Everything was teetering precariously when Ryan Tannehill stepped into that huddle with 4:46 to play early Sunday evening, darkness settling over Dolphins stadium and the clubs 48th home opener.
It doesnt matter what happened before this, Tannehill told his gathered offense. All that matters is this drive.
The game hung there, ready to tip one way or the other.
Tannehills reputation, still being molded, was there to take further shape.
And the team the team would announce to the rest of the NFL that Miami is different this season, tougher, better or relinquish the right to do so.
Players, teams and seasons are defined on days like this.
The guys responded, Tannehill said.
Mostly, their quarterback did.
The undefeated Miami Dolphins say those four words again, say them aloud, savor them like wine are still that today because Tannehill, the second-year QB, did a little more growing Sunday.
Maybe a lot more.
Tannehill brilliantly led a 75-yard touchdown drive in those closing minutes to beat the very good Atlanta Falcons, 27-23, and now Miami is 3-0 for the first time since 2002. Now an entire fan base, down too long, is feeling better about the team and its future than it has in a long time.
Now Miami plays at equally unbeaten New Orleans next Monday night, and when was the last time the Dolphins were up on the NFL marquee like this?
This is what being relevant feels like.
The near-capacity crowd of 70,660 bounced from the stadium excited because their quarterback held the opposite emotion when it mattered most.
I felt calm, Tannehill said of that last series the type of game-winning drive that eluded him as a rookie.
All business, guard Richie Incognito described his young QB. Poised and in control.
Flatline, tackle Tyson Clabo said. There was no panic, nothing. There were just big plays all over the place.
You could feel his confidence, tight end Charles Clay said.
Coach Joe Philbin had noted that this victory would not earn style points. Miami was dominated in time of possession. The Dolphins never led until the final score. The defense wasnt great. The victory wasnt classic or textbook, he said.
But it was Philbin getting the postgame Gatorade shower in the jubilant locker room, the center of the room still covered with chunks of ice as the media were let in. And that was solely because that last drive by Tannehill was classic and textbook.
It was marvel to watch. A line that had allowed five sacks suddenly protected Tannehill as if he were a state secret, and the quarterback went to work.
He would complete 9 of 12 passes in that series for 69 of Miamis 75 yards, and to six different receivers. He made one overthrow. Two other incompletions should have been catches, including one drop by Lamar Miller that was a certain TD.
He was working the clock like Id imagine Chopin worked piano keys, leaving the Falcons just scraps of a minute left after he had lofted that 1-yard winning scoring pass to tight end Dion Sims.
It was a great drive because it was so methodical, so exactly what it needed to be.
Instead of 2 yards and a cloud of dust we were picking up little chunks, Incognito said. Six, 7, 8 yards
The Falcons were not in control, because Tannehill was right down to the call on the winning TD.
A different play had been called, but when Atlanta called timeout, Tannehill lobbied to switch to the over-the-shoulder-fade route to Sims.
I suggested switching to that, a play Im comfortable with, and they agreed, Tannehill said.
The gumption for a second-year pro to call an audible on his offensive coordinator and head coach with the game in the balance, and for them to agree thats a sign of Tannehills growth. Its a sign of leadership, too. And confidence. All of the good things.
This was a wonderful team win, and you knew that by what was the play of the game prior to Tannehills late heroics.
It was special-teamer Donnie Jones jarring the ball loose on a Falcons punt return, and John Denney recovering at the Atlanta 19 in the third quarter, leading to a TD pass to Brian Hartline that tied the game at 20.
Denney was playing in his 131st consecutive Dolphins game, a club-record streak. But hes the long snapper, so unless he muffs a snap (a rarity), he isnt noticed. But he was Sunday.
Biggest play of the whole entire game, Mike Wallace called that turnover.
The biggest series of the whole entire game would soon follow, Tannehill steering it with a scalpel and cold eyes.
Hes a monster, center Mike Pouncey said.
A week ago Tannehill outperformed Andrew Luck, who was drafted ahead of him. Now he has beaten Matt Ryan, the QB Miami could have drafted first overall in 2008. Next challenge: Drew Brees, the guy Miami almost signed in 2006.
Heady days for the undefeated Dolphins.
Were going to feel like we can beat anybody, linebacker Phillip Wheeler said.
Amazing how a quarterback who did what Tannehill did on Sunday can do that for a teams confidence.