Timeout led to Saints' rally

Updated: October 26, 2009, 5:59 PM ET
Associated Press

DAVIE, Fla. -- Tony Sparano could point to plenty of potential culprits for his lousy night's sleep: the blown 21-point lead, the fourth-quarter meltdown, penalties, turnovers, missed tackles and Ted Ginn Jr.

Instead, Sparano's own mistake kept him awake.

An ill-advised timeout only seconds before halftime helped reverse momentum against the New Orleans Saints, who rallied to beat Sparano's Miami Dolphins 46-34.

"That was a poor decision on my part," Sparano said Monday.

Immediately following the game Sunday, Sparano defended the timeout, saying he needed to substitute personnel. Upon further review, at his weekly day-after-the-game news conference, the coach raised the issue before he was even asked about it.

"I want my players to do this -- I need to do it myself -- I have to take ownership of the situation that happened at the end of the half," Sparano said. "I always have the power of trump, and I did not do that. I should have lived with what was out on the field in that situation."

At the time, Miami led 24-3. The Saints' Marques Colston made a reception that was initially ruled a touchdown. When a replay review with 5 seconds left determined the ball should instead be placed at the half-yard line, Miami called timeout with the Saints lined up for a field-goal attempt.

That gave Saints quarterback Drew Brees time to persuade coach Sean Payton to try for a touchdown instead. Payton sent his offensive unit back onto the field, and Brees plunged across the goal line to make the score 24-10.

The Saints only gained momentum from there, outscoring Miami 43-10 over the final 30:02.

The loss dropped the Dolphins (2-4) into last place in the AFC East with four of their next five games on the road. They'll try to bounce back Sunday against the New York Jets.

Dolphins players said Sparano's willingness to accept responsibility for the pivotal timeout decision was what they would expect from him.

"He's a guy who is going to tell it like it is," safety Yeremiah Bell said. "We don't make excuses around here. If something is on you, what you do is own up for it. He's our leader; he's a guy who preaches that."

Miami's meltdown went far beyond one bad decision. Tackling and pass coverage, two recurring problems, were an issue for the defense in the second half, while the offense struggled once New Orleans went to an eight-man front.

Ginn had one of his worst games, dropping three passes, one of which he deflected to a defender who scored on an interception return. Ginn caught only two of eight passes thrown his way, ran out of bounds a yard shy of a first down, and reinforced the perception he'll never fulfill his projected potential as a No. 9 overall draft pick in 2007.

"Ted is a young guy that's getting better," Sparano said. "He just didn't have a good ballgame."

Sparano was less forgiving of the way the Dolphins played in the fourth quarter, when they were outscored 22-0. It was a reversal for a team that won the AFC East last year by finishing strong in close games.

"That bothered me," Sparano said. "Coulda, shoulda, wouldas, but that's a game where we had it in control several times but let it get away. We just didn't get things done in the fourth quarter."

The Dolphins drew five penalties in the quarter, gave up 188 yards and abandoned their potent ground game. Miami took a 34-24 lead into the final period, but threw on 13 consecutive plays that netted 26 yards.

Quarterback Chad Henne, making only his third NFL start, said the offense must react better to eight-man fronts.

"They're challenging you," Henne said. "They have one extra guy you can't block, and that guy is up to me. We have to have good timing with the wideouts, have to run good routes, and I have to put the ball where it needs to be. There were some miscues there with me and the wide receivers."

For the Dolphins, there was plenty of blame to go around, starting with the head coach.


Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press