Aaron Rodgers might be the Dan Marino of this era.
On Sunday, he stole the Hall of Famer’s signature play.
Rodgers executed a perfect fake-spike, extending a Packers drive and setting up a four-yard touchdown pass to Andrew Quarless with three seconds remaining to hand the Dolphins a soul-crushing 27-24 loss.
Rodgers, the former league MVP and one-time Joe Philbin pupil, was masterful in the game’s most critical moments. On the Packers’ 60-yard, game-winning touchdown drive, Rodgers completed six of his nine attempts, including the score. But the throw everyone will remember came on the play before.
It was 20 years ago in November when Marino beat the Jets with the legendary Clock Play. Marino hooked up with Mark Ingram for a game-winning touchdown after convincing Jets defenders he was going to spike the ball.
Two decades later, a near-identical scenario: Rodgers, needing a touchdown to win, fooled the Dolphins defense with a similar fake-out. When Miami’s defense froze, Rodgers connected on the right sideline with Davante Adams, who went out of bounds at the 4 with six seconds left.
“You’re just yelling clock and signaling clock,” recalled Rodgers, who completed 24 of 42 passes for 264 yards and three touchdowns. “They were way off outside, so I just kind of faked it and moved. Davante wasn’t looking initially, but after he saw me probably moving he looked and I threw it.”
Rodgers thought Adams was going to score. Instead Cortland Finnegan wrestled him out of bounds after a gain of 12.
The six ticks on the clock left enough time for perhaps two plays.
Rodgers only needed one.
“Just one stop, no timeouts  yards — that’s something that we close out,” said defensive end Cameron Wake, whose 1.5 sacks, three quarterback hits and three tackles were great, but not great enough.
What raced through Wake’s mind as he was on the ground after that final defensive breakdown? “A lot of four-letter words.”
The way the Dolphins (2-3) lost was soaked in irony. Most every game-defining decision Philbin made Sunday was rooted in a healthy fear that Rodgers could and would beat him, given the chance.
The most notable examples:
▪ Going for it on fourth-and-goal at the Green Bay 1 late in the first quarter. (Philbin believed the Dolphins needed touchdowns, not field goals, to beat Rodgers.)
▪ Punting on fourth-and-3 at the Packers’ 43 with 30 seconds left in the opening half. (He wanted to get into the locker room down only a touchdown.)
▪ Green-lighting four pass plays with the Dolphins up 24-20 late in the game and playing keep-away. That included a second-down incompletion even though Green Bay (4-2) could no longer stop the clock because it had used all of its timeouts. (Philbin: “We were going to do whatever we [had] to do to get a first down.”)
▪ And calling two timeouts on Green Bay's final drive — including once on fourth-and-10 with the clock running down. (”I'm most concerned that our team knows what they’re going to do and how we're going to execute the call.”)
As it turns out, all four decisions backfired, in various degrees.
▪ The Packers defense made a goal-line stand to keep the Dolphins out of the end zone.
▪ Green Bay then took a knee to run out the clock in the first half after Brandon Fields netted just 23 yards on the punt.
▪ Clock mismanagement left the Packers 2:04 to travel 60 yards on their final drive.
▪ And Green Bay converted after each of Miami’s timeouts in the game’s final two minutes.
Rodgers connected with Jordy Nelson for 18 yards on fourth-and-10 (Brent Grimes, who was in coverage, fell down). And then he found Quarless, who easily shook free of Philip Wheeler’s coverage on Rodgers’ final pass.
The result: The Dolphins’ third loss in four games, and one that has led to locker-room finger-pointing for the second time in a month.
After the game, Dolphins players privately questioned a slew of decisions made by their coaches. Philbin, who defended all those calls, instead blamed the loss, in part, on a breakdown in protection and poor tackling.
Lost in the late-game drama: A second half by Tannehill that was as stellar as his first half was poor. Tannehill led the Dolphins on three touchdown drives after the intermission, including scoring passes to Jarvis Landry and Mike Wallace.
Tannehill was 20 of 31 for 244 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions in the loss. Lamar Miller added 53 yards on 14 carries and a score on the ground.
“It’s tough,” Tannehill said. “Knowing that we didn’t play well in first half, fought ourselves back in [and] made a bunch of plays in the second half [but] didn’t get it done ... makes it hurt that much more.”