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Stay close. Get the game to the fourth quarter and then seize control. That has been the calling card of the Miami Dolphins through the first three games and if they realistically have a chance to upset the New Orleans Saints tonight, it must hold true once again.
The fourth quarter has been the Dolphins time. Look at the numbers. Rewind the games. The Dolphins haven’t given up a fourth quarter touchdown all season. They have outscored their opponents 17-3. This isn’t some coincidence. This is a mindset. It was stressed all offseason.
“It comes from the top on down,” said veteran guard Richie Incognito.
Indeed, this has been a mission of sorts for Coach Joe Philbin. Emphasize the two-minute drill. Step up in the fourth quarter and at the end of the first half. Make plays. Eliminate mistakes. They practice it. They preach it. They live it.
You think it’s a coincidence that against Atlanta, after giving up five sacks through three quarters, the offensive line was flawless in the fourth quarter?
“We haven’t ever been this prepared for the two-minute drill,” added Incognito. “We just have a mindset. The way we play in the fourth quarter, field goals are a cardinal sin. We want touchdowns.”
Incognito even suggested that having Thursdays off this season has helped the team in the fourth quarter. “I feel better on Fridays than I have in years,” he said. “It carries over to Sunday and that carries over to the fourth quarter.”
When the schedule first came out, I had this game tonight circled as the most difficult test of the season. The Saints, from top to bottom, are as talented as any team in the league. Add to that having to play them at their house (uh, Dome) and on a raucous Monday night, and the challenge becomes even more imposing.
I would have told you before the season to chalk this one up in the “L” category and move on to next Sunday against Baltimore. Now, I’m not so sure.
Yes, with the Saints at 3-0, the challenge is as formidable as I had anticipated. But it’s the Dolphins who are a different team, the Dolphins who have shown in the first three games that they can beat any team on their schedule – especially with that fourth quarter statement.
I expect the crowd to be wild tonight. I expect the Saints to come out and deliver a punishing blow to the Dolphins early on. That’s the way Drew Brees and that offense plays. But if the Dolphins can weather that early surge, if they can stay close, if Ryan Tannehill can find enough holes in the Saints secondary, then the fourth quarter could matter. And that should be the goal heading into tonight.
When you evaluate the first three games, you see a clear upgrade in Tannehill’s play in the fourth quarter. Look at his fourth quarter totals: 21 of 29 for 192, one touchdown and no interceptions. That’s heady stuff.
Tyson Clabo told me this week that when Tannehill entered the huddle on the first play of that final drive against Atlanta, he looked at his teammates and simply said: “Let’s take about four minutes and go score a touchdown.”
And that’s exactly what Tannehill did. “Next time he says that,” Clabo said. “we’ll think back to Atlanta and know that he means business.”
Tannehill says this fourth quarter shift from a year ago has a lot to do with chemistry. “It’s an inner desire,” he said. “We all know we have to do everything in our power to play as well as we can. We know that time is running out so we play like it. I think that has more to do with it than any one play we might call in the fourth quarter.”
But it’s not only the offense. On defense, two of this team’s five interceptions and five of their nine sacks have come in the fourth quarter.
While three games is a small sample size, we’ll know a lot more after tonight. There is little doubt the Dolphins need to play their best game to have a realistic shot. That means forcing turnovers, finding balance on offense and, most important of all, protecting Tannehill.
But it also means continuing this fourth quarter trend. The Dolphins have become very proficient at finishing what they started. Now we’ll see if they can pull it off amid the enormous glare of the Monday night spotlight and against an opponent that will test you like few others can.
On Tuesday, AC in the AM analyzes what happened in New Orleans
The opinions, analysis and/or speculation expressed by The Finsiders Blog represent those of individual writers, and unless quoted or clearly labeled as such, do not represent the opinions, policies or desires of the Miami Dolphins organization, front office, coaches and executives. Writers' views are formulated independently from any inside information and/or conversation with Dolphins officials, including the coaches and scouts, unless otherwise noted.