There was hope. Believe it, there was.
On Sunday, the Miami Dolphins actually showed they could compete with one of the league's elite teams. They had the defending AFC South champs tied in a standstill for nearly one half.
And then reality set in.
In a hurry.
After playing the Houston Texans tight most of the opening half, the Dolphins let it slip away in the final two minutes before halftime. They allowed 21 points during the span in a 30-10 loss at Reliant Stadium, sending Miami to yet another season-opening defeat.
The Dolphins have lost five of their last six openers, more importantly dropping the first game in Joe Philbin's tenure as coach. Miami remains winless against the Texans, falling to 0-7 all-time in the series.
"We unraveled a little bit in the last six minutes of the half," Philbin said. "And that's on me."
The late-half barrage of points was just too much for a team starting a rookie quarterback on the road against a playoff-caliber team. Yet, the Dolphins and Ryan Tannehill were on the verge of taking the lead midway through the second quarter when the unraveling began.
With the score tied at 3, the Dolphins appeared on the move with possession at the Texans 44. Tannehill dropped to pass, but his throw intended for Legedu Naanee was tipped at the line of scrimmage and intercepted by Houston linebacker Brian Cushing with 4 minutes, 6 seconds remaining.
For the Dolphins, it was the beginning of the end.
The Texans converted the mistake into a 14-yard touchdown run by running back Arian Foster to take the lead for good.
The interception would eventually turn into the least of Tannehill's worries. His next pass after being tipped again was intercepted by Texans cornerback Kareem Jackson. The Texans once again took advantage, this time with Foster scoring on a 2-yard run to put them ahead 17-3 with 43 seconds left in the half.
"It's something that we're going to take a look at this week and see if we can fix," Tannehill said of the tipped passes. "There's several factors to that."
The mistakes continued for a third straight possession.
The Dolphins committed their fourth turnover of the half when running back Daniel Thomas fumbled after being knocked out of the game with a concussion. The Texans capitalized three plays later on quarterback Matt Schaub's 14-yard touchdown pass to Andre Johnson.
"I don't have much to say about it," receiver Brian Hartline said. "I almost wish it was something that was correctable … Overall, that's just bad luck."
With the flurry of blows before halftime, the remainder was just a formality. The turnovers left the defense in the unfortunate position of defending a short field on four consecutive possessions. Still, the Dolphins refused to use it as an excuse.
"It's a team sport, man," defensive end Randy Starks said. "We didn't get any turnovers. We didn't help the cause at all. Just because we [the offense] had the turnovers, doesn't mean we had to give up touchdowns. … We could have done something about it on defense, but we didn't."
The lone highlight for the Dolphins was a 72-yard punt return for a score by Marcus Thigpen early in the third quarter that made it 24-10. Even that hope was short-lived, with the Texans regaining whatever momentum they lost with an 11-play, 64-yard drive that ended with a 40-yard field goal by Shayne Graham to push the lead to 17.
The hole was more than enough for an offense too inept to make a comeback. Tannehill finished 20 of 36 for 219 yards and three interceptions in his debut. Because they trailed in the second half, they had to abandon the running game established in the first half. Reggie Bush carried 14 times for 69 yards before becoming a non-factor when the game got out of hand.
"Take nothing away from Houston," Bush said. "They're a great team and they played well but we made some mistakes that really cost us and we know better."Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times