Dolphins' defense holds in fourth quarter

MIAMI -- The scene was set once again for the inconsistent defense of the Miami Dolphins. With 1:54 left in the game, the San Diego Chargers got the ball down four points at their 17-yard line.

It was crunch time for Miami’s defense to step up in a game that could determine its direction in the second half of the season. It was very much time to sink or swim for the Dolphins.

But led by Pro Bowl defensive end Cameron Wake and cornerback Brent Grimes, Miami’s defense held down the Chargers when the Dolphins needed it most. Both players came up big in a 20-16 victory that put Miami (5-5) back in the playoff conversation.

Wake had his only sack of the game on the final drive, which kept the clock running, and Grimes batted down the final desperation pass in the end zone to preserve the victory.

These were the kind of plays Miami’s defense failed to make in the fourth quarter during its five losses in the past six games.

“We’ve talked about making plays in the fourth quarter,” Dolphins head coach Joe Philbin said. “It’s something that we’ve preached, we’ve talked about. Last night we talked about finishing, finishing, finishing and finding a way, somehow, someway.”

It certainly wasn’t pretty. The Dolphins’ defense allowed 435 total yards, which included 154 yards rushing. But good defense in the red zone and mental mistakes and penalties by the Chargers (4-6) kept the scoring low. Miami only allowed on touchdowns in the game.

As with several of Miami’s games, it came down to the final drive. Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers made a desperation heave in the end zone with no time left and Grimes, arguably Miami’s best pure athlete, leaped over everyone to bat the ball down.

“Everybody in the stadium knew they needed a touchdown,” Grimes said. “Our coach made a call that required us to make a play on the ball. We had to man up and play and make something happen.”

Miami’s defense hasn’t made enough good things happen during the course of the year. This group overall has underachieved.

But with the Dolphins at .500, it’s never too late for the defense to finally live up to its potential in the final six games while Miami tries to make a late run for the playoffs.