The result — a 17-16 loss — certainly isn’t what the Dolphins had in mind. A muffed punt courtesy of Nolan Carroll and a fumble on a punt return by Marcus Thigpen in the first half, and Jonas Gray coughing it up in the fourth quarter to allow a Buccaneers’ game-winning touchdown drive, prevented what should have been an easy Dolphins’ win.
But the result doesn’t matter in these preseason games, even as it pertains to dress-rehearsal week.
Having a starting quarterback who could be on the verge of a breakout season and a first-team defense that has the pieces to become an elite unit, does matter. And after watching Miami’s starters thoroughly outplay Tampa Bay on Saturday night at Sun Life Stadium, Dolphins fans should feel much more confident about possessing each.
Don’t get me wrong, the two special-teams gaffes were errors that absolutely must be corrected by Week 1, but the fact that the Dolphins still led the Buccaneers 13-10 at halftime speaks volumes about how well their starting offense and defense played.
It wasn’t a perfect performance by either unit. The Dolphins failed to put the ball in the end zone on two trips to the red zone and Kevin Coyle’s defense was leaky on a few plays. But the Dolphins outgained the Buccaneers 180-63 in the first half, which was the extent of Miami’s first team’s playing time on both sides of the ball.
Included in that was a 150-yard, one-touchdown performance from starting quarterback Ryan Tannehill, who was a few drops from his intended targets away from a near 200 yards and another touchdown or two. His ball placement was a bit off on a few throws, but he was confident and decisive in the pocket, otherwise.
At running back, Lamar Miller ran with patience and explosiveness despite facing a very good Buccaneers’ run defense. There should no longer be any question as to who the offense’s primary runner is.
Defensively, the Dolphins dominated the Buccaneers in the trenches and pressured quarterback Josh Freeman into an errant throwing night. The starting boundary cornerback spot opposite Brent Grimes is a bit concerning, whether it’s Dimitri Patterson or Nolan Carroll in coverage, but it’s difficult to pinpoint many holes on Miami’s first-team defense.
Overall, it was an encouraging night from the Dolphins’ starters, but there is much they can improve on. Two special-teams turnovers can’t happen. Two trips inside the 10-yard line with only six points to show for it can’t happen, either. But those are things that can be corrected. Not having the right personnel is something that can’t be. And it was a validating night for the Dolphins’ personnel.
Fab Five Fins
1. Ryan Tannehill: One of my keys to tonight’s game was for Ryan Tannehill to be the best quarterback on the field. There’s no doubt he was just that. And I’m expecting that to be the case more often than not for him and the Dolphins this season.
2. Oliver Vernon: Had an impressive sack on Josh Freeman in the second quarter, showing off some nice explosiveness and a relentless effort to finish the play.
3. Lamar Miller: The Dolphins’ first-team offensive line’s run blocking wasn’t great tonight, but Miller had some nice runs anyway. His 20-yard scamper down the right sideline in the first quarter highlighted why he should and will be the starting running back this season.
4. Paul Soliai: There were so many members of the Dolphins’ front seven that impressed on Saturday night, but Paul Soliai was mostly unblockable in the middle of Miami’s defensive line. He’ll require double teams all season, which will open up lanes for linebackers like Dannell Ellerbe and Philip Wheeler to be attacking playmakers.
5. Brandon Gibson: Really difficult to put Gibson on this list after two drops, especially when one of those drops would have been a touchdown. But he’s quickly becoming one of Tannehill’s favorite targets and was the offense’s most productive receiver tonight with 43 yards and a score.