Turnovers and costly penalties derailed any hopes of the Dolphins knocking off the Falcons in their season opener. The Dolphins defense played well enough to give the team a chance, but they had no answer for tight end Tony Gonzalez, and couldn’t come up with enough key stops on third and long.
For Atlanta, the defense was the story, dominating the line of scrimmage, while the offense did just enough to get the win. Defensive ends, John Abraham and Kroy Biermann, were terrors coming off the edge, each registering two sacks.
The Falcons defense answered all the questions asked coming into this contest, holding the Dolphins to just 259 total yards, and forced four turnovers. As mentioned earlier, pressure from the defensive ends was the key, but the secondary also played very well in not allowing any big plays. This unit was also able to effectively neutralize the ‘Wildcat’ formation.
The game was still scoreless after the end of the first quarter, as neither team was able to effectively move the ball. It wasn’t until the second quarter that Matt Ryan hit fullback Ovie Mughelli in the end zone for a one yard score, after Tony Gonzalez came up with a big 19 yard reception on third and eight to set it up.
The Dolphins were finally able to get something going towards the end of the second quarter, driving down into the red zone. However, an Anthony Fasano fumble just after the two minute warning was returned deep into Dolphins territory, setting up a Jason Elam field goal as time expired in the first half.
The second half was more of the same for the Miami offense. After driving into Falcons’ territory, Pennington was picked off by Mike Peterson who returned it to the Dolphins’ twenty yard line. The defense was able to force a third and long, but then it let Tony Gonzalez get into the end zone from twenty yards out, making it a three score game.
After the kickoff, it only took two plays before Miami coughed up the ball yet again, as Fasano fumbled for the second time. The defense was able to hold the Falcons out of the end zone, and caught a break when Elam clanked his kick off the upright, but by this point it was clear that Miami would be unable to mount a comeback. The Dolphins did finally get into the endzone late in the fourth quarter, but could not recover an onside kick attempt, essentially ending the game.
The Dolphins played truly uninspiring football on this day, which is surprising after being such a feel good story last year. The offense was simply awful, as the lack of protection forced Pennington into having to settle for dink and dunk type completions.
Head coach Tony Sparano will not be happy after turning the ball over four times. The turnovers were very uncharacteristic, after the Dolphins led the league in turnover differential last season. The Falcons should be feeling very confident going into next week, especially on defense, as the defensive line dominated a very good Miami offensive line.