MIAMI GARDENS—This was better, but still not good enough.
The Dolphins are running low on time as they try to make a run for a playoff spot, and tonight’s 27-24 loss to the Raiders at Hard Rock Stadium will cost them significantly. They came in looking to move into a tie for the No. 4 spot in the AFC standings and pull within one game of first-place New England in the division. Instead, they’re 4-4 and heading into a tough Monday night game at Carolina.
The offense made drive-killing mistakes, and the defense was nothing special. Miami was still in it until a brutal drive ended with Marshawn Lynch barreling into the end zone for a 27-16 lead with 4:37 remaining.
Three different Raiders put up at least one receiving play of 25 yards or more in the game, and both Oakland running backs averaged at least four yards per carry.
There were small signs of progress against Oakland, but progress has to materialize into victories at this point in the season—especially at home against a team that came in at 3-5. Here are five instant takeaways from a damaging loss for Miami:
1. The new running game is that there isn’t one.
Other than Kenyan Drake’s breakaway for 42 yards in the third quarter, he and Damien Williams totaled 41 on 15 carries in Miami’s first game without Jay Ajayi. However, they combined to catch 12 passes for 82 yards as coach Adam Gase revealed a little bit of what he has in mind for the running backs going forward. Drake and Williams are both faster and better receiving threats than Ajayi, making them a smart fit for Gase’s offense. Look for the Dolphins to continue using them like this rather than force them to fit a traditional running back role.
2. Jay Cutler quieted the quarterback debate, at least for a little while.
The last two weeks, encompassing Matt Moore’s start in Baltimore and Cutler’s return Sunday, should regain some credibility for Cutler with the fan base. Not that he cares. Cutler completed his first 16 passes against Oakland and looked fine playing through multiple fractured ribs. He was decisive and got the ball out quickly to negate the Raiders’ pass rush. While the offense still didn’t look great, it certainly wasn’t Cutler’s fault. He completed 34 of 42 passes for 311 yards and had three touchdowns with no turnovers.
3. There’s no end in sight to the field issues at Hard Rock Stadium.
After the grass held up very well for the University of Miami’s game against Virginia Tech on Saturday, it was questionable from the onset for Dolphins-Raiders. Chunks of it came up during warmups, and the field continued to deteriorate throughout the night. The brief downpour just before kickoff certainly didn’t help. Hard Rock Stadium had significant issues in the preseason and for the Jets game two weeks ago. It’ll be a concern again when Miami hosts the Buccaneers on Nov. 19, the day after the Hurricanes play Virginia in the building.
4. How are the Dolphins ever going to get by without Jarvis Landry?
People can find flaws in any player, and certainly Landry isn’t a perfect receiver, but it’s hard to imagine Miami’s offense surviving without him this year or in the near future. He remains the team’s most dependable offensive player, and there’s no one the quarterbacks trust more. He’s been the safety valve for Ryan Tannehill, Matt Moore and Cutler, and no player in NFL history has caught more passes (344) in their first four seasons. He caught six of the seven passes thrown to him for 33 yards and a touchdown.
5. Few kickers have had the adventure Cody Parkey experienced.
It’s been a weird season for The Jupiter Juggernaut, who has made three game-winning field goals and missed three extra points. He sent a point-after off the left upright for a miss early in the second quarter, then followed immediately with a brilliantly executed onsides kick that he recovered. The Dolphins made it to the Oakland 20-yard line before Drake fumbled away the scoring opportunity. Later in the game, he made a 49-yarder with ease and recorded a tackle on kickoff coverage.
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