A meaningless preseason finale? Certainly not for Pat Devlin.
He might have saved his job with one heroic heave.
Devlin connected with Marvin McNutt on a 56-yard touchdown late in the fourth quarter, rallying the Dolphins past New Orleans 24-21 on Thursday night.
McNutt, also vying for a roster spot, simply ran past the secondary on fourth-and-4, caught the sideline pass in stride and into the end zone.
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Then, on the ensuing two-point conversion, Devlin had no one open, so he tucked the ball and dove into the end zone. The conversion put Miami up three — but there would be no overtime. De’Andre Presley sealed the game with an interception with less than one minute remaining.
Just how high were the stakes for Devlin, the third-year quarterback out of Delaware? Coach Joe Philbin said there had to be some “compelling reason” to keep a third quarterback on the roster. Devlin might have done that with one throw.
“We’re going to have some tough decisions,” Philbin said. “Pat has an excellent mastery of the system. He’s got very good poise. He stepped up and made a play when we had to have one.”
The Dolphins gave Ryan Tannehill and Matt Moore the night off, so Devlin played well into the second half. His night appeared done when he was pulled in favor of Aaron Corp, but Corp sustained an arm injury, thrusting Devlin back into action.
Devlin finished 22 of 38 for 259 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions. Four of those completions went to McNutt, who had 99 yards and the score.
“I didn’t want to push,” Devlin said. “I didn’t want to try to throw the ball downfield every play. You just need to play your game.”
Early on, Devlin connected with Dion Sims on an 8-yard touchdown pass — a bright spot for a team in need of tight end production.
Sims lined up in the backfield, slipped out into the right flat, caught the pass and rumbled into the end zone. The rookie fifth-round pick finished with four catches for 36 yards.
Devlin, McNutt and Sims weren’t the only offensive players who helped themselves Thursday. Others included:
• Rishard Matthews: Probably locked down a spot on the roster as the team’s fourth receiver. He might have been the best player on the field in the first half, regularly beating New Orleans defenders. Matthews finished with three catches for 37 yards.
• Brian Tyms: He had four receptions for 30 yards and also drew a defensive pass interference on the Dolphins’ first-half touchdown drive. He got the chance to start since Brian Hartline, Mike Wallace and Brandon Gibson were all kept out of harm’s way.
Mike Gillislee: His draft pedigree probably ensured his roster spot, but Gillislee ran hard nonetheless. He had 47 yards on 14 carries. But more importantly, Jonas Gray barely saw the field. All indications are Gillislee will serve as the Dolphins’ third running back.
Kudos are owed to Caleb Sturgis, too — even though he won the kicking job a few weeks ago. He was a perfect 3 for 3 on field goals, hitting from 33, 40 and 43 yards.
Things didn’t start well for the Dolphins offense — the group somehow turned a game-opening first-and-5 into a three-and-out — and didn’t get much better.
On the possession after the touchdown drive, Miami returned to the red zone, but Devlin overthrew Michael Egnew twice — including once when he had his tight end open for a touchdown.
Then after New Orleans turnover, the Dolphins started first-and-goal at the 8. Somehow, the drive resulted in nothing.
Devlin misfired on a third-down fade to Matthews, then threw behind Sims on fourth-and-goal.
Devlin compounded the problem with a drive-killing interception inside the 10 in the second quarter. His other pick came off a deflection in the second half.
Despite blowing a nine-point, fourth-quarter lead, the Dolphins still had the ball with a chance to win. Devlin made it happen.