Dolphins showing new knack for winning close games


Dolphins showing new knack for winning close games

DAVIE, Fla. (AP) Calling for a fake punt with four minutes left is risky stuff from a rookie coach, especially one as even-keel as Joe Philbin.

The Miami Dolphins coach concedes Las Vegas isn't for him.

``I work too hard for my money,'' Philbin said Monday. ``I'm not a gambler.''

He does play the odds though, which paid off in Miami's 17-14 win Sunday over the St. Louis Rams. A successful fake punt was one of several key plays by the Dolphins down the stretch before St. Louis missed a 66-yard field goal on the final play.

With consecutive wins by a total of seven points, Miami (3-3) is showing a newfound knack for winning close games.

``We have a sense of urgency right now,'' linebacker Karlos Dansby said. ``We have potential to be great, so everybody's chipping in and just doing their part.''

At .500, the Dolphins are far from great, but they do share the AFC East lead with the division's three other teams. Miami has a bye before playing its first division road game next week against the New York Jets.

``It's a whole new season for us,'' receiver Marlon Moore said. ``The sky is the limit.''

There's a sense of enormous progress over the past year, because Miami was 0-7 at the end of October 2011. And narrow victories have been critical to the turnaround.

The Dolphins lost five games by a total of 11 points last season, when they finished 6-10. They endured back-to-back overtime losses this year to fall to 1-3.

But Miami hung on a week ago to win at Cincinnati, 17-13, and dug in again against the Rams, who drove 52 yards before stalling at midfield in the final seconds.

The mood in the Miami locker room has changed, veteran guard Richie Incognito said.

``It's a different feeling,'' he said. ``We are all believing that we can win.''

The latest victory required some serendipity. The Dolphins gave up 462 yards, the most they've allowed in a victory since 2008. They rushed for only 19 yards, the fourth-lowest total in team history. They ran only 49 plays.

But for the second week in a row, they won with just 17 points.

Many elements are involved in learning how to prevail in close games, Philbin said.

``Hopefully the chemistry is a little better, the resolve is a little stronger, the urgency to make a play is there,'' he said. ``Our guys hopefully have watched the tape and learned from some of the prior mistakes and made adjustments.''

The coach did his part with the fake-punt call. Chris Clemons, the up back, took the snap and ran for 3 yards on fourth and 1 from the Dolphins' 40-yard line.

That allowed the Dolphins to keep the ball for another 2 1/2 minutes before the Rams got it back at their own 3 with 1:41 to go.

``I thought we needed a play,'' Philbin said. ``We didn't want to kick the ball back to them right then and there. It worked. It was well conceived by our special teams staff, and our guys practiced it well.

``If you're going to practice this stuff, you can't go 17 weeks and never use it. Do you believe in it or not? You've got to have faith that the guys can execute.''

Trickery can only do so much, however. Philbin's mostly interested in mistake-free football, and there Miami has made strides as well, winning the turnover battle the past two weeks.

While the ground game stalled against the Rams, rookie Ryan Tannehill had his most efficient performance yet, completing 72 percent of his passes and earning a quarterback rating of 112, both season highs. Since tossing an overtime interception that led to a loss at Arizona, Tannehill has thrown 55 passes without a turnover in the past two games.

His passer rating in the fourth quarter is a solid 90.8, with two touchdowns and no interceptions. The rookie is learning how to close out games, just like his teammates.

``We're a couple plays away from being 5-1,'' Tannehill said. ``It's just about finding a way to make plays at the end of the game. We did that the last two weeks. We've just got to continue to do it, and we've built some confidence getting these last two wins.''


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2017-18 Wizards roster review: Jodie Meeks

2017-18 Wizards roster review: Jodie Meeks

To wrap up the 2017-18 season, we are looking at each player on the Wizards' roster. Today, we evaluate Jodie Meeks' season...

Player: Jodie Meeks

Position: Shooting guard

Age: 30

2017-18 salary: $3.3 million

2017-18 stats: 77 G, 14.5 mpg, 6.3 ppg, 1.6 rpg, 0.9 apg, 0.4 spg, 0.1 bpg, 39.9 FG%, 34.3 3P%, 86.3 FT%, 49.1 eFG%, 111 ORtg, 112 DRtg

Best game: 11/29 at Sixers - 21 points, 4 rebounds, assist, steal, 5-for-11 FG, 3-for-6 3PT, 8-for-9 FT

Season review: The Wizards took a flier on Jodie Meeks last summer in what seemed at the time to be a low-risk contract with a potentially high reward, if he could stay healthy and play to his career norms. They were in obvious need of help at backup shooting guard and three-point shooting for their bench.

Meeks fell short of those expectations for a variety of reasons. Though he stayed healthy for the first time in years, he could not make shots at the clip the Wizards were hoping for. His field goal percentage was not far off from what he posted in recent years, but his three-point percentage was nowhere near the 38.8 percent he shot in his previous four seasons.

Meeks bottomed out midseason, shooting 28.9 percent from three in December and 28 percent in January. Those numbers ticked up beginning in February, but Meeks never fully gained the trust of his coaching staff. He rarely got hot enough to alter games and his best stat-lines often came in blowouts. 

There was a domino effect from Meeks' struggles, as starting shooting guard Bradley Beal had no one to spell him. As a result, Beal logged the fourth-most minutes of any NBA player this season.

