The anterior cruciate ligament is an inch-long band of tough tissue that runs diagonally in the middle of the knee and, according to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, prevents the shin bone from sliding out in front of the thighbone.
You use it every time you take a step, but probably rarely, if ever, think about.
Ryan Tannehill is about to think about it all the time.
Rebuilding and strengthening his left ACL will very likely consume the next nine months of his life.
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Tannehill probably tore it in the Dolphins’ 26-23 Pyrrhic victory over the Cardinals on Sunday, an injury that would not only end the best season of the fifth-year quarterback’s career, but also cripple Miami’s playoff hopes.
Tannehill’s knee was injured late in the third quarter when Cardinals defensive lineman Calais Campbell hit him low. Tannehill walked to the locker room under his own power. After having his knee examined, he was so distraught that he wept on the sidelines.
“I just told him that we’re going to get this win for him, no matter what,” said receiver Jarvis Landry. “I don’t care if we have to play eight quarters, nine quarters, we’re going to get this one for him. I promised him that and we made it happen.”
More specifically, Tannehill’s replacement made it happen.
Matt Moore, who hasn’t started a game since 2011 and hadn’t thrown a meaningful pass since 2012, provided just enough offense late to stave off what would have been a devastating collapse.
A 12-point Dolphins lead vanished after Tannehill went down, and the score was tied at 23 when the Dolphins took over on the Cardinals’ 47 with 89 seconds left.
Moore threw two passes on that last drive, both to Kenny Stills. The first went for 12 yards and put Miami in field-goal range. The second went for 29 down the left sideline, and put the Dolphins on the Arizona goal line.
All that was left: For Dolphins kicker Andrew Franks to pound through a 21-yard field goal. He did that as time expired, and as a result, the Dolphins (8-5) won for the seventh time in eight games.
They also pulled even with the Broncos for the AFC’s final wild-card spot. Denver lost to Tennessee 13-10 on Sunday. If the season ended after Week 14, the Broncos would get in over the Dolphins based on tiebreakers.
But the season doesn’t end until New Year’s Day.
Between now and then, one of the most unpredictable of Dolphins seasons will have a resolution.
Will the Dolphins finally end their seven-year playoff drought?
Or will this season end in similar heartbreak?
It’ll largely depend on how Moore plays over the next 21 days.
When he took the field Sunday, a thought flashed through his mind:
“I haven’t done this in a long time.”
Four years, to be exact.
That’s the last time Moore took over for Tannehill because of injury. He doesn’t know how much rust has grown in that time.
Time to step up
But he does know that he’s been presented with a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Moore has started 25 games in his career.
Number of starts he’s had when his team has entered the game with a winning record?
That will presumably change Saturday in North Jersey. That’s when the Dolphins face the Jets, a lost franchise finishing another lost season.
“It’s huge for both parties,” Moore said of the moment both he and his franchise of the last six years face.
“It’s unbelievable. My focus right now is get ready to go. If I have to go, then be ready to go, and that’s it. You talk about where we’re at as a team, you can’t ask for much more. The ball is in our court. We just have to execute and play one week at a time.”
That had been Tannehill’s credo this year, his best ever. If indeed his season is over, Tannehill will have set career highs in completion percentage (67.1), passer rating (93.5) and yards per attempt (7.7).
Tannehill was excellent against one of the league’s top pass defenses Sunday, completing 75 percent of his passes for 195 yards and three touchdowns. Jarvis Landry caught four balls for 103 yards; Stills had six for 97.
The Dolphins again looked like the team that ripped off six straight wins.
Until that inch-long rubber band keeping Tannehill’s knee together snapped, and changed everything in an instant.