The season is alive. Ryan Tannehill, a play-making defense and Caleb Sturgis are to thank.
In short, everything that was needed to win.
The Dolphins again blew a two-touchdown lead, but this time rallied late to stun the Bengals 22-20 in a Halloween treat for Dolphins fans.
The game-winning play: Cameron Wake’s safety sack of Andy Dalton on third down in overtime. It was just the third time in history that an overtime game has been decided by a safety.
That four-game losing streak? History. Those internal issues? Quieted for at least the next 11 days.
On third-and-long in overtime, Wake blew past the offensive line and planted Dalton. It was Wake’s third sack of the game and one of the biggest of his career.
“The margin for error is this small,” Wake said, squeezing his fingers together. “You’ve got to find a way to win. On the play, it was one of those situations where you had to give it all you got. Push the pedal to the metal and let the engine run out.”
The game was only in overtime because Caleb Sturgis nailed a 44-yarder late in regulation.
Tannehill was rock solid when the game — and arguably the season — was on the line. He went 5 of 7 for 57 yards in the game-tying drive late in regulation. For the game, Tannehill was 20 of 28 for 208 yards.
Dalton, meanwhile, had an awful night. He turned the ball over four times, including a 94-yard pick-six thrown to Brent Grimes. It the first touchdown of Grimes’ career, and the fourth-longest interception return in franchise history.
For the second week in a row the Dolphins surrendered a 14-point lead. But this time, they held their composure and won.
“We kind of talked with them on Monday,” Dolphins coach Joe Philbin said. “We’ve got to have each other’s back. I think it was demonstrated tonight.”
The Dolphins improved to 4-4 on the year. Cincinnati fell to 6-3. Remarkably, the Dolphins are just a half-game out of the sixth seed in the AFC.
Did it save the Dolphins’ season?
“I didn’t know we were lost,” Philbin answered.
The Dolphins couldn’t score early — even when the defense gave the offense spectacular field position. Wake sacked and stripped Dalton and recovered the fumble at the Bengals’ 25. It was Wake’s first sack since the season opener.
But after a Miami three-and-out, Sturgis’ slump turned into a full-blown epidemic. He missed a 34-yard attempt wide left, keeping the Dolphins off the board.
The Bengals, meanwhile, converted when they got in field-goal range, as Mike Nugent made a 31-yarder to give Cincinnati a 3-0 lead.
Then came a play that had been a snapshot of the Dolphins’ season. Lamar Miller broke off a 41-yard run, but was caught from behind by Carlos Dunlap, who jarred the ball loose.
Adam Jones scooped it up and raced 43 yards in the other direction before he was tackled — making it a net loss of 2 yards and a turnover for the Dolphins. Miller finished with 105 yards on 16 carries.
Finally, the Dolphins strung together a 93-yard scoring drive, sparked by a 40-yard catch-and-run by Mike Wallace. Tannehill capped off the drive with a 1-yard touchdown run, giving the Dolphins their first lead of the night.
Dimitri Patterson’s fourth interception in as many games set up a 36-yard field goal by Sturgis, giving Miami a 10-3 lead at the half. The Dolphins probably should have been up more. They forced two first-half turnovers and outgained Cincinnati 227-141.
The Bengals got the ball first in the second half and proceeded to march down the field. But on third-and-4 from the Miami 10, Dalton threw a lazy out route to Marvin Jones, which Grimes jumped and took 94 yards to the end zone.
And it was about the only bright spot of the quarter for Miami, which didn’t touch the ball for the first 12 minutes, 50 seconds of the quarter. That’s because the Bengals followed up the pick with a 12-play, 80-yard drive with a 3-yard by rookie Giovani Bernard, the former Fort Lauderdale St. Thomas Aquinas star.
Statistically, the Dolphins were dominated in the third quarter. They were outgained 148-13. They ran just three plays to the Bengals’ 27. But the Bengals couldn’t cut into the lead because of Grimes’ play.
But Bernard changed that with arguably the most unbelievable touchdown run in Sun Life Stadium history. He started to his right, but was bottled up by Philip Wheeler and Grimes.
Or so they thought. He shook those tackles, then darted left, where he had a wall of blockers waiting. Three more missed tackles later, Bernard was in the end zone.
The run was officially 35 yards, and the game was tied. The Dolphins had blown a 14-point second-half lead for the second time this season.
The Bengals were poised to go ahead with five minutes left in regulation, but Jimmy Wilson jarred loose a pass intended for Mohamed Sanu, and Dannell Ellerbe made the drive-ending interception.