Winning a game after getting doubled in yardage and nearly doubled in first downs requires special-teams magic. That’s what the Dolphins conjured Sunday despite the lack of any dead chickens or eyes of newt around Sun Life Stadium.
Brandon Fields averaged 53.8 yards per punt gross and 50.3 net yards per punt, keeping a steadily moving St. Louis offense far from the end zone it reached only once. Marcus Thigpen’s 44-yard return of the second-half kickoff set the Dolphins off on their lone second-half scoring drive. After the Dolphins’ first-half touchdown, Thigpen recovered a fumble on the kickoff return to set up a 42-yard field goal, the difference in the game.
Dolphins kicker Dan Carpenter, never one to crow, shrugged about bombing two kickoff touchbacks and lamented his two kickoffs that got returned. He was particularly unhappy about the one he mishit and landed at the Rams’ 8. St. Louis’ Britt Miller picked up the ball, rumbled forward, got hit by Jimmy Wilson and fumbled.
“I saw the ball loose and their guy actually had it,” Thigpen said. “We were tussling for it and I saw a couple of my guys pull his arms back. I hurried up, snatched it and held it as tight as I could until the ref saw I had it.”
And, finally, with the Dolphins facing fourth-and-1 at their own 40, instead of punting the ball back to St. Louis with 4:00 left, they called a fake. Chris Clemons, the up man in the punt formation, took the snap and turned running back for the first time since Arcadia DeSoto High. Clemons got 3 yards and a first down.
“It’s something we worked on all week,” Clemons said. “They give me the call, but it’s my option to check out of it if I see something different. To be honest with you, it was a different look. I could have checked out of it.
“But my mind was so made up. I had confidence in my guys up front. All game, the gap had been open, so I just called it. All our guys blocked up front.”
The 214-pound Clemons laughed, “I told them all week, ‘If we call it, I’m going to score.’ But [with] the situation, I was just focused on getting the first down. I saw the linebacker come up, I’m like, ‘I’m not figuring to play with it.’ Get the first down, go down, get the offense back on the field.”
It certainly caught the Rams off-guard. St. Louis coach Jeff Fisher admitted, “That’s on me. I didn’t think that they would do that or I would have left the defense out there. That was a great play.”
Instead of 4:00, the Rams had 1:41 left when they got the ball back at their own 3 after hapless Jenoris Jenkins lost 2 yards when trying to return a 51-yard Fields punt and Josh Hull got busted for holding on the return. Originally, St. Louis took over at the 6 with 1:52 left after Jenkins’ fair catch of a 43-yard punt. But the Rams accepted a prekick illegal hands to the face penalty on Jason Trusnik, gambling on better field position.
Who do voodoo? Or what did voodoo on the foot of Rams kicker Greg Zuerlein, who booted 64-yard field goals daily in training camp and came into the game 15 of 15 on field-goal attempts this season? Perhaps ‘twas the spirits in the wind that took Zuerlein’s last three field goal attempts were wide left, including the 66-yarder — 3 yards longer than the NFL record — at the end of the game.
All the misses – from 52, 37 and 66 — had the length to the East uprights.
Carpenter talked to his counterpart before and after the game, the former to congratulate him on his season and the latter to offer consolation in dealing with the wacky winds.
“I didn’t really get a field-goal opportunity that direction [Sunday]. Those little thunderstorms come in and the wind will blow different ways,” Carpenter said. “I actually think the [East uprights] are the easier end. That’s how I’ve felt since I’ve been here. Usually the wind blows down to one of those corners. [Sunday], you’d be out there and the wind would be in your face. The next time, you felt it at your back, then side to side. It was all over the place [Sunday].”