Miami still in Luck sweepstakes

Dolphins running back Steve Slaton is stopped short of the end zone by the Giants defence East...

Dolphins running back Steve Slaton is stopped short of the end zone by the Giants defence East Rutherford, N.J., Oct 30, 2011. (MIKE SEGAR/Reuters)

BILL LANKHOF, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 7:48 PM ET

TORONTO - The Miami Dolphins nearly blew a chance at imperfection Sunday.

They came so perilously close to winning a game it could’ve made that vein finally pop in Giants’ coach Tom Coughlin’s forehead.

The Dolphins remain winless at 0-7 but for three quarters it looked like they might play themselves out of the Andrew Luck sweepstakes. Miami, behind a plucky performance from backup quarterback Matt Moore and the resurgent running of Reggie Bush, came within 54 minutes of ambushing the New York Giants.

Moore, with battered ribs, scrambled for 11 and 15 yards on third downs as Miami to keep scoring drives alive. He avoided the vaunted Giants’ pass rush for three quarters. He had the Dolphins ahead 14-3 in the second quarter. But, as so often this seaon for Tony Sparano’s club, they couldn’t find the finishing touch, losing 20-17.

The Dolphins ranked 30th in the league with seven touchdowns and had a minus-7 turnover differential coming into the game having converted a league-low 23.7% of third downs. So, it was never supposed to be this close. Even Bush, who had 103 yards on 15 carries, admitted this week that “we stink.”

Sunday, the Giants (aside from Eli Manning) joined them in defining them selves with the S-word.

With games against New England and New Orleans coming up in one of the toughest schedules in the NFL, this was a game that New York had to win. Nestled first in their division, the Giants were expected to take this game in their sleep — and that’s just the trouble. Sleeping is what they seemed to be doing most of the afternoon. Jake Ballard dropped a pass that could’ve seen him run all the way up Broadway. Hakeem Nicks had one hit him in the face. Brandon Jacobs dropped a pass with no defender in sight.

All of which set Miami up for the upset. With Dolphins running back Daniel Thomas sidelined with a hamstring injury, Bush had his best afternoon since coming to Miami as a free agent doing much of the legwork before Steve Slaton capped an 11-play, 66-yard drive for a TD to put Miami up 7-0. Moore took a fourth-down bootleg into the endzone from the one to make it 14-3.

Meantime, Manning was being plagued by drops, there were four penalites (just in the first quarter) and Jason Taylor and Cameron Wake sandwiched him on a sack. The crowd was getting surly and as the third quarter ended — with St. Louis ahead of the Saints and Arizona leading in Baltimore — this had all the earmarks of an upset Sunday.

But Manning — often criticized for his inconsistencies — was the one Giant who did show consistency on this day. He had hit Manningham with a TD pass just 12 seconds before the half ended. He would finish the day throwing 45 passes for 345 yards. Which was a good thing because the ground game was non-existent with Ahmad Bradshaw and Brandon Jacobs netting a mere 60 yards.

So it helped Manning that in the fourth quarter the Dolphins reverted to showing all the survival instinct of fish bait, and the Giants reverted to defensive beasts. Not to mention having their winning drive set up by some beastly officiating. Moore hit Brandon Marshall but instead of a first down, a cheesy push-off call against Marshall left them with a second and 18 inside the 20.

They never recovered. One punt later, Manning took the Giants downfield, hitting Victor Cruz for a TD and a 20-17 lead. It was, with 5:58 to play, the Giants first lead. As Cruz danced, defensive back Will Allen, beaten on the play, hung his head. It was all starting to look familiar.

Last week, the Dolphins blew a 15-0 lead with 2:44 to play in losing to the Broncos. This week, the Giants’ defence took over the game in the final 10 minutes. Miami’s offence had minus-six yards in the fourth quarter.

The Giants had five sacks, including those by Jason Pierre Paul and Justin Tuck in Miami’s desperate final drive that ended with Corey Webster intercepting Moore. So, despite Bush’s second career 100-yard game, the controversy surrounding Sparano and the club’s worst start in four seasons, lives. The Giants basically showed up for just one quarter ... and still won.

And, maybe for Miami that’s not all bad. Even if they win a game, it’s not like they’re going anywhere. Considering the lift Cam Newton and Blaine Gabbert have brought to franchises, a chance to draft Luck might be the best thing to happen to Miami since the invention of tanning cream. Luck is supposed to be the best quarterback to come out of college since John Elway in 1983.

He’s so good that even Indianapolis, even though they have the iconic Peyton Manning, want to select him.

So, he might just be worth a little suffering.


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