Barring a turnover, it’s darn near impossible to have first-and-10 at an opponents’ 22 and not even get a field-goal attempt out of it.
But that was the Dolphins’ reality last Sunday in Los Angeles during their 11 consecutive possessions of futility to open the game.
Jay Ajayi had just ripped off a 36-yarder to give Miami its deepest penetration of the game and its first real scoring opportunity.
But here’s how the next five snaps went:
Dolphins holding penalty. Run for 2 yards. Pass for minus-2 yards. Pass for minus-3. Delay of game. Punt.
The Dolphins would have been better off kneeling three times and sending out Andrew Franks for a manageable field goal.
Instead, they came away empty when points were at a premium.
If not for Ryan Tannehill’s late heroics, it probably would have cost the Dolphins the game.
And if the penalties continue — they’ve committed 80 through 10 games, tying them for sixth-most in the NFL on a per-game basis — it inevitably will at some point.
“If we get post-snap penalties, sure, I think it will,” Dolphins offensive coordinator Clyde Christensen said. “The margins get too fine. The margins just keep tightening up, tightening up, tightening up and then stupid stuff, right? Stupid football, stupid penalties will kill you. We all know that.”
The Dolphins had four more costly 15-yard flags Sunday in L.A.: Kiko Alonso was called for two facemask penalties, Michael Thomas earned a special-teams unsportsmanlike-conduct penalty, and, most galling to the coaching staff, Leon Orr took a cheap shot on a Rams player after a missed fourth-quarter field goal.
“The post-play penalties, we can’t have,” defensive coordinator Vance Joseph said. “The Orr penalty, the Michael Thomas penalty — we can’t have those. That was a tight game and every yard counts, so we can’t do that. That’s more of the players and coaches stopping it. We’ve got to stop it.”
Granted, a penalized team isn’t necessarily a bad team — and Joseph blanched at the idea that the Dolphins lack discipline. In fact, the 10-most flagged teams in the NFL were a combined four games over .500 entering Thursday’s tripleheader.
Plus, the Dolphins, both publicly and, more stridently, privately, have taken issue with many of the calls that have gone against them this season. They recently sent the league some two dozen tape cut-ups of what they viewed as mistakes by officials.
Joseph told reporters last week that he only agreed with two or three of the seven penalties assessed to Dolphins defensive backs in the Week 10 Chargers game.
In many of the illegal contact, holding and pass interference calls that have gone against them, they believe their players have done things the right (and legal) way, so they’re at a loss as to what they should change to avoid those calls going forward.
“I would say most of the DB penalties, I’m almost fine with that,” Joseph added.
So are the Dolphins getting unfairly targeted? Cornerback Byron Maxwell wouldn’t go that far but believes that preconceived impressions about Miami’s secondary might be working against them.
“It’s a level of respect we, the Dolphins secondary, has got to get,” Maxwell said. “[When] they realize how we play, and then it’s like, ‘All right, cool. This is how they play. Obviously, this is a great secondary.’ We’re working to that. We’re working to that. It comes with wins, to be honest with you. Keep playing. You can’t let them set the tone.”
Dolphins coach Adam Gase agreed with Joseph; he said Wednesday that many of the calls that have gone against his team have been aggressive, football plays.
And he said the Dolphins “absolutely” have to clean up the personal fouls but rightly pointed out that it’s not the player who throws the first shot that gets caught but the one who retaliates.
Plus, there’s a sense inside the Dolphins’ organization that playing with an edge is a good thing, and if you get punched in the mouth, metaphorically speaking, it’s OK sometimes to not back down.
Adding to the Dolphins’ frustration about the officiating: They don’t believe the calls are going both ways.
Yes, refs could call holding against whoever is blocking Cam Wake and Ndamukong Suh on every play. But they should call it once in while, particularly when it’s glaringly obvious, the organization believes.
“To be honest, we’re not really worried about the penalties, because at the end of the day some of the stuff is hit or miss,” Ajayi said. “We’re still going to play our way of football — still playing physical, still playing hard-nosed. Doing it between the whistles, of course. But I don’t think our mentality is going to change one bit.”
Miami Herald sportswriter Armando Salguero contributed to this report.