They call the third exhibition game a dress rehearsal. Talk about a wardrobe malfunction.
In the course of six perplexing drives in Saturday’s 25-20 win over the Cowboys, the Dolphins’ first-string offense churned out 233 yards, gained 14 first downs — and had just 3 points to show for it.
The reason: An ugly fumble by Dion Sims and an uglier interception by Ryan Tannehill — both deep in Dallas territory.
And this came against one of the worst defenses in football. The Cowboys entered the game ranked 26th in yards allowed.
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Teams had averaged 32 points against Dallas in the first two preseason games. Yet Miami couldn’t reach the end zone until its backups were on the field.
In short, it was regression for Tannehill and the first-string offense, which hasn’t scored a touchdown since the opening drive of the preseason. Since then, the starters have had more turnovers (three) than field goals (two).
“I think we moved the ball well, but when you turn the ball over in ... [or near] the red zone, it’s difficult,” Dolphins coach Joe Philbin said. “You never want to turn the ball over in scoring position.”
Tannehill’s interception — his first of the preseason — perfectly summed up the Dolphins’ self-sabotage on offense.
Things had been going so well on the first drive of the second half. Miami moved from its own 12 to the Dallas’ 19.
The running game, a bugaboo the past two weeks, was actually clicking. Tannehill was spreading the ball around. And then, he uncorked an unthinkable pass. Despite having Jarvis Landry running free underneath, he forced a deep effort to Brian Hartline.
The problem: The Cowboys were playing Cover-2 and had three defenders in the vicinity. One of them was Tyler Patmon, who easily stepped in front of Hartline to intercept the pass in the shadow of the end zone.
Said Tannehill: “It was just a stupid decision, stupid throw.”
The throw was Tannehill’s last of the night. He completed 13 of 19 passes for 119 yards. His passer rating was 57.4. Plus he missed a wide-open Mike Wallace on a sure touchdown. Tannehill took the blame; he called the misfire a “miscommunication.”
The good news: The Dolphins’ offensive line did its part. Miami’s running backs did, too. For the first time in preseason, the Dolphins actually owned the line of scrimmage. Not coincidentally, Shelley Smith started at right guard, and Knowshon Moreno made his debut at running back.
Both brought a physicality to the offense that gave reason for optimism that the Dolphins will be able to run the ball this year. Moreno, on his first carry in a Dolphins uniform, busted loose for a gain of 19 yards.
“It was wide open,” Moreno said. “The guys did a great job up front. I just ran through it, gained some yards, and the rest is pretty much history.”
The tone set, Moreno went on to gain a team-high 64 yards on the ground, needing just 10 carries.
Lamar Miller, who got the start, also ran the ball well. He averaged a shade under 5 yards on his seven carries.
And Orleans Darkwa pounded in the game-winning touchdown, a 1-yard effort with 1:45 left. As a team, the Dolphins had 200 yards on the ground.
There were other Dolphins positives in this strange game that featured a punter kicking off (Brandon Fields for an injured John Potter) and an official mouthing off (a live mic caught multiple obscenities).
The pass rush was again fierce (two sacks by Cameron Wake and another by Olivier Vernon). The run defense showed improvement (starting running back DeMarco Murray was held to 18 yards on three carries).
And quarterback super sub Matt Moore again provided a spark, leading the Dolphins on three touchdown drives. But even he had his issues. Moore threw a lazy pass to the flat that resulted in a pick-six — Patmon’s second interception of the night.
Winners and losers
• Knowshon Moreno: First game this preseason? Worth the wait. Ten carries for 64 yards.
• Gator Hoskins: Went airborne for a touchdown and, most importantly, hung onto the football.
• Branden Albert: Has not allowed a sack all preseason. Dominated in the running game.
• Dion Sims: Took points off the board with his fumble deep inside Cowboys territory.
• Ryan Tannehill: The interception was bad. But missing a wide-open Mike Wallace for a touchdown might have been worse.
• Dallas Thomas: Wasn’t completely dominated but still struggled in pass protection.