Demaryius Thomas was open. Emmanuel Sanders was open. Wes Welker was open a couple of times.
Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning had receivers running free for most of Sunday. And the Dolphins secondary was left chasing in a 39-36 loss at Sports Authority Field.
The defensive backfield, which came into the game as the No.2-ranked pass defense in the NFL, started the game shorthanded as cornerback Cortland Finnegan was ruled out with an injury.
Miami also lost his replacement, Jamar Taylor, with a shoulder injury in the third quarter after he was stiff-armed by Thomas. Although it is too early to tell, the shoulder injury does not seem to be season-ending.
Cornerback Lowell Rose, who was playing for the Spokane (Washington) Shock of the Arena Football League last season, came in for the injured Taylor. It didn’t seem to matter who the Dolphins put in the secondary though, as Manning was able to find open receivers for big gains.
“I wasn’t very nervous at all,” said Rose, who wasn’t really targeted by Manning. “I played football all my life. This is what I do. Being the new guy you have to be on high alert.”
Manning took advantage of the overall mismatch in the secondary by throwing for 257 yards and four touchdowns, with three of his scores going to Thomas in the Broncos’ win. Welker also caught a touchdown late in the fourth quarter to ice the game. Sanders led the Broncos with 125 yards receiving, and Thomas was not far behind with 87.
“Well, Thomas, he’s a big dude, very strong and got good hands,” Dolphins safety Jimmy Wilson said. “Sanders, I ain’t got nothing to say about that dude.”
Wilson and Sanders had a dustup on the Broncos’ first drive of the game. Wilson was called for an unnecessary-roughness penalty, and Sanders was not. Both players were involved in the skirmish.
Wilson had an up-and-down day against Denver. The safety was called for three penalties, two of which were personal fouls. The other was an illegal-use-of-hands call on Sanders that came on the Broncos’ game-winning drive that culminated with a 10-yard touchdown run by C.J. Anderson. Wilson finished the game with five tackles.
“We thought we were in control most of the game,” Wilson said. “A couple drives out there, couple fourth downs we wish we could have had back.
“It is hard to cover all those little screen plays and all those little sneaky checks they do.”
The lack of a pass rush didn’t help the Dolphins. Manning had plenty of time to throw and was only sacked once, by linebacker Jelani Jenkins in the second quarter. Miami came into Sunday’s game fourth in the NFL with 29 sacks. Dolphins coach Joe Philbin wanted his team to get more pressure on Manning.
“I agree. I think what happened to me was we didn’t get him a lot on third-and-longs that I can recall off the top of my head,” Philbin said. “… They protected pretty well, they had some guys open, and they would get them the ball.”
The Broncos offensive line was talked about and ripped in the media all last week, but Sunday it was able to slow the Dolphins to the tune of 450 total yards, with 201 of them coming on the ground. Anderson rushed for a career-high 167 yards in the complete offensive performance.
“Yeah, I think it was pretty much the emphasis this week, and I think we ran the ball much more efficiently,” Broncos coach John Fox said.
Missed tackles and big plays also plagued not just the Dolphins secondary but the whole defense. The Miami secondary gave up six passes of more than 15 yards, including a 35-yard completion to Sanders on third-and-20 in the second quarter.
“We did miss a lot of tackles,” safety Reshad Jones said. “In all three phrases of the game, we’ve got to do better.”
The Dolphins, who are on the outside of the AFC playoffs right now, move on to face off with the rival New York Jets on Monday, Dec.1.