Dolphins Watch

January 4, 2010 12:58 AM

Dolphins' season ends against Steelers

FINSEND.bmpIt was a loss that symbolized all that had gone wrong for the Miami Dolphins in 2009.

The defense couldn't stop Pittsburgh Sunday in Miami's 30-24 defeat, as the Steelers rolled up 402 yards of offense and scored on their first three possessions.

Ben Roethlisberger carved up the ailing pass defense with 18 completions in 27 attempts, for 203 yards and three touchdowns -- one coming on a 54-yard pass to Mike Wallace where two Dolphins in the secondary collided, allowing Wallace to get free.

The run defense, which was never the same after the loss of Jason Ferguson to a season-ending injury, was steamrolled for 202 rushing yards by a team that entered the game struggling to run the ball.

And then there were the injuries. Miami had a litany of them entering the game, and all at key positions: Ronnie Brown, Chad Pennington, Channing Crowder, Ferguson and Will Allen were all out for the season.

Things only got worse against Pittsburgh, as starting cornerback Vontae Davis left with a hand injury, then briefly returned, and Miami lost not one, but two starting quarterbacks.

Chad Henne did not play in the second half after sustaining an eye injury. Pat White suffered a vicious hit on the Pittsburgh sideline, and left with a concussion.

But, as they've done all season, the Dolphins did not surrender after those hard knocks.

They kept fighting, and behind a third-string quarterback who hadn't played all year, Tyler Thigpen, Miami scored on back-to-back series to cut Pittsburgh's lead to 27-24 midway through the fourth quarter.

The Dolphins defense then did something it had done far too little of this season: force a turnover, as Nate Jones hit Roethlisberger and forced him to fumble. Linebacker Joey Porter receovered on the Pittsburgh 13-yardline, and imporbably, the Dolphins had a chance to go ahead in a game they had no business winning.

But, as has been the case many times this season -- especially the last two weeks -- Miami undid all of its fine work with a big mistake.

This time, under a heavy rush, Thigpen forced a pass to Ted Ginn between two defenders, and safety Ryan Clark intercepted.

That led to Roethlisberger, with one arm literally hanging from his body after Porter landed on it during the scrum after the fumble, leading his team on a drive that milked the clock.

Big Ben completed one third down pass early on to Hines Ward, then the Steelers ground game -- led by Willie Parker -- took over, as Pittsburgh ate up five minutes and 25 seconds of game clock.

When Jeff Reed booted a 33-yard field goal to make it 30-24, just 45 seconds remained in the Dolphins' season.

It was a season of too many failed comebacks, too many defensive breakdowns, and of course, too many injuries.

That the Dolphins ended up just under .500 at 7-9 speaks volumes about the coaching staff, as well as the players' unwillingness to give up, no matter what the odds or obstacles were.

There will be changes; there have to be when a team fails to make the playoffs. Will Porter return, or how about Ferguson, or Pennington?

There are many questions that need to be answered, and soon we'll address those issues, as well as what upgrades the Dolphins need to make to return to the postseason in 2010.

The 2009 season may have ended out of the playoffs, but judging from where the Dolphins were when Bill Parcells and Tony Sparano took over the team prior to last season, Miami's fortunes appear to be on the rise.

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