If the Dolphins haven’t hit rock bottom, they’re certainly scraping the floor.
Miami capped a fortnight of embarrassments by doing something no one else has done all year: lose to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
A series of late defensive meltdowns, a questionable two-point conversation attempt and a failed last-ditch drive doomed the Dolphins 22-19 Monday night.
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The Dolphins coughed up a late lead then surrendered back-to-back sacks on their final possession to lose for the fifth time in six games.
“It’s tough, but the more and more adversity hits you in the face, the more you have to step up and face it,” Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill said. “[But] we can’t keep dropping games.”
To a man, the Dolphins denied the ongoing bullying scandal was a distraction. They simply got beat, they said.
There is evidence that they are correct. Darrelle Revis, who blanketed Mike Wallace all night, picked off Tannehill on fourth-and-27 on Miami’s final possession, ending any thought of a comeback.
The Dolphins (4-5) rallied from a 15-point first-half deficit, but allowed a nine-play, 80-yard touchdown drive after finally taking the lead. Tampa Bay (1-8) wouldn’t trail again.
Tannehill was 27 of 42 for 229 yards, two touchdowns and the pick in a losing cause.
A more telling stat: the Dolphins managed just two yards on the ground the entire night.
“The biggest thing I was disappointed was our lack of a running game,” said Dolphins coach Joe Philbin, who is now 11-14 in his first 25 games at the helm. “I told the team: ‘There’s a lot of football left to be play. November and December will determine who moves forward.”
For the Dolphins, the game that was nearly as bizarre as the week that preceded it.
There was a safety. A missed two-point conversation. A punt that went out of bounds on the 1-yard line. A scoring drive (field goal) that gained minus-5 yards. A touchdown by Tampa Bay’s fourth-string running back.
And two touchdowns by a guy who had never scored previously as a pro.
In short, it was everything you’d expect from two teams that had won just once — combined — since Sept. 23.
The Buccaneers punched the Dolphins in the mouth from the start. Tampa embarked on a nine-play, 76-yard drive that resulted in a touchdown pass to an offensive lineman.
Mike Glennon found tackle-eligible Donald Penn on play-action, a 1-yard strike that gave Tampa a 7-0 lead.
The Bucs added to the lead on their next drive, courtesy of a 24-yard field goal by Rian Lindell.
Then, the left side of the Dolphins’ revamped offensive line cost the team two points.
The Dolphins were backed up deep in their own end when Nate Garner didn’t see blitzing linebacker Lavonte David, who had a free run at Daniel Thomas. Thomas had no chance, and was dropped in the end zone for a safety.
Lindell added another field goal — this time from 35 yards — and the lead was 15 points.
Finally, Tannehill got in a groove — and his comfort zone. He went 90 yards in a hurry-up drill, finding Rishard Matthews five times, including a 6-yard touchdown pass. The score cut the lead to 15-7.
The Dolphins’ special teams took over early in the second half. First Brandon Fields dropped a punt at Tampa’s 1-yard line. Then Marcus Thigpen returned a punt to the Buccaneers’ 29.
Finally, Caleb Sturgis made it count with a 40-yard field goal, whittling further into Tampa Bay’s lead.
And when Matthews struck again — this time on a screen pass that went 19 yards for a score — the Dolphins had their first lead of the game. The Dolphins went for two — and failed. Matthews finished with career highs in catches (11), yards (120) and touchdowns (two).
An interception by Jimmy Wilson on the ensuing drive gave the Dolphins the ball deep in Buccaneers territory, but they actually lost yards on the ensuing drive and had to settle for another Sturgis field goal.
Tampa Bay rallied on its next drive, going 80 yards to the end zone. Bobby Rainey, fourth on the depth chart, went in from a yard out to give the Buccaneers a lead they wouldn’t relinquish.