It wasn’t a mistake for Joe Philbin to call a timeout to ice the kicker. It might look that way today because the coach called time and that erased what might have been a game-saving block by one of his own players. It might look that way because Jets kicker Nick Folk accepted the reprieve and eventually booted the new attempt to deliver a New York victory.
But the head coach signaling timeout to ice the kicker wasn’t the problem on Sunday.
“I thought it was the right call,” Philbin said after the Dolphins lost 23-20 in overtime. “I was planning all along to call timeout before he kicked the ball. So I really have no reaction on that. I knew that was the plan. I knew that’s what we were going to do and we did it.”
Philbin apparently makes these game-deciding calls before game day ever dawns. He decided sometime Saturday in a meeting with coaches that he would call that timeout.
“We have a game management meeting and there may be a history of a particular kicker that may have us change our mind,” Philbin explained. “I would say that our position right now is typically we’re going to ice the kicker. But nothing’s in stone.”
Let this be in stone: The Dolphins coach didn’t lose Sunday’s game by calling that timeout. They had missed kicks of their own. They had fumbles and interceptions and too many penalties to win.
But let this also be in stone: Some play calls Philbin approved from offensive coordinator Mike Sherman hurt the Dolphins.
The failure to see Lamar Miller as a better running back than Daniel Thomas puzzled.
And the incongruent philosophies that Sherman and Philbin authored in the third and fourth quarters hurt in titling the outcome of this game.
And that’s more troubling and potentially more enduring than a timeout in overtime.
The Dolphins, you see, are an inconsistent unit on offense. Yes, they run the football well. No, the passing game isn’t scaring anyone, not with a rookie quarterback at the helm and a substandard receiver corps trying to help him.
So it makes sense for the Dolphins to manage games as well as possible, running as much as possible, until Tannehill grows into his potential and the downfield threats arrive via the draft or free agency.
It makes sense for the Dolphins to run the football. It makes sense for them to play hard-nosed football and shrink the game. That’s what they were doing for most of Sunday’s game and, what do you know, it was working.
Miami was up 17-10 to start the fourth quarter. Through three quarters the Dolphins had run the football 33 times and passed 15 times.
Yes, that’s a heavy dose of 1970s football, but it worked last week against Oakland and it was working Sunday. It could even be argued the Dolphins should have been running more before the fourth quarter because Tannehill threw an interception from his own 6-yard line in a situation that begged for, of course, a safe running play.
Why the Dolphins called a pass from their own 6-yard line is a question that lingers, because they were leading 10-3 at the time and nothing New York was doing on offense suggested they might score a touchdown soon.
Regardless, the Dolphins were leading 17-10 to start the fourth until the end of regulation, Sherman called and Philbin approved 18 passes out of the next 24 plays through the end of regulation.
Understand that Miami never trailed at any point during that stretch until 2:52 was left to play. Understand that even once the Jets took the lead, the Dolphins were only three points down.
Passing was not working for Miami. There were two series where Miami went three-and-out and those came when Miami tried to pass with little or no success five consecutive times.
So the anatomy of a Dolphins downfall looked something like this: 18 passes. Six runs. In a game the Dolphins were holding a lead.
“We tried running it a couple of times,” Philbin said. “Then we had a couple of possessions where we tried to throw the ball. We weren’t too effective there. We were not effective.
“We tried a couple of things to see if we could get the passing game going even though we were backed up with some safe throws that really didn’t get anything going.”
Here’s an idea: When the team is leading and the passing game is failing and the running game is gaining 4.3 yards per play en route to a 185-yard day, run the football.
The Dolphins failure to do that was much more glaring than one fateful timeout to ice the kicker.