MIAMI -- For the Miami Dolphins, the formula didn't seem to add up.
They held the ball for 45 minutes -- three-quarters of the game. They converted on an eyepopping 15 of 21 third-down chances. They rushed for 239 yards, keeping Peyton Manning off the field most of the night. They held nearly a 2-to-1 edge in first downs, ran 84 plays to Indianapolis' 35, and didn't turn the ball over until the game's final play.
And, somehow, they lost.
"You know," left tackle Jake Long said glumly at his locker afterward, "stats really mean nothing if you don't win."
Miami's return to the Monday night stage started with glitz and glamour, an "orange carpet" entry for celebrities like Serena and Venus Williams, a pregame concert by Jimmy Buffett and even the likes of Tiger Woods taking it all in, albeit from the Indianapolis sideline.
A tough one to figure, too.
The Colts had the ball 14 minutes, 53 seconds, the lowest time of possession since Manning's arrival in 1998, according to STATS LLC.
"It's really disheartening," Miami coach Tony Sparano said. "That's exactly the formula to beat that team."
Miami had the lead four times, wasting every one, including two in the fourth quarter alone. Brown's 3-yard touchdown run early in the final period for a 20-13 lead, and Dan Carpenter's third field goal of the night later in the fourth put Miami up 23-20 with 3:50 left.
Plenty of time for Manning.
The Colts' quarterback threw for 303 yards, and the Dolphins will likely only remember two plays: An 80-yard play-action pass to Dallas Clark for a touchdown on the game's first snap from scrimmage -- the longest completion for Manning since 2005 -- and a 48-yard pass to South Florida native Pierre Garcon with 3:18 remaining for what became the winning score.
Indy had the ball for 9 1/2 minutes in the first half, not even 5 1/2 minutes in the second half.
"When you've got a great quarterback on the other side like Manning, you can't see anything but the greatness in him," Miami receiver Ted Ginn said. "No matter how much time is on the clock, he'll make the time work and work to perfection."
Miami's only real mistake might have come with 27 seconds left, when Chad Pennington's 42-yard pass bounced off Ginn's hands in the end zone. Ginn slammed his hands on the turf repeatedly after the play; a half-minute later, the rest of the Dolphins likely felt like doing the same, knowing a chance got away.
"I felt like we had a shot," Pennington said.
Two plays later, Pennington was intercepted in the end zone, as the clock -- which the Dolphins controlled all night -- turned to :00.
"And that's why I've got the sad face," Ginn said.
Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press