The Miami Dolphins have had rough few days. After blowing a 17-3 halftime lead against the New England Patriots, the team reportedly took shots at offensive coordinator Mike Sherman for abandoning the run in the second half. Then, the locker room reportedly fell into "shambles" this week. Left tackle Jonathan Martin left the team after an incident in the team cafeteria, and a recent report described an "abusive environment" in Miami.
The offense needed a strong performance in a win to give themselves momentum. They got it ... sort of.
The Dolphins appeared ready to put some of the bad press behind them early, taking a 10-3 lead over the Cincinnati Bengals at halftime Thursday night. The team led 17-3 after a 94-yard interception return for a touchdown midway through the third quarter. Then a familiar feeling set in.
Because of the interceptions return after a long Bengals drive, the Dolphins' offense did not touch the ball until there was just 2:10 left in the third quarter. They promptly stalled. After rushing 22 times for 142 yards in the first half, the Dolphins ran the ball ran the ball just five times for 14 yards through the rest of regulation. The Dolphins waited until the fourth quarter to record their first first down after the intermission. On their next set of downs, they punted on 4th-and-1 from their own 46-yard line.
Meanwhile, the Bengals' offense gained momentum. Rookie running back Giovani Bernard was the star of the second half. He ran for two touchdowns on the Bengals' two possession after Andy Dalton's pick-six. The second touchdown was a scintillating, field-switching, 35-yard jaunt that will surely be a played repeatedly through the weekend. With the score, the Bengals tied the game, 17-17.
The Bengals took a 20-17 lead on a 54-yard field goal with just 1:29 remaining in the game. The kick appeared to be the Dolphins' death knell, considering they didn't have a drive that lasted more than one first down up to that point. Then a funny thing happened: Ryan Tannehill got hot. The second-year quarterback went 5-for-7 passing in hurry-up mode to drive the Dolphins 50 yards and set up a 44-yard Taylor Sturgis field goal that sent the game to overtime.
That glimmer of hope did not extend into overtime. The Bengals received the ball twice in overtime, and both drives ended in punts. The Dolphins' defense bailed them out yet again, sacking Andy Dalton for a safety end the game.
So through four quarters and most of a fifth, the Dolphins' offense managed 13 points off 345 total yards, 194 of which came in the second quarter when the Dolphins were running at will. They went just 3-for-14 on fourth downs and punted eight times to Bengals' four. Outside of a 15-minute stretch before halftime and a last-minute blip at the end of regulation, it was yet another ugly performance for the Dolphins that won't quiet questions about Sherman's play-calling or the team's ability to execute in the second half.
But a win is a win, and the Dolphins are back to .500. Their on-field play will escape harsh scrutiny for a bit, so the team can spend the long layoff until Week 10 focusing on everything else.