Dolphins season ends with whimper

Published: Sunday, January 4, 2009 at 11:29 p.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, January 4, 2009 at 11:29 p.m.

MIAMI The game had been over for an hour and the Dolphin Stadium crew was hard at work, aggressively ripping up turf that displayed the Miami Dolphins' logo at midfield to replace it for Thursday night's BCS game.


Miami's wonderful season had been ripped up just as viciously.

For 16 games, Miami had been so careful with the ball. The Dolphins had tied an NFL record for the fewest turnovers in a 16-game season. They had won nine of their last 10 games thanks to ball security.

Then this five turnovers.

On an afternoon when they hoped to return to the glory years, the Dolphins instead reverted to 2007 form when they won one game in 16 tries.

And Chad Pennington looked a lot more like the quarterback the New York Jets dumped than the one who had led his team to an incredible turnaround.

"I'm disappointed for them," Pennington said of his teammates. "If there has ever been an epitome of a picture of a team, it's our team. It has been a special year. That's why it hurts so much."

Baltimore's salty defense stopped the run and picked off the pass. They hit like they were mad at somebody.

"We have a bunch of tough guys who don't care where they play or what time they play," Baltimore coach John Harbaugh said. "We're not going to say we're playing a team that leads the league in ball security that we're not going to get them. We feel we can get anybody."

And they got Pennington. He was hit hard and often, sacked three times and drilled on two of the interceptions he threw.

"We force turnovers and that's the thing we did today," linebacker Ray Lewis said.

But maybe it was more than just a tenacious Baltimore defense.

When you've gone seven years between playoff games, when your fans are waving white towels frenetically and holding "Why Not Us?" signs in the stands, well, maybe it was just too much.

"We played loose," Baltimore defensive tackle Trevor Pryce said. "I bet they were tight, You could see it. They were tense."

Maybe. Or maybe Baltimore is just that good on defense. But there is no question that a team that turns it over five times in a playoff game is going to watch the rest of the season on television.

"In this type of game, in this type of situation, you can't make mistakes," Miami receiver Davone Bess said.

Just can't.

But did.

Many times.

The veteran quarterback looked like a rookie and the rookie looked like a veteran. Joe Flacco didn't throw for a lot of yards. Didn't have to. But he did the one thing that Baltimore needed him to do.

Don't turn the ball over.

"He didn't get antsy in there at all," Harbaugh said. "He played playoff winning football."

Despite the way it ended for Miami, it was still a fun season for the Dol-fans. To win nine of the last 10 regular-season games, to beat the Jets to qualify for the playoffs, these are memories that won't go away even if they were bludgeoned in the final game of the year.

"I'm proud of them," Miami coach Tony Sporano said. "I'm really proud of what they've done. They should walk out of here with their heads held high. I realize nobody wants to hear that right now. We didn't come here to be in second place.

"But you can't do those things and my team knows what they can do and can't do and how to win or lose in this league and that's the way to lose."

That much was obvious.

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