for this game

Struggling Dolphins hold on against winless Titans

Sep 24, 2006 - 8:24 PM MIAMI (Ticker) -- The Miami Dolphins and Tennessee Titans both still need to correct many problems. But the Dolphins no longer need a win.

Struggling Daunte Culpepper did just enough and Olindo Mare snapped a tie with a 39-yard field goal with 3:39 remaining as the Dolphins edged the Titans, 13-10, in a battle of winless teams.

"It was real important to get a win," Dolphins linebacker Zach Thomas said. "It wasn't pretty, but (we needed) to just get that win and build off of it."

Ronnie Brown rushed for 90 yards and Travis Daniels made a big interception for the Dolphins (1-2), who began the season with Super Bowl aspirations but dropped their first two games, managing just 23 points.

"We're trying to find our identity and we're trying to get there," Thomas said. "It takes time, but we're not going in the tank. We opened up 0-2 and our expectations have dropped. I think it's kind of good right now - no expectations. We can let loose and not have any worries."

The primary culprit has been Culpepper, who was acquired in a trade with Minnesota and was coming off major knee surgery. For the third straight game, he had a difficult time moving around in the pocket and connecting on the deep ball, forcing the Dolphins to depend on their defense.

Culpepper completed 17-of-26 passes for 168 yards. He ran for Miami's only touchdown but also was sacked five times, bringing his season total to 15.

"We need to look and realize (our deficiencies) and not fool ourselves into thinking we are a better team than we are right now," Culpepper admitted.

However, Culpepper came up big on Miami's final possession. With the Dolphins facing a 3rd-and-8 at their 33 and 1:41 remaining, he threw a 19-yard bullet to Wes Welker, who earlier had fumbled a punt but squeezed this one, allowing Miami to run out the clock.

"We just don't want to wait to get things together until the end of the season, when it's too late to make a push for the playoffs," said Welker, who caught five passes for 59 yards. "We certainly came out here today with a lot of intensity. ... Hopefully, it will help us get the ball rolling and start making a run."

The Dolphins survived a missed field goal by Mare, a fumbled punt by Welker, red zone inefficiency and breakdowns in protection to beat the Titans for the second straight season.

"No one ever hung their head," coach Nick Saban said. "There was no bad body language after any bad play, whether it was Wes' fumble on the punt or the big play that we gave them at the end at two minutes. ... We didn't get frustrated."

The Titans (0-3) absorbed their seventh straight road loss and have their own problems.

"It's definitely tough," Titans quarterback Kerry Collins said. "Last week (a 40-7 loss to San Diego) was an embarrassment but I think this week, the guys played their hearts out."

Despite finally scoring in the first half, Tennessee again sputtered on offense and has just 33 points this season. Tight end Bo Scaife fumbled inside the 5 in the first half and an illegal block penalty on Quinton Ganther negated a 76-yard punt return by Adam "Pacman" Jones in the fourth quarter.

"Games are close and you have to make the big play," Titans coach Jeff Fisher said. "Our younger players have to learn that. I'm not a moral victory guy, but as long as I see improvement, I'll remain optimistic."

Tennessee also has issues at quarterback. Collins was 19-of-33 for 269 yards, a touchdown and two interceptions. Meanwhile, rookie Vince Young did not play after seeing action in the first two games.

"I think the reason why he didn't play today is that Kerry was playing very well," Saban said.

Brown carried 26 times, including a 27-yard run on Miami's go-ahead drive. Receiver Marty Booker went 19 yards on a reverse to set up Mare's kick.

On the next possession, Thomas - who had been picked on in the first half - tipped a pass by Collins that also was tipped by receiver Drew Bennett and intercepted by Daniels at the Dolphins 33.

"It was unfortunate because Drew had his guy beaten and the pass was going to be there," Collins said. "It was going to be a big play, and it was going to get us in field goal range and maybe more. ... It was a bad break."

Thomas picked off Collins at the Titans 36 to set up Mare's 40-yard field goal in the first quarter. But Collins continued to throw in Thomas' direction with better results.

The linebacker was beaten in 1-on-1 coverage as Scaife hauled in a 27-yard scoring zip that gave Tennessee a 7-3 lead early in the second period.

"You have to take care of yourself and not give up a real big play, like the one (TD)," Thomas said. "I just have to make that play."

Later, Thomas was caught flat-footed as tight end Ben Troupe turned a short crossing route in a 32-yard gain. On the next play, Scaife made a catch inside the 5 but fumbled, killing another scoring chance.

Mare missed a 30-yarder with 65 seconds left in the half.

Ineffective for much of the first half, Culpepper went to shorter drops in the third quarter and directed an 80-yard drive that he capped with a five-yard scramble for a TD.

The Dolphins forced a punt, which Welker fumbled. Rookie Cortland Finnegan recovered at the Miami 13 to set up a tying 22-yard kick by Rob Bironas.

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