Good teams, by and large, score at the end of halves.
Bad teams, by and large, get scored on in those hurry-up situations.
The Dolphins have been outscored 55-48 in the last three minutes of the second and fourth quarters this year.
The Patriots meanwhile have scored 93 of their 401 points in that same time frame.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to the Miami Herald
And though there is a long list of reasons why the Patriots can clinch their sixth straight AFC East title Sunday and the Dolphins need a small miracle to avoid missing the playoffs for a sixth straight year, this is as good a place to start as any.
The end of halves make up for just 10 percent of a regulation game, but the Dolphin have managed to surrender 21 percent of their total points allowed in that time, and 24 percent of their touchdowns.
They allowed game-winning drives to the Packers and Lions, with each touchdown coming in the respective game’s final minute.
And there was just two seconds left in the first half Sunday when the Ravens punched it into the end zone – cutting a 10-point deficit to 3 at the break. Baltimore, with the momentum in the second half, scored touchdowns on three of its next four drives to rout the Dolphins, and crush their playoff hopes.
Compounding crises, Joe Flacco is no Tom Brady, whose 43 game-winning drives in the fourth quarter and overtime are fifth-most in NFL history.
“I’m always confident in our team,” said cornerback Brent Grimes. “We’ve got good players on this team. It shows. You put it on film and you can ask other teams. You have some talent on our team. That’s what gives us confidence. We’ve just got to go out and do it. We’ve got tons of people who can play.”
They just haven’t played well enough at the most critical times.
So what’s happened to a defense that allows a point once every 3.4 minutes in the first 27 minutes of a half, but once every 1.4 in the last three?
For starters, the Dolphins’ pass rush disappears at the worst possible time. While the Dolphins do have four of their 34 sacks in the last three minutes of halves, only one – against the Packers – came in a game-saving situation.
In the Dolphins’ collapse Week 10 against the Lions, Matt Stafford dropped back to pass 11 times (including his final attempt, a 11-yard touchdown pass to Theo Riddick). The Dolphins front seven barely breathed on him the entire drive.
When there’s no pressure, defensive backs have to cover for way too long. Reshad Jones actually marked Riddick relatively well on the decisive play, but Riddick was able to flash free at the very last moment.
On the drive, Stafford completed 8 of 11 passes for 79 yards and a touchdown – good for a passer rating of 122.9. In the Lions’ 10 other possessions, Stafford was 17 of 29 for 201 yards, a touchdown and a pick (rating of 76.9).
Granted, the Dolphins defensive backs could stand to make a play or two as well. Miami’s defense has 12 interceptions on the year. Just one – against the Jets in Week 13 – came late in the first or second half.
None of this is good news with a must-win showdown in New England Sunday. Brady and the Patriots scored as many touchdowns late in the first half against the Bears (three) as the Dolphins have scored in end-of-half situations all year.
New England has put up points at the end of a half in all but three of its games this year. In a related note, the Patriots have won eight of their last nine games and own the AFC’s best record.
“We’ve got to have better execution, better plan,” said Dolphins coach Joe Philbin. “We have to play better. We have to finish better. We have to step up and make some plays in the fourth quarter. To win games in December against good teams, you’ve got to make plays in the fourth quarter. It’s hard to see a lot of plays on tape in the fourth quarter. It’s joint. It starts with me. I’m the head coach.”