I have a sneaking suspicion that even as Dolphins coach Adam Gase has presented reasons he made the right call on his third-and-10 call in the fourth quarter against the Indianapolis Colts, he’s questioned himself about the call. I have a sneaking suspicion that even as he’s presented an unflinching and even arrogant facade about that decision, he has self-evaluated to make sure he’s comfortable with what he did.
And, obviously, even if he engaged in this second-guessing of himself he still contends he got it right.
“We did what we game-planned to do,” Gase said upon reflecting on his late-game calls. “We did what was best for that situation. I’m probably more upset about the second-down call. I thought we’d catch them in a pressure to that side and they came from the opposite side. If I could have that one back, that probably could have made a difference.”
But Gase could have done better. A lot of folks could have done better — which I’ll get into in a few paragraphs.
So how could Gase have done better on that third-and-10 call? Look, I understand his thinking ...
The pressure was on. The game was tight. The Dolphins had just blown a 24-14 lead to start the fourth quarter and were now tied at 24 with 3:34 to play. So Gase, amid an avalanche of bad tidings, played it safe. He ran the ball up the middle.
He didn’t want quarterback Ryan Tannehill to get sacked. He didn’t want a disaster.
I get it.
But the other choice to playing it safe is not necessarily to go crazy and call some play that demands the quarterback hold the ball 10 seconds in the end zone and asking a makeshift offensive line to hold their blocks for an eternity.
The other choice could have been this play ...
The play you just watched came in the second quarter of the same game, against the same defense, on exactly the same down, and in exactly the same field position.
The Dolphins faced a third-and-15 from their 6-yard line on this play. And Gase called this pass that looks like a middle screen.
He trusted his quarterback. He trusted the blocking. He tried to give his offense a chance to make a play.
And running back Kenyan Drake catches this quick pass and turns it into a sizable gain. No, he didn’t get a first down because he needed 15 yards for that.
But he got 13 yards on the play.
Imagine if Gase had called the same play in that key fourth-quarter situation and gotten a similar result?
Watch again ...
Obviously, there is no guarantee the Dolphins would have gotten this same result in the fourth quarter. But this play would have given Miami a chance to keep the football.
This play seems safe.
This play suggests you trust your players.
Admit it, this play call could have been better.
One more thing about that third-and-10 call, not to mention some of the other questionable calls we saw in this game:
Tannehill is the Miami Dolphins quarterback. He has more power than anyone on the team, including Gase, when the offense is on the field.
Yes, Gase is in his ear from the radio connection on the sideline. And Gase gives Tannehill the play to run.
But that doesn’t mean Tannehill has to run that play, folks.
In the NFL, teams have this thing called an audible. And quarterbacks use it to change the play at the line of scrimmage.
Moreover, the NFL allows teams to do this thing called a huddle. And in the huddle the quarterback, carrying the call from the sideline, can either repeat the call like a robot. Or he can sort of go rogue and call his own play.
After the game, Tannehill said he would have liked the football in his hands on that third-and-10. But when asked if he should have appealed to Gase to throw the ball, Tannehill responded as if he’s powerless to affect the call.
“It’s tough to do that when you’re standing in the middle of the field and he’s on the sidelines,” Tannehill said of a possible appeal. “My job is to execute the calls that come in and do the best that I can. Like I said, I understand the call. I think it had a chance to work.”
Not good enough.
And here’s where you get a short reminder of how the Miami Dolphins have changed: In the late 1980s or early 1990s (I can’t recall) the team fell behind in a game by a couple or maybe three touchdowns. And the plays were coming in to Dan Marino just like they do today for Tannehill because coaches called the plays back then as well. Except that Marino told his entire huddle that no matter what call came in from the sideline, the team was going to throw the football.
“We’re going to throw it until we’re ahead,” Marino told everyone in the huddle.
You know how Don Shula, who won more games than anyone else ever, reacted. Well, he was both unhappy and surprised. But he went with it. Because the quarterback is the ultimate authority on offense before each play.
The Dolphins did indeed tie that game by throwing on every down despite the calls from the sideline.
No, Tannehill is not Marino.
But he’s a competitor just the same, no? It’s his offense, isn’t it?