brian Hartline’s hands.
Just after that, Carpenter blew it, and the whole game turned ill-fated.
The Dolphins’ other top rookie, Philbin, did not fare as well as his quarterback down the stretch.
Miami’s play calling got very conservative in overtime, from the point of a first-and-10 at the Jets’ 35. It was as if the team was content to gamble on a long Carpenter field goal try rather than make a play to turn it into a chip-shot kick. It was as if Philbin and his staff curled into a fetal position and stopped trusting Tannehill (who had just completed that 41-yarder).
‘ICE THE KICKER’
Then there was the “icing” debacle.
“Typically we’re going to ice the kicker; make him think about it more,” Philbin said afterward.
Except you call the timeout soon enough that you don’t risk what happened Sunday.
There was apparent indecision on the Miami sideline. Philbin implied the timeout was the plan all along, but TV cameras showed an assistant running up to Philbin as the Jets lined up their kick, and only then was the timeout called.
Ultimately you can’t pin the loss on Philbin, but Sunday suggested he is like any other rookie: a guy who’ll get better with experience.
Sunday underlined a growing pattern we see developing with this team.
Miami’s defense is very good against the run but less so against the pass; Jets receiver Santonio Holmes victimized the Dolphins’ secondary late.
The offense is very good running — and was again Sunday, but less so after Reggie Bush went out mid-game with a sore knee — but still finding its way passing. The receivers haven’t stopped being below average, and Tannehill still needs time to develop and coalesce even as he continues to show encouraging progress.
Meantime, a Dolphins fan may take solace that there surely won’t be another game lost in quite this way.
Defender Jared Odrick called it “a game that could have been in our favor,” a polite way of saying “a game we had in our grasp and let slip.”
“It’s a funny game,” said Odrick.
Heartbreaking, too, sometimes.