Photo courtesy: Richard W. Rodriguez/Star-Telegram
Dan Bailey kicked a 28-yard field goal as time expired as the Dallas Cowboys snapped the Miami Dolphins’ three-game win streak in a see-saw game in Arlington, Texas.
ARLINGTON, Texas — Forget that improbable dream of winning out after an 0-7 start.
Forget that nutty notion of a nine-win season or, almost assuredly, a miraculous late push for a playoff berth.
A late Dallas Cowboys drive, ending with Dan Bailey’s 28-yard field goal as time expired, dealt the Dolphins a heartbreaking 20-19 Thanksgiving Day loss, ensured Miami can finish no better than .500 even if it wins its final five games, and likely foiled any chance of the Dolphins scripting a magical, memorable end to this angst-filled season.
“Helplessness” is how Brandon Marshall described his emotions as he watched the Cowboys drain the clock late, with Miami out of timeouts. “This really hurts. There are a few plays, at the end, that we should have made and we didn’t.”
The Dolphins (3-8) played brilliantly at times, and valiantly throughout, but were again snakebitten by troubling early-season deficiencies, including a penchant for squandering late leads. This marked the fourth time Miami lost a game that it led with less than 6:50 left.
Ahead 19-17 and with a chance to run out the clock with 4:47 to go, the Dolphins went three-and-out, using up only 1:33.
“There wasn’t a doubt in our mind that we were going to win the game,” Davone Bess said. “In that four-minute situation, we’ve been pretty efficient buying some time and running the ball. But we didn’t.”
Dez Bryant’s 20-yard punt return gave the Cowboys possession at their 36 with 2:59 left. Jason Witten, held without a catch in the first half, caught passes of 23 and 6 yards from Tony Romo to move the ball to the Dolphins 35.
Five successive runs by DeMarco Murray – of 6, 9, 3, 4 and 5 yards – pushed the ball to the Miami 8, setting up Bailey’s winning kick, which extended his field goal streak to 26 in a row.
“Extremely frustrating,” said Reggie Bush, who ran 16 times for 61 yards. “We have nobody to blame but ourselves.”
Down 10-6 at halftime, the Dolphins drove for 70-plus yards on each of their first three possessions of the second half, but managed just one touchdown and two field goals.
“In these kinds of games, those have to be touchdowns,” coach Tony Sparano said.
During their three-game winning streak, the Dolphins had been very efficient in the red zone (scoring seven touchdowns in 10 forays inside the opponent’s 20), and on third downs (44.4 percent, which is nearly 20 points higher than Miami’s percentage during its 0-7 start).
But the Dolphins faltered in both areas Thursday. They were 3 for 12 on third downs and scored 12 points (all on field goals) on their four trips inside the Dallas 20. Marshall scored Miami’s only touchdown, on a splendid 35-yard catch.
Moore threw for 288 yards, third highest of his career, and completed 19 of 32 passes, but was responsible for a costly fumble that set up Dallas’ first touchdown.
Though DeMarcus Ware – who entered with 14 sacks – had just one tackle and no sacks, he created opportunities for others. Moore was sacked four times and hit five other times.
“We need to do a better job of keeping guys off Matt,” Bush said. “Extremely disappointed” about that.
Romo, who threw two early interceptions to Vontae Davis and Sean Smith, closed 22 for 34 for 226 yards, and improved his record to 19-2 in November and 5-0 on Thanksgiving. “He made plays and we didn’t,” Yeremiah Bell said.
Smith’s pick gave Miami possession at the Dallas 26, but Miami had to settle for Shayne Graham’s 26-yard field goal to go ahead 3-0. Graham missed a 47-yard field goal on Miami’s next possession after Moore lost eight yards on a third-down sack.
With the score tied 3-3 and 1:08 left before halftime, Moore fumbled a snap at his 19. Ware recovered at the Dolphins five, and Romo connected with Laurent Robinson to give Dallas its first lead, at 10-3.
“I put that all on me,” said Moore, who fumbled three times and recovered two of them. “Those are catchable snaps.”
And thus ended the Dolphins’ streak of 13-plus quarters – and 231 defensive snaps – without giving up a touchdown.
But the Dolphins drove for a 28-yard field goal as the first half ended, then began the second half with a 77-yard march (highlighted by a 34-yard catch-and-run from Bush), before settling for Graham’s 27-yard field goal, trimming Dallas’ lead to 10-9.
The Dolphins fashioned their most dynamic drive of the game on their next possession, with Moore completing a 41-yard pass to Brian Hartline, then a 35-yard touchdown to Marshall, who made the catch even though Terence Newman’s hands were wrapped around his neck. Newman was called for pass interference, which was declined.
“Brandon is amazing,” Newman said. “A lot of balls you can just throw up and you can’t guard him.”
Down 16-10, Dallas went back ahead early in the fourth quarter on Romo’s 18-yard touchdown to Robinson, who beat Smith.
Miami responded with another long drive – highlighted by Bess’ spectacular 24-yard, one-handed catch on 3rd and 10 – but had to settle for Graham’s go-ahead 23-yard field goal despite having a first and goal from the three. Bush lost two yards on a run on first down, Anthony Spencer knocked away a Moore pass on second down, and on third down, Hartline couldn’t make a difficult catch on a high throw from Moore.
After Dallas punted, the Dolphins squandered a chance to run some clock and preserve the 19-17 lead. A run by Bush netted only one yard, Moore was sacked, and Orlando Scandrick capably defended a pass to Bess on third down, forcing a punt. “It’s just a play we have to make,” said Moore, who threw behind Bess on the play.
“The last drive, we need to take more time off the clock,” Bush said.
Instead, Dallas got it back and ended this three-week Dolphins joyride.
“They played their hearts out,” Sparano said of his team. “I told them I was proud of them. [But] we don’t get any style points for a loss.”
Courtesy: Barry Jackson | Miami Herald