Dolphins observations: Chance for 4th straight win slips away late

Miami Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill (17) after the game against the Detroit Lions.

Tim Fuller/Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports

The Miami Dolphins were close Sunday to securing their fourth consecutive victory, but Detroit Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford led his team on a game-winning scoring drive in the final minute to give the Dolphins a 20-16 loss.

Detroit (7-2) began the game firing on all cylinders and scored 10 points in the opening quarter, but a strong Dolphins defense held the Lions scoreless through the second and third quarters.

In a battle between two elite defensive teams, the game was decided in the final quarter, where the Lions lost the lead before regaining it with Stafford finding running back Theo Riddick in the end zone with seconds left. Their past three victories have all featured fourth-quarter comebacks.

This loss recalls the Dolphins’ similar fourth-quarter letdown against the Green Bay Packers in Week 6. Despite starting slow, the Dolphins had a golden chance to score their second touchdown of the game early in the fourth quarter, but safety James Ihedigbo poked the ball away from tight end Charles Clay’s hands as he caught it in the end zone. Instead, the Dolphins settled for a Caleb Sturgis 20-yard field goal to make it 16-13, their only lead of the game and one that was quickly erased.

Let’s take a look at five takeaways from the Dolphins loss:

1. Another slow start.

Just when Dolphins fans were thinking their team had overcome their slow starts, along came the NFL’s top-ranked defense. The Dolphins, who had enjoyed a productive ground attack all season, were limited to 50 yards on 19 carries against the Lions.

Ryan Tannehill had a tough task repeating the kind of performance he had last Sunday, but against the Lions he had little time to react to their pressure and was unable to put together a solid stretch of play. The Dolphins mustered 222 total yards of offense. Their first touchdown was a result of a blocked field-goal attempt that defensive end Dion Jordan returned to the Lions’ 4-yard line.

Dolphins vs. Lions

2. Grimes makes his mark.

Following his AFC Defensive Player of the Week honors, cornerback Brent Grimes continued his strong play with an amazing one-handed interception in the end zone in the second quarter on what would have been a certain Calvin Johnson touchdown.

Grimes allowed a highlight-worthy play himself however, when Johnson caught a 49-yard touchdown pass over his outstretched hands. But he also took away a crucial play from the Lions with four minutes left in the game by tipping away a pass to Johnson in mid-air to help stop their second-to-last drive dead in its tracks.

3. Fake punts.

Surprisingly, both teams attempted three fake punts in the first half. The first one caught the Dolphins by surprise for a big Lions gain. On their second attempt, however, cornerback Walt Aikens was able to react quickly and deny the first down.

Dolphins coach Joe Philbin tried his luck with a fake punt of their own with safety Jordan Kovacs converting on the direct snap up the middle, but the play was negated by a flag.

4. Wake dominant again.

Dolphins defensive end Cameron Wake did everything in his power to keep his team in the game and give them a chance to win with his strong play.

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Wake recorded two sacks as well as a tackle for a loss. One of his sacks stopped a drive at the start of the fourth quarter, forcing the Lions to settle for a 50-yard field goal.

5. Costly Dolphins injuries, turnovers.

Two costly turnovers didn’t help the Dolphins. In addition to a Tannehill interception, running back Daniel Thomas lost control of the ball down the middle during a promising drive to open the second half.

Left tackle Branden Albert was lost in the second quarter to a right knee injury, which cost the Dolphins in this game and quite possibly the rest of the season.

Additionally, cornerback Cortland Finnegan had to leave the game near the end of the third quarter and was spotted by reporters hobbling in the locker room afterward.

Up next: The Dolphins host the Buffalo Bills on Thursday at 8:25 p.m.

You can follow Surya Fernandez on Twitter @SuryaHeatNBA or email him at SuryaFoxSports@gmail.com.