This is how you change the narrative. And this is how you respond.
When history says a loss will all but crush your playoff hopes, you win.
When your coach spends the week fending off an army of doubters, you make him look smart.
And when the game gets close, you put together a defining drive.
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After a week of second-guessing, the Dolphins delivered the first punch and didn’t stop swinging, stunning the Chicago Bears 27-14 for their first true road win of the season (the win over the Oakland Raiders in London was technically a road game).
Miami (3-3), by most every statistical measurement, dominated: yards (393-224), turnovers (three to none) and passer rating (123.6-74.4).
And yet, midway through the third quarter, the game remained very much in doubt. The Bears (3-4) went 80 yards in 12 plays to cut a 14-point deficit in half.
The 62,413 fans at Soldier Field were in a frenzy. The Dolphins were backed up inside their own 20. A single misstep could have derailed everything.
Instead, Ryan Tannehill was nearly flawless. Tannