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Patriots loss exposes Dolphins problems

FOXBORO, MASS. -- This is the sad truth about the Dolphins on Sunday:

Their best quarterback today was a running back, as Ronnie Brown was the only Miami player with a TD pass. Their best run was delivered by a quarterback as Pat White delivered a game-high 33-yard gain. And Miami's best catch of a pass was delivered by a defensive back -- Vontae Davis had a leaping, falling, grab for an interception off a tip he himself made.

If you want strange stuff, this is it.

If you want winning football, this isn't the formula.

The Dolphins got the terrible combination of little offense, weak-kneed defense, and questionable coaching all in one game. The result was a 27-17 loss to the New England Patriots. Miami is now 3-5 through the first half of the season.

So was coach Tony Sparano happy his team stayed close in this game until the Patriots put the game's final 11 points on the board?

"So close in this game just don’t get it," Sparano said. "That’s why [the Patriots] got a lot of banners out there.  They figure out how to win these close games. From our end, you know, we understand where we are right now, so I told the team in there, we’re a good football team and we’re really close to being a really good football team. Keep fighting these heavyweight battles like this, but we got to get it to turn."

Well, perhaps Sparano thinks the Dolphins are close to being a good team. But I see a team that cannot throw the ball well enough to compete against teams that do exactly that. As a result the contrast between the Dolphins and Colts or Saints or Chargers or, yes, Patriots is stark.

The Dolphins had dropped passes from Brian Hartline, Davone Bess and Ted Ginn.

The Patriots, meanwhile, can throw to Wes Welker, who leads the NFL in catches over three years, and did so nine times for 84 yards. Or they can throw to Randy Moss, who has 140 career TD catches, second only to Jerry Rice. Or they can throw to tight end Ben Watson, who at 250 pounds runs faster than any Miami wide receiver except Ted Ginn Jr.

The Patriots are explosive. And the Dolphins decided to cover Randy Moss man-to-man with Vontae Davis. "I was on him man-to-man a majority of the time," Davis said.

The strategy has failed before and failed again as Moss caught six passes for 147 yards, including a 71-yard touchdown.

"It is asking a lot," Sparano said, "but you can’t double them all. In this situation, you really can’t. You know we didn’t get enough pass rush in some of the situations out there, it has a lot to do with that. You got to get pressure on Tom [Brady], and we weren’t able to do that today and you are asking guys to hold up for a long period of time. Now that being said, we certainly in some situations didn’t play our man-to-man coverage very well. We tried to mix it up really well against them, with man, with zone, with combination coverage, and ‘Tom being Tom,’ did a great job of finding guys."

The Dolphins need to find their elite pass-rushers. Joey Porter was missing in action Sunday. He had neither a sack nor a tackle. Jason Taylor didn't have a sack, either, although he was much more active than Porter.

My big frustration with this defense is it gives up touchdowns after the Miami offense gives the team a chance to win. As I wrote in my column in The Miami Herald the Dolphins scored after a 10-minute drive to put the Dolphins ahead 17-16 and then the defense gave the lead right back. 

The bottom line?

The Dolphins can win when they aren't facing elite passing teams. Then they are able to limit the damage of the opposing offense to only running the ball against a defense that defends the run fairly well.

But defend a great passing team? They have proven time and again this season they cannot do it.

The Dolphins can also survive offensively on their rushing game alone when they're leading or when the opposing defense is worried about them passing. But defenses lately have pretty much dismissed Miami's passing game. Everyone loads up at the line of scrimmage to stop Miami's run. And the offense cannot complete passes downfield to force people to back off.

Tough way to make a living.