Henne transforms Dolphins' offense

October 13, 2009

EDS: ADDS details. Chad Henne's team had the ball near midfield trailing late in the game when he dug into the playground playbook, wound up and heaved the ball toward the end zone. It was the sort of pass where Miami Dolphins quarterbacks have long come up short - a throw designed to stretch a defense, redefine an offense and turn around a game. Henne's toss hit Ted Ginn Jr. in stride, two steps behind the New York Jets' secondary near the goal line. Suddenly the Dolphins had a touchdown, and a keeper at quarterback. The 53-yard pass from Henne to Ginn was hardly the only highlight during a wild fourth quarter Monday night, when the lead changed hands five times and the Dolphins won 31-27 on a TD with 6 seconds left. But Henne's long toss underscored the dramatic change his strong arm brings to Miami's offense, giving the Dolphins the deep threat they've lacked since Dan Marino retired nearly 10 years ago. "A tremendous throw," coach Tony Sparano said. "It was a big relief to go out and catch a touchdown pass like that," said Ginn, whose speed has been largely unexploited since Miami took him in the first round of the 2007 draft. Even last year, when Chad Pennington threw for 3,653 yards, the Dolphins rarely went deep. In the first four games this year, they had only two completions of 20 yards or more to wide receivers. A shoulder injury ended Pennington's season Sept. 27, and Henne became the Dolphins' 14th starting quarterback since Marino. The past two games suggest Miami finally has a long-term solution with a QB talented enough to lead a championship team. "The offense can look me in the eye and know I can take them down the field in tight situations and lead them to victory," Henne said. The Dolphins have scored 69 points in Henne's two starts, their biggest point total in consecutive games since 2002. They won both to reach the bye week at 2-3, putting them back in the AFC East race. "We are not anywhere crazy, but we are headed in the right direction now," linebacker Joey Porter said. They're ready to follow Henne. As a starter he's 34 for 48 (71 percent) for 356 yards, with three touchdowns and no turnovers. He repeatedly made good decisions against the Jets, and avoided being sacked even though they blitzed two dozen times. "I didn't force the ball anywhere," Henne said. "Whatever they presented me, I tried to take." A four-year starter at Michigan, Henne has played in plenty of big games, and the second-year pro quarterback seemed unfazed by his NFL prime time debut. He completed all three attempts on Miami's opening possession, a 7 1/2-minute touchdown drive. He led another methodical TD march in the second half that took nearly nine minutes. Henne outplayed the Jets' more heralded quarterback, rookie Mark Sanchez, while facing a defense that had allowed only three touchdowns in the first four games. Henne led the Dolphins to three TDs in the fourth quarter alone, each time bringing them from behind. "He is one of those guys who is just calm, man," Porter said. "You think a guy would be nervous in that situation. Most guys would, veteran quarterback, rookie quarterback, it really doesn't matter. It's just confidence, man. If I don't love him for anything else, his swagger is exactly what you want in a young quarterback." Henne had plenty of help. The Dolphins used the wildcat 16 times for 110 yards and two touchdowns, including the game-winner. Ricky Williams totaled 138 yards rushing and receiving. Ronnie Brown ran for 74, caught passes for 14 and completed a wildcat throw for 21. But it was Henne who managed the game, completed passes to 10 receivers and played his best down the stretch. More than half his yards passing - 121 of 241 - came in the final quarter. Starting at their 30 and trailing 27-24 with five minutes left, the Dolphins mounted a 13-play march for the winning score. Henne kept the drive going with a pair of third-down completions, one against a seven-man rush. "You always dream as a kid of these comebacks," Henne said. "I watched Joe Montana when I was a kid run the comeback drill, and it was great to be a part of that." The Dolphins believe he's just getting started.