DAVIE, Fla. — There was reason for concern. The Dolphins spent last season drop-kicking games away, and not much had been changing in 2012.
So pardon Miami wide receiver Davone Bess if he had a worried expression in the waning minutes Sunday as Cincinnati sought to drive for a winning touchdown.
“A couple of moments it came up where we thought, ‘Here we go again. Same old story,’ ’’ Bess said Monday.
This time, though, the Dolphins actually survived. Safety Reshad Jones intercepted a pass at midfield with 1:22 left, and Miami held on for a 17-13 win.
But it could have been yet another game blown by the Dolphins, who led 17-6 entering the fourth quarter.
The Bengals cut the deficit to 17-13 with 14:15 left and could have gotten even closer had Mike Nugent not missed a 41-yard field goal with 3:01 remaining.
Dolphins fans need little reminding that the team had squandered fourth-quarter leads in the previous two games. Miami fell 23-20 in overtime Sept. 23 against the New York Jets and 24-21 in overtime Sept. 30 at Arizona.
Last season’s team highlight film could have been named “Dolphins Doldrums.’’ Miami blew fourth-quarter leads in four losses, including kicking away a 15-0 advantage against Denver. The Dolphins also booted away a 17-0 third-quarter lead in a defeat at New England.
“When we watch films and go over some pass rushes from last season, some of the veterans will say … ‘Man, we got to finish better,’ ’’ defensive tackle Kheeston Randall said of having found out as a rookie in training camp what Miami went through last season.
It didn’t look as if the Dolphins had learned much about closing out after they lost to the Jets and Cardinals. But at least they now hope Sunday’s win gets them on the right track.
“It was huge to build our confidence,’’ said tackle Jake Long, whose Dolphins play host Sunday to St. Louis. “The last couple of weeks, we haven’t finished, and that is the one thing we talked about, that we need to finish in the fourth quarter. We need to close out the game, and we got one this week.’’
Then again, call it a close-out victory with an asterisk.
After Nugent’s missed field goal, the Dolphins regained possession with a chance to run out the clock. They got a first down and forced the Bengals to use their final two timeouts.
But on third-and-eight at the 50 on the first play following the two-minute morning, Dolphins tight end Charles Clay inexplicably stepped out of bounds after a five-yard catch.
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That enabled the Bengals to get the ball back at their own 20 with 1:45 left rather than with about 1:10 remaining.
“That could have been disastrous,’’ offensive coordinator Mike Sherman said of Clay’s gaffe. “You end up punting with 1:54 and you should have punted with 1:20.”
While Miami’s offense didn’t close out the game, at least the defense did.
“They bailed us out,’’ Bess said. “That’s why it’s a team effort. So we commend the defense, and we expect them to do that. I’m pretty sure they expect us to hold onto the ball and run the clock out …. The whole defense deserves the game ball.’’
After the game, Bess thanked defensive players. An extremely popular guy obviously was Jones, who made his second interception of the season.
Those on Miami’s offense figure it shouldn’t even have come down to that. Then again, winning in that manner sure beats what had happened the previous two weeks.
“We kind of gave away some gifts,’’ wide receiver Brian Hartline said of the losses to the Jets and the Cardinals.
It’s no wonder some on the Dolphins sideline were worried late Sunday afternoon that Miami’s charity wasn’t about to stop.