The Dolphins just barely overcame a special teams blunder last week in Philadelphia.
They could not escape the consequences of another one Sunday against the Cowboys.
A week after an embarrassing mistake by Damien Williams on a kickoff return contributed to an early double-digit deficit against the Eagles, Jarvis Landry’s mishandling of a kickoff return in the fourth quarter Sunday began a series of plays that led to the Dolphins falling behind by double digits again.
This time the Dolphins couldn’t come back and suffered a 24-14 defeat that further damaged their dwindling playoff hopes.
The Cowboys had just retaken the lead on the first play of the fourth quarter following Tony Romo’s 16-yard touchdown pass to Dez Bryant.
The ensuing kickoff bounced in the end zone in front of Landry and bounded back toward the field of play. In the scramble to fall on the ball, Landry fielded it and was ruled down at his own 4-yard line.
“It just bounced back, and I thought I had my foot out when I touched the ball and [the referee] ruled I touched and then went out,” Landry said. “It was just a bad bounce.”
Three plays later, the Dolphins were punting and likely ready to give the Cowboys good field position.
They did more than that.
Cowboys returner Lucky Whitehead fielded Matt Darr’s 49-yard punt and returned it to the Dolphins’ 36-yard line.
But the Dolphins made another mistake when Darr slammed Whitehead to the turf and was penalized for unnecessary roughness, moving the ball to the 21.
The Dolphins defense kept Dallas out of the end zone, but with the Cowboys already in field-goal range, Dan Bailey’s 30-yarder put Dallas ahead by 10 points.
After another drive stalled and Miami faced fourth-and-6 at its own 47, down two scores and with 6:43 left, the Dolphins elected to punt the ball back to the Cowboys. Miami didn’t get the ball back unitl 1:04 remained.
Landry, the Dolphins’ top receiver, has made positive plays on special teams this season, including a game-winning punt return for a touchdown in the season-opening win over the Redskins.
But Sunday’s developments were the latest in a trend of poor special teams play in recent weeks.
Williams bobbled a kickoff last week in the end zone, brought it out of the end zone, and then collided with a teammate before being tackled on the 1-yard line.
This led to a safety, which was followed by a touchdown and a 16-3 early deficit that the Dolphins narrowly recovered from to edge the Eagles by a point.
The week before, the Dolphins’ special teams were penalized five times in the 33-17 loss at Buffalo.
Two of the penalties cost the Dolphins valuable field position and one of them was followed by a safety for the Bills.
Dolphins coach Dan Campbell was clearly not pleased with Landry’s miscue Sunday, but he declined to elaborate.
“Yeah, I’ll be honest with you, I don’t really know how to really respond at this time,” Campbell said. “We need to be better, let’s put it that way.”