End of the line

The Miami Dolphins have had a great run in 2008, but it ended on Wild Card Weekend, when all the wheels fell off and their magical coach turned back into a pumpkin.

Chad Pennington’s stat line may appear innocuous, especially juxtaposed against that of his counterpart, rookie Joe Flacco, who completed 9 out of 23 passes for just 123 yards.  Pennington completed 25 of 38 passes for 252 yards and a touchdown, including several stretches during which he completed many consecutive passes and drove the Dolphins down the field.  However, it was the constant pressure by the Ravens, and an uncharacteristic four interceptions for Pennington, that put the game out of reach for the Dolphins.

Chad Pennington under pressure by the Ravens defense (NFL.com).

Chad Pennington came under consistent, heavy pressure by the Ravens' defense (NFL.com).

Baltimore’s defense was absolutely relentless, putting immense and constant pressure on an inexperienced Miami offensive line, nullifying the Miami running game (only 52 net yards rushing) and their Wildcat threat (only 2 Wildcat plays for 7 yards all day), and giving Baltimore the luxury of sitting on the pass and pressuring the quarterback on almost every down.  Two picks by Ravens’ safety Ed Reed were critical in stopping Dolphins’ drives and killing any chance for a Miami comeback.

Pennington became the first player this week to twice win the Comeback Player of the Year award, and finished tied for second in MVP voting with Michael Turner (Peyton Manning won the award for the 3rd time), while garnering the respect of many, and inspiring some compelling arguments that he should have won the MVP trophy.  But his luck ran out today, and the Dolphins’ story-book run has come to a close.

Facing heavy defensive pressure and behind an offensive line that couldn’t protect the run nor the pass, Pennington tried to force big plays against a tough defense, and was outplayed on the two picks by Reed, who sat on the passing game and seemingly came out of nowhere to grab the ball on a comeback-killing pick to end a long drive deep into Baltimore territory in the 4th quarter.  On two of the interceptions, Pennington’s receivers were simply outmatched by the Ravens’ secondary: Davone Bess got both hands on a high and fast (but catchable) Pennington pass and deflected it into the hands of Fabian Washington, and Ted Ginn Jr. was double-covered and outplayed on a long pass by both Samari Rolle and Reed, who picked it off and returned it 64 yards for a touchdown.  Pennington was drilled into the turf after these throws, as well as many others, by the Ravens’ pass rush.

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