For Meeks personally, it was a bittersweet year because staying healthy was no small feat. He had a run of bad luck and finally broke out of it this season. On the other hand, he never made the impact he felt he was capable of and that wasn't easy for a guy joining a new team and a new locker room.

Meeks' 2017-18 season was ultimately defined by more than his shooting woes. First, he expressed interest in a trade in February and did not get his wish. Then, he was suspended for allegedy using performance-enhancing drugs after the regular season ended. He was out for the playoffs and will miss the first 19 games of the 2018-19 season without pay as he waits out a 25-game ban.

Meeks may or may not serve that suspension as a member of the Wizards. He has a player option for next season worth $3.5 million. He has yet to inform the team of his decision, but the expectation is that he will pick it up. Given how poorly his season went and ended, it would likely be the smart move financially for him to opt in and hope for better results next season.

Potential to improve: Shooting percentage, perimeter defense, passing

More player season reviews:

John Wall, PG

Bradley Beal, SG

Otto Porter, SF

Markieff Morris, PF

Marcin Gortat, C

Kelly Oubre, Jr., SF

Tomas Satoransky, PG

Ian Mahinmi, C

Ty Lawson, PG

Tim Frazier, PG

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Want the Stanley Cup? Five ways the Caps can beat the Golden Knights

Want the Stanley Cup? Five ways the Caps can beat the Golden Knights

The Caps stand just four wins away from winning their first Stanley Cup. To get those four wins, however, they will have to beat the Vegas Golden Knights.

Here are the keys to the series that will give the Caps the win.

Figure out how to beat Marc-Andre Fleury

No player has been as important to his team this postseason as Fleury is to the Golden Knights. He is reason No. 1, 2 and 3 why they have made their improbable run to the Stanley Cup Final in the team’s inaugural season.

Fleury’s personal numbers are staggering. Through 15 games, he has a .947 save percentage and has recorded four shutouts.

Vegas has been a middle of the pack team in terms of offense this postseason scoring 2.87 goals per game. They have lost only three playoff games thus far, but, as dominant as they have been, they certainly are not blowing away the competition. Of their 12 wins, ten of them have come with a margin of victory of two goals or less.

This shows you just how important Fleury is to their success. They are not scoring opponents into submission, rather they are relying on Fleury to keep opponents at bay.

Fleury is the absolute key to the Golden Knights’ success. It’s easier said than done, but if the Caps find a way to beat him consistently, Vegas becomes exponentially more beatable.

Win the neutral zone battle

Much of this series will be determined between the blue lines. The Golden Knights are an incredibly fast team.

Just to get to this point, the Caps had to beat two other speedy teams in the Pittsburgh Penguins and the Tampa Bay Lightning. They did it primarily by slowing down the offense in the neutral zone with a 1-3-1 trap. With so many bodies defending in the neutral zone, opponents have struggled to break the puck cleanly into the Caps’ defensive zone. The Caps are cutting off passing and skating lanes, creating turnovers and generating odd-man breaks in the other direction by catching opponents’ defensemen playing too aggressively on the rush.

As fast as the Penguins and Lightning were, however, the Golden Knights are even faster. Will the trap be as effective against Vegas?

Limit obstruction penalties

When playing against a team with speed, penalties often become a major issue. When trying to defend against fast players, if you get caught flat-footed or out of position, this tends to lead to obstruction penalties like tripping and hooking. When a player realizes he’s been beat, he does everything he can to prevent that from costing his team, leading to those type of penalties.

Vegas’ power play has not been lights out by any means with a success rate of only 17.6-percent this postseason, but you cannot continually give the opposition chances to score by frequently having a player sent to the penalty box.

Positioning is going to make all the difference in the world in this series to make sure a player is not forced into taking an obstruction penalty just to slow down the Golden Knights.

Get off to good starts

Vegas is 10-1 in the postseason when scoring first. Their secret to success is a mix between goaltending and speed.

Fleury has been phenomenal in net and the Golden Knights are a quick breakout team. It is very hard to get much sustained offensive pressure against them because once they get the puck, they are going down the ice at a million miles an hour.

Having to play from behind against a team like Vegas is not a recipe for success. Just getting the puck and keeping up with them is exhausting. Having to then find a way to then beat Fleury when he has a lead to protect is all the more daunting.

Strong starts will be vital to ensuring the Caps are not frequently having to play from behind.

Depth scoring

Vegas head coach Gerard Gallant likes to roll his four lines. It makes sense since there drop-off between his top line and fourth line is not as dramatic as it is on most NHL teams.

Consider how this team was constructed. The expansion draft did not give Vegas access to superstar players, but they also did not have to take any fringe NHL/healthy scratch players to fill the fourth line either. They filled their roster with the best players available to them which gives them four lines of much more comparative strength than most NHL teams.

While this means the Caps have a stronger top six, it also allows Vegas to roll four lines and take advantage of other teams’ bottom six.

You can never take a shift off against Vegas. There is no weak line to exploit. The Golden Knights come at you with four lines and relentless pressure and forecheck for 60 minutes.

Washington will probably get more production from its top six than Vegas will, or at the very least it will be a push. The question is what kind of production will each team get from the bottom six? If the Caps have the edge in depth production as well, they will be in good shape.