The games count, back here in Ohio, beginning in 34 days.
Based on how the Dolphins’ first-team offense looked in Sunday night’s premiere, they’ll need every one of them.
After an offseason of hype — both externally and from within — the Dolphins’ retooled offense was given a cold splash of reality Sunday, a 24-20 loss to the Dallas Cowboys in the annual Hall of Fame Game. And all it took was one play.
On Miami’s first offensive snap, Lamar Miller couldn’t perform his most basic function: receiving the handoff from his quarterback. Miller coughed up the football, the Cowboys recovered — and the tone was set.
Dallas would go on to score two touchdowns off Miami turnovers — including a 75-yard interception return by Dallas’ DeVonte Holloman off Matt Moore — while Miami’s starting offense managed just two first downs in three series.
“We’ve talked a lot about taking the ball away, talked a lot about ball security, spent a lot of practice time on it, and didn’t show up on the field [Sunday night],” Dolphins coach Joe Philbin said. “We’ve got to go back and get that corrected.”
“We got to play a lot better,” Philbin added.
If not an excuse for the poor showing, a possible explanation: The Dolphins were without their top two receivers. Both Brian Hartline (calf) and Mike Wallace (groin) were held out of the exhibition opener.
But it’s not like the Cowboys played their big guns, either. Quarterback Tony Romo never saw the field, and Kyle Orton was gone after just one series. Dallas’ top defensive stars were similarly protected by Cowboys coach Jason Garrett.
No matter who the Dolphins went against, they had little success. Quarterback Ryan Tannehill, given the keys to the offense in his second season, couldn’t unlock the Dallas defense in his limited chances.
He completed just 2 of 5 passes for 11 yards — for an uninspiring quarterback rating of 47.9. Tannehill wasn’t sharp, misfiring on two slant routes. And the Dolphins’ offense never made it past midfield when he was on the field.
“It’s frustrating to start out like that,” Tannehill acknowledged.
But it’s not like he had a lot of help — or time.
His second series ended because the pass protection was nonexistent on third-and-10. Left tackle Jonathan Martin, who lucked out by avoiding a showdown with stud pass-rusher DeMarcus Ware, nonetheless whiffed on a speed rush by Ware’s replacement.
Technically, Tannehill was never sacked, but he certainly wasn’t comfortable. Miller, however, bounced back nicely after his early miscue. He carried the ball twice on the ensuing drive, pounding out rushes of 10 and 11 yards before being pulled.
The rest of the first-team offense shuffled off the field three plays into the Dolphins’ third possession. Tannehill connected with Brandon Gibson for 7 yards — and the unit’s only passing first down — before Philbin made wholesale line changes. Skill position players and the offensive line alike sprinted off the field.
Moore probably wished Martin had stayed put. Martin’s replacement, Dallas Thomas, was promptly whipped by Ben Bass. Bass hit Moore so hard, the defender actually injured himself.
Thomas was later abused by George Selvie for a sack, again illustrating Miami’s dilemma at left tackle. Martin is shaky at times, but the Dolphins have no other good options.
Miami actually moved the ball moderately well as the first half wore on, with Moore completing 19 of 29 passes for 238 yards and a garbage-time touchdown. But Miami’s backup quarterback was also responsible for two plays that hurt the Dolphins on the scoreboard.
The interception wasn’t really his fault — receiver Chad Bumphis cut off his route when Moore expected him to keep running. Still, the ball hit Bumphis in the hands and could have been caught. (Bumphis was an otherwise bright spot in a bleak offensive night; he finished with five catches for 85 yards.)
But late in the second quarter, Moore made a critical mental error. On second-and-goal from the Dallas 5, Moore swallowed the football and took a 14-yard sack. Miami had to settle for a 27-yard field goal by Dan Carpenter, who handled all the kicking duties Sunday.
Pat Devlin, the Dolphins’ third-string quarterback, played most of the second half and finally was able to put together a touchdown drive. Devlin connected with Keenan Davis on a 5-yard scoring strike with 9:26 left in the fourth quarter.
Carpenter added another field goal, this time from 45 yards, later in the period.
Moore connected with Kyle Miller for a 5-yard TD pass on a tipped ball with 22 seconds to complete the scoring.