The Dolphins nearly erased an early Houston lead from the first half, but came up just short with a 27-20 loss.
The Dolphins will close out the regular season (and likely their 2009 season) at home against the Pittsburgh Steelers, who are still fighting to a playoff spot of their own.
Until then, here are my observations from the Dolphins-Texans game:
- Chad Henne had his ups and downs again, though I liked his play overall. He had a lot on his shoulders with such a huge deficit in the first half and really led the offense well. He didn't get a lot of help from his defense or offensive line, so despite some poor throws, I give him a solid grade. The guy is a good passer and if he ever gets some legit weapons at receiver, he could be elite.
- After a handful of fumbles in recent weeks, Ricky Williams made yet another poor play by letting a short Chad Henne pass over the middle bounce off his hands/facemask and get intercepted by Brian Cushing. Williams is certainly a capable No. 1 back, but his pass-catching is really leaving something to be desired and he seriously needs to cut down on the big negative plays.
- Lex Hilliard didn't get to run much after Williams' injury due to the score, but he did a good job as a safety outlet for Henne with nine receptions for 74 yards. I don't really like his potential as a long-term starter, but he could develop into a solid backup.
- Davone Bess had another drop, but for the most part played well and made a great adjustment on a big reception late in the game. The thing I like about guys like Bess and Greg Camarillo is that, unlike someone like Wes Welker, these guys do a lot of their work out wide.
- Ted Ginn, Jr. had a big day and made some good grabs, including one that should have gone for a long touchdown. Lousaka Polite was called for tripping and nullified the touchdown, but it was clearly a legitimate block. Polite did not use his legs to trip the rusher, but simply went low (legal) on a player that was not engaged with another blocker. The referees simply blew it, and it significantly cost the Dolphins.
- Anthony Fasano took a bit of a backseat to Joey Haynos today in terms of production and also had a pretty bad drop late. His sup-par sophomore season with the Dolphins continues, and I don't know how much I'd pay him to return in 2010.
- The Dolphins' offensive line had what I'd consider one of its worst games of the season, allowing three sacks and failing to be the dominant power run-blocking team we've seen most of the year. Vernon Carey is over-matched too often at tackle, and Nate Garner leaves something to be desired as a run blocker.
- Kendall Langford had a good game, tipping a couple passes and forcing a Matt Schaub turnover. He was just about the only defensive end that stood out in a rare day where the defensive line go dominated.
- Channing Crowder isn't a stud by any means, but it was clear the Dolphins missed his presence after an early injury. Reggie Torbor looked lost in replacement and was always a step or two behind the ball-carrier or his assigned receiver. Crowder's absence couldn't be the only reason for the Dolphins' lacking run defense, but it was more of a factor than I would have expected.
- Akin Ayodele also contributed to the Dolphins' poor-tackling exhibition in the first half, though almost all of the Dolphins' defenders were guilty at one point or another.
- Joey Porter, Jason Taylor and Cameron Wake did almost nothing rushing the passer, and it was actually Quentin Moses who got the team's only sack of the day. It was a rare sighting for "Q-Mo" and it probably won't be enough to keep him on the roster in 2010.
- Vontae Davis and Sean Smith, like the rest of the team, had a pretty poor first half, but a so-so day. Davis made a great play nearly intercepting a deep pass for Jacoby Jones, and was robbed on a fumble he forced on Chris Brown. Ruled an incompletion from the start an thus unreviewable, Brown took at least three full steps after the catch and clearly fumbled the ball that was recovered by defensive end Tony McDaniel. Along with the Ginn touchdown called back, it was another big whiff by the officials that severely cost Miami.
- Smith took a poor angle and made a weak attempt on the Jacoby Jones touchdown play, but I loved his effort against Andre Johnson on a deep pass that should have been intercepted. Smith is young and he's going to make his share of mistakes at one of the game's toughest positions, but his talent is undeniable.
- Nathan Jones was matched up on Johnson early on in the game, and it was clearly a mistake. Jones was simply out-matched against arguably the NFL's best receiver, and it was obvious from the start. Sean Smith covered Johnson a lot more in the second half and held him without a catch.
- After all the horrendous plays Gibril Wilson has made (or not made, rather) this season, it'd be nice to get a positive play once in a while. Wilson's drop on a potential interception off a Sean Smith deflection was inexcusable, though it's comforting to know his days as a Dolphin will likely come to an end sometime in the next three months.
- Dan Carpenter barely missed a 54-yard field goal attempt wide right, but he made two others cleanly and is still having a great year. Sparano's decision to attempt the field goal down 27-0 at the time was the right one, as there was still over a half to play and a three-touchdown/one field goal game is better than a four-touchdown game.
- Brandon Fields had an excellent game punting the ball, downing two of his five punts inside the 20 and booting one punt 60 yards. Fields has established himself in the top third of punters in the NFL.