CLEVELAND — The Miami Dolphins are winless. Soon, coach Tony Sparano could be jobless. The NFL is a cruel, bottom-line business. Miami dropped its third straight game to start the season Sunday with a 17-16 loss to Cleveland, whose offense sputtered all day before quarterback Colt McCoy drove the Browns 80 yards in the final minutes, throwing a 14-yard touchdown to wide receiver Mo Massaquoi with 43 seconds left.
The Dolphins (0-3) needed a win to take some heat off Sparano. Instead, the pressure intensified.
“I do believe the group in that room believes we are going to win,” Sparano said. “I think we are going to win. Now, all that being said, we are 0-3 and that is what we have to show for it.”
Even before the latest loss, Sparano's future was uncertain. Disgruntled Miami fans are demanding more and, after consecutive 7-9 seasons under Sparano, the Dolphins don't seem to be making any significant progress. With upcoming road games at San Diego and the New York Jets surrounding the bye week, there's a chance the Dolphins' front office could make changes.
Miami won the statistical battle, posting better numbers than the Browns (2-1) across the board. However, the Dolphins didn't do enough to have the figures on the scoreboard in their favor.
“Statistics don't matter,” Sparano said. “The end result matters: winning the game. At the end of the game, they made more plays than we did.”
Before his game-winning TD toss, McCoy did little against Miami's defense. But, when it mattered most, Cleveland's second-year quarterback completed nine of 13 passes for all 80 yards to six different receivers on the Browns' winning drive, making up for a clunky performance.
“We played like garbage for the most part of the day,” McCoy said. “As ugly as it was, it was a huge win for us.”
Getting the ball back with 3:23 left, McCoy worked the ball down to Miami's 14, picking up a key fourth-and-4 conversion and helped along by an offsides penalty on Dolphins end Jason Taylor. On first down at the 14, McCoy made the defining play of his still budding NFL career.
Dropping back, he pump-faked before lofting a perfect pass to the right corner over rookie cornerback Jimmy Wilson and to a leaping Massaquoi.
“My best throw of the day,” McCoy said.
It fooled Wilson, who accepted blame for letting Massaquoi get behind him.
“That's what they have me out there for, to make plays in situations like that,” said Wilson, who intercepted a pass by McCoy in the first quarter. “I could have given up anything underneath but I didn't get back there deep enough. I mis-timed my jump. If I would have been back one more step, we wouldn't be talking about how we lost the game”
There were other Miami miscues: a missed field goal, blown coverages and poor tackling.
“The last drive, we did a couple dumb things,” Sparano said. “We had a couple penalties that gave them opportunities to extend drives. In the fourth quarter, we had four penalties and that is not good in crunch time.”
Even after taking the lead with precious seconds left, the Browns had to withstand a late comeback by the Dolphins. Cleveland's win wasn't sealed until safety Mike Adams intercepted Chad Henne with 13 seconds left.
Dan Carpenter's third field goal, a 38-yarder, put the Dolphins up 16-10, giving McCoy the ball back with enough time to rescue the Browns. On the final drive, McCoy, who was just 10 of 26 for 130 yards at the time, took what the Dolphins defense allowed, throwing mostly short passes — three to rookie wide receiver Greg Little.
The Dolphins caught a huge break when Massaquoi and teammate Ben Watson were penalized for excessive celebration after the late TD and Cleveland was then flagged for a horse-collar tackle on the ensuing kickoff.
Henne took over near midfield with 36 seconds left but Miami's QB threw three straight incompletions before he was picked by Adams on a pass intended for Brandon Marshall.
Henne knows the Dolphins must regroup quickly to salvage the season.
“It starts with believing you can win,” said Henne, who finished 19 of 29 for 255 yards. “We have to put the right mental attitude out there, knowing we are going to win. If you have the right attitude, you're more confident in yourself. We're going to find out what kind of team this is.”
What remains to be seen is who will be coaching it.
Poto: Tony Sparano