The Miami Dolphins thought they had solved their road woes.
Ryan Tannehill’s return from a shoulder injury jump-started a stagnant offense. The defense forced three turnovers and pressured Andrew Luck. Then over the final nine minutes, everything went awry and their old troubles came roaring back.
Luck made the most of Miami’s mounting miscues by directing the Indianapolis Colts to three late scoring drives, culminating in Adam Vinatieri’s 32-yard field goal as time expired in Indy’s 27-24 victory Sunday.
“We shot ourselves in the foot,” Miami defensive end Cameron Wake said. “They made some plays too, nothing to take away from those guys. But in a critical moment, we have to be the ones to make it harder.”
Instead of celebrating, the Dolphins (5-6) went home with their 10th road loss in 11 games and fell one game behind Indianapolis (6-5) and Baltimore in the chase for the final AFC playoff spot.
This one might go down as the most frustrating trip of the road slide because the Dolphins were perfectly positioned to close it out.
They picked off Luck twice in the final minute of the first half, ended their touchdown drought on a 33-yard pass from Tannehill to Kenyan Drake on their opening possession and scored another TD at the end of the half . Miami retook the lead on Jason Sanders’ 29-yard field goal in the third quarter and made it 24-14 on Drake’s nifty 14-yard TD run with 13:36 remaining.
Then Luck started to rally the Colts.
A fourth-down conversion led to a field goal that cut the Dolphins’ lead to 24-17.
Following a three-and-out, Luck hooked up with Eric Ebron on a 12-yard TD pass with 4:25 left. After another three-and-out, Luck stepped through the pressure on third-and-9, somehow maintained his balance and found a wide-open Chester Rogers for a 34-yard gain to set up Vinatieri for the win.
Even Luck acknowledged the Colts had been mystified by the Dolphins’ defense.
“I was a little confused because they lined up in a look they had only showed once before all year,” Luck said, referring to the crucial third-down conversion. “The guys did a good job of protecting and I saw Chester in the right spot at the right time.”
The Dolphins, of course, viewed the game as another chapter in an old story.
″(Andre) Branch has got the guy wrapped up, and it looks like we’re going to have a sack and get the ball back,” coach Adam Gase said. “He (Luck) squirms out of that and makes a great play. That’s what the NFL is. It’s one or two plays at the end.”
It wasn’t just the big plays that cost the Dolphins.
Two penalties in the waning moments hurt, too.
Following Ebron’s second score, cornerback Xavien Howard drew a personal foul call that allowed Indy to pooch kick the ball from midfield to just outside the goal line. On the ensuing return, Senorise Perry was called for holding, pinning the Dolphins at their own 6-yard line.
Colts coach Frank Reich cited the kick, the coverage and the ensuing punt return that put Indy at its own 42 as the decisive twist.
Dolphins running back Frank Gore, who spent three years as Luck’s teammate, knew what to expect and that the Dolphins only had themselves to blame.
“We just have to finish as a team. Everybody,” Gore said.
Crucial 27-24 Loss at Indy