Week 14 Game Recap: Miami Dolphins 23, San Diego Chargers 21
What you need to know
WR Chris Chambers followed up his incredible game of a week ago with another outstanding effort today. He was by far the most heavily targeted Dolphins receiver, and had no problems whatsoever getting open in the secondary.
QB Gus Frerotte started off very slowly, but came up huge in the second half. It was his elusiveness that enabled him to buy some extra time in order to complete several key passes late in the game to either score touchdowns or set up scores.
The Miami run defense really came to play, holding LaDainian Tomlinson to a meager 75 yards. In fact, the entire Dolphins defense played very well, allowing almost no big plays all game long.
Rookie RB Ronnie Brown received the bulk of the carries for Miami, but fumbled at the one yard line as the Dolphins drove for what would have been a game-sealing score. As it turned out, the fumble did not prove costly as San Diegoís drive resulted in a fumble of their own. Interestingly for Miami, however, is the fact that Ricky Williams took the remaining six carries after the fumble as the Dolphins were trying to run out the clock.
It is entirely possible that RB LaDainian Tomlinsonís rib injury was bothering him more than he tried letting on, because he had one of the least productive games of his entire career. He had trouble hitting the hole, and was replaced on more occasions than usual.
TE Antonio Gates once again lit up the score sheet, allowing his owners to breathe much easier. Two weeks removed from a bad-looking foot injury, Gates showed no ill effects from the injury and was moving as well as ever.
QB Drew Brees played poorly. He made several costly mistakes, including a fumble late in the game that all but sealed the deal. Brees never was really able to get much done downfield, and aside from two solid drives he didnít do much to help the team win.
The San Diego secondary, which has been the teamís weakness all season long, once again was at the heart of the loss in this game. They allowed two huge gains Ė one a 56 yard reception by Marty Booker, and the other a 35 yard touchdown to Chris Chambers Ė that really made the difference in the game.
What you ought to know
|QB Gus Frerotte, Pass: 14 - 22 - 229 - 2 TD / 0 INT, Rush: 4 - 13 - 0|
Believe it or not, one of the biggest attributes to Frerotteís performance was his ability to avoid the oncoming rush. Not that San Diego got much pressure on Frerotte anyway, but the few times they did blitz, he did a great job of not only reading the blitz and the coverage; he also did an outstanding job of avoiding tackles and buying himself some extra time. This is likely what accounted for Chris Chambers and Marty Booker running wild in the secondary and getting in behind the defenders with ease. Frerotte rewarded HC Nick Saban for sticking with him as the starter despite the heroics of backup Sage Rosenfels a week ago. Frerotte played about as well as he can at this stage of his career, and wasnít simply along for the ride. He was an integral part of why Miami won the game.
Williams had a quiet game, with his only play of significance being a lost fumble that was recovered by LB Randall Godfrey and returned 35 yards. One sequence of note, however, was the fact that rookie RB Ronnie Brown coughed up the ball at the San Diego one yard line. Following the fumble, Brown didnít register another carry. Williams carried the ball six times on Miamiís last drive as they attempted to run out the clock. Williams gained a yard rushing when San Diego was whistled for a tripping penalty after a run that went for minus one.
Brown had a solid nine yard run mid-third quarter, but that was the extent of his production. His negative far outweighed that one positive. Leading 20-14, Brown took a carry from the one yard line and attempted to leap the pile for a touchdown. Unfortunately for Brown, he spun straight up in the air and landed with the ball under him. It squibbed out and was recovered by S Clinton Hart. The Dolphins challenged the ruling on the field, and the replays showed that there was a possibility that Brown broke the plane of the end zone or was at least down on the play. The officials, however, certainly did not have enough visual evidence to overturn the call. The play stood, and San Diego took over at the one. Brown did not receive another carry in the game, with Ricky Williams toting the ball the final six times as Miami tried to run out the clock.
After what he has done the last couple of weeks, Chambers appears to be finally putting his inconsistencies behind him. He followed up his career game of a week ago with another fantastic performance this week. He wasnít targeted quite as much as last week, but he once again did the most with the chances he got. Chambers showed an ability to get open all over the field, on just about any route, with just about anyone covering him. Or, as was the case today, not covering him. He had a wide open 34 yard reception, a wide open 35 yard touchdown, a wide open eight yard touchdown, and several other plays of significance where there didnít seem to be a defender in the same area code. He showed nice hands in particular on the second touchdown reception (35 yarder) in going up to snag the ball out of the air. Chambers only dropped one ball, on a third and long pass play early in the contest. He more than made up for that blemish with the damage he did the rest of the way.
Booker had a huge 56 yard reception on a third and nine pass play. There was terrible coverage on the play, but Booker certainly did a nice job in getting behind both defenders. He nearly came up with a score earlier in the game, but CB Quentin Jammer made a touchdown-saving tip on a pass intended for Booker in the end zone.
McMichael had a very quiet afternoon, and gave his owners a bit of a scare when he came up slow following a reception. Though he appeared to be in a lot of pain, McMichael remained in the game and the possible injury was never mentioned again.
Mare connected on field goals from 29, 39, and 20 yards, with the last one putting Miami up nine points and sealing the victory.
Although RB LaDainian Tomlinson appeared a bit slowed by a rib injury suffered last week, it may not have mattered if he was 100% healthy. Reason being, these Dolphins really had a terrific gameplan, and they executed it perfectly. Tomlinson never really had any running lanes, and aside from the occasional 10-15 yard run, he incredibly never posed much of a threat in the game. About the only blemish on the Miami ledger was allowing a four yard touchdown on a designed running play by Drew Brees, but a fluky play like that isnít so much the fault of the run defense as no one in the stadium expected Brees to take off on the play.
The Dolphins did an excellent job in containing the Chargers from making any real big plays in the game. On San Diegoís second drive of the game, it appeared that the Miami secondary would be in for a long day. QB Drew Brees was eight of ten for 51 yards on the drive, capping it off with an eight yard touchdown pass to a wide open Keenan McCardell. Miami, however, really clamped down after that. The Dolphins held one of the leagueís best offenses for the better part of the next three quarters, before allowing a late scoring drive with a minute left in the game. Miami sacked Brees three times (getting good pressure in general), and forced a huge fumble on one of the sacks. LB Zach Thomas made a fantastic play on a pass early in the game that was intended for TE Antonio Gates. Thomas stepped into the passing lane and ripped the ball away from the big tight end for Miamiís only interception of the game. Travis Daniels nearly came up with another interception of Brees late in the fourth quarter, but was unable to hang onto the football.
|QB Drew Brees, Pass: 35 - 52 - 279 - 2 TD / 1 INT, Rush: 3 - 11 - 1|
All you really need to do is look at Breesí stat line to see San Diego lost. Anytime a Marty Schottenheimer-coached team is throwing the football 50+ times in a game (30 in the first half alone), it usually means bad news. Brees set career highs in both attempts and completions, though his productivity didnít reflect the inordinate amount of passes he made. He was misfiring badly early on, sailing several passes well over the heads of his intended targets. He settled down on the second drive of the game, which culminated in his first touchdown pass of the afternoon. It was on that drive that he made a great improv play by dumping the ball to Lorenzo Neal for a five yard gain rather than taking a sack. After those nice plays however, it was pretty much all downhill. Brees took a sack late in the first half at a crucial point to knock the Chargers out of field goal range, three points they could have sorely used at the end of the game. He also had an extremely costly fumble that, in essence, ended the game. San Diego still technically had a chance to win later, but down nine with just over a minute to play and no timeouts isnít really how one draws it up. He salvaged his day and actually turned it into a terrific fantasy game by running in a four yard touchdown and adding a late scoring pass to TE Antonio Gates to get the Chargers to within two, but neither play was particularly difficult. On the Gates play, it was more a great effort by Gates than anything else. Brees was nearly intercepted by Travis Daniels, but Daniels was unable to corral the pass. Brees lost two completions (but zero yards) on passes to Lorenzo Neal that were called back due to penalties.
It was unclear whether Tomlinsonís rib injury was still bothering him, or whether the Dolphins just did a fantastic job in containing him, or whether it was a bit of both. No matter the reason, Tomlinson had one of the least effective games of his career. 75 yards isnít an awful day, but it was the manner in which he got them that proved so unimportant. His first good run didnít come until late in the second quarter, and even then he never seemed able to break any huge gains. There were absolutely no running lanes early on, and San Diego had him split out wide on two occasions, perhaps in an attempt to get him some touches in space. He had several opportunities to score, but was unable to do so. He was taken down at the five yard line after a four yard run gave the Chargers a first down. After being stuffed on each of his next two carries, Drew Brees took one up the gut for the score. Tomlinsonís only other scoring chance came on the second possession of the game. Tomlinson was targeted in the end zone and had the pass in his hands, but it bounced off incomplete. Tomlinson exited the game more than usual, especially late in the game when the Chargers were constantly passing. Normally, Tomlinson remains in the game at all times, but perhaps he was feeling more effects of the injury. Or perhaps with the Chargers throwing so much, Schottenheimer didnít want to subject Tomlinson to having to pick up blitzing defenders. No matter the case, the situation really turned strange when FB Lorenzo Neal was given the carry on a critical fourth and one play. Neal converted the run, but with a back like LaDainian Tomlinson, teams donít typically want to lose with anything less than their best guy. If he wasnít this week, then Tomlinson should be at or near 100% next week, but itís something to keep a careful eye on.
McCardell opened up with a bang, scoring on an eight yard pass from Drew Brees on the Chargersí second possession of the game. After that play, however, McCardell sort of disappeared. He caught two more passes in the first half, but was only targeted twice after halftime, catching one of them. He isnít a true number one receiver, and he still disappears from the offense for what seems like far too long of a time in certain games.
Caldwell made a nice grab on an early fourth down pass over the middle from Brees. His only other target of note was an incomplete pass in the end zone late in the fourth quarter.
Parker was uncharacteristically quiet, even for a player who is a fourth option in an offense. It wasnít just his productivity that was down Ė he also wasnít getting opportunities downfield. Parker was the target of a fourth down pass early in the game but was unable to come up with the reception. He was also the target of a third and 17 pass late in the fourth quarter. Parker made the catch and had first down yardage, but mistakenly thought he needed a couple more. He took a step back and was immediately tackled by Miami defenders, losing his forward progress in the meantime. The Chargers converted the subsequent fourth down play, but Parkerís gaffe could have proven huge.
Gates, who suffered a foot injury two weeks ago and then appeared a bit limited last week, shook off any ill effects to resume his place as an unstoppable force. Gates led all players in receptions, yards, and passing targets, though it took a late game drive to get him into the scoring column. The touchdown catch with fifteen second remaining in the game didnít do much to help the Chargers, but his fantasy owners were quite pleased with the effort. It was a terrific catch on a jump ball situation, something he is becoming one of, if not the best in the league at. All game long, Gates ran fine, cut well, showed good strength, etc. About the only time he didnít look like his usual dominant self was when a potential reception was snared away from him by LB Zach Thomas for an interception.
Kaedingís first chance for a field goal was lost when HC Marty Schottenheimer elected to go for it on fourth and six from the Dolphinsí 32 yard line rather than attempt a 50 yard field goal. His second opportunity was ruined when Drew Brees took a sack on third down, backing San Diego up from the 23 yard line to the 35. The Chargers elected to punt.
San Diego once again did a solid job at containing the opponentís run game. The Miami duo of Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams ran a combined 22 times for a pedestrian 58 yards. Not only that, but each back fumbled once in the game, and both were recovered by San Diego. It should be noted that the Brown fumble came right at the goal line as he was trying to jump the pile for a touchdown. The fumble was not forced by any Chargersí defenders, as Brown simply lost the ball when he flipped over and his hand made contact with the ground. The fumble was challenged, and replays showed that Brown may have in fact scored on the play. Still, it was one of those calls where there wouldnít have been enough evidence to overturn it either way, and the call on the field almost had to stand.
The Chargers were simply awful in this phase of the game. It has been the teamís weakness for much of the season, and it once again reared its ugly head in this game. The defensive backs were beaten constantly for big plays all game long, and the coverage was brutal even when they kept Miami receivers in front of them. San Diego allowed separate 34 and 35 yard receptions to WR Chris Chambers, with the latter going for a score. Additionally, two Chargersí defenders were beaten on a 56 yard pass play to WR Marty Booker down the sideline. There was so much wrong with that play defensively that one doesnít know where to begin. San Diego finally got some pressure on QB Gus Frerotte, only to have him elude the oncoming pass rushers and avoid the sack. The defensive backs, seeing that Frerotte had broken away, took a step forward to apparently prepare in case they needed to make a play on Frerotte. In doing so, both the CB and S on the play let Booker get behind them, and Frerotte simply flipped it downfield for a huge gain. Miami was unable to score on the play, but they did manage to run off an additional 1:42 off the clock and change field position for San Diegoís next drive. Despite Chambers going off for over 200 yards last week on a whopping 26 targets, there were actually times in this game when he was completely wide open. There was one moment in the game when a San Diego defensive back made a great play. CB Quentin Jammer saved a sure touchdown headed for Booker in the second quarter, which the announcers went gaga over. What they failed to mention, of course, is the fact that Jammer was so badly faked out on the route that he needed to make a fantastic play on the ball to counteract his bad coverage. In addition to the failings of the DBs, the front was unable to sustain any kind of pressure on Gus Frerotte. The same Gus Frerotte who was knocked out of last weekís game displayed an uncanny ability to avoid oncoming pass-rushers. Shawne Merriman, who had been getting better by the week, finished with a lowly stat line of just two tackles, and never disrupted a thing in the backfield. The Chargers were unable to muster a single sack, and on at least two occasions their inability to actually bring down Frerotte after getting to him proved extremely costly.