The Miami Dolphins struggled through much of the second half and nearly gave away Sunday’s game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. But in crunch time the Dolphins drove down the field for a winning field goal and a hard-fought win.
As usual, the Dolphins were primarily a running team on Sunday, with Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams gashing the Bucs both out of the Wildcat formation and in the conventional offense. It was quarterback Chad Henne, however, who was getting most of the praise after the game for leading the Dolphins on a scoring drive in the game’s final minute.
After the Bucs took a 23-22 lead with 74 seconds to play, Henne calmly led the offense down the field, completing passes of 25 and 16 yards to receiver Davone Bess, and setting up kicker Dan Carpenter’s 25-yard game-winning field goal.
“The kid came back, and I thought he did a hell of a job in the final drive,” Dolphins coach Tony Sparano said of Henne after the game.
Even the Buccaneers admitted they were impressed.
“That two-minute drill was bad ass,” Bucs linebacker Barrett Ruud said.
But if Ruud showed grudging admiration for Henne’s effort, that doesn’t mean Tampa Bay was happy. In fact, a controversial call on a Jason Taylor interception left the Buccaneers so unhappy that they got an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty for complaining to the officials.
After the game Bucs coach Raheem Morris said the referee’s explanation was moot.
“He was trying to talk to me and I really didn’t want to hear it at that point,” Morris said. “It didn’t matter what his explanation was. I didn’t really care. I thought it was the wrong call and I disagreed.”
No matter how displeased Morris was by the official’s call — and by the narrow loss — he must at least be pleased that his team played competitive football for the second straight game. A week after earning their first victory of the season with a big upset of the Green Bay Packers, the Buccaneers again looked like a decent football team.
Tampa Bay is 1-8 and certainly no playoff contender, but the two games started by rookie quarterback Josh Freeman have been the two best games of the Bucs’ season. Freeman’s numbers — 16 of 28 for 196 yards, with one touchdown and one interception — were mediocre.
But mediocre is a lot better than the Bucs had been before Freeman became the starter.
It’s particularly noteworthy that Freeman is starting to develop a rapport with tight end Kellen Winslow, who had seven catches for 102 yards on Sunday. Winslow had a big game last week, too, and is starting to play like the kind of elite tight end the Bucs thought they were acquiring this offseason.
Overall, Freeman seems to have injected some life into a team that looked dead, and some of Freeman’s older teammates are taking notice.
“He’s definitely climbing that learning curve,” Bucs cornerback Ronde Barber said. “That’s two weeks in a row. He has such poise. Nothing fazes him.”
On that final drive, nothing fazed Henne, either. Brown is likely out for Thursday’s game against the Panthers, so Henne will need to take on an even bigger role in running the offense. The Dolphins, who at 4-5 have a steep climb to get into playoff contention, will need Henne to keep playing like he did on that final drive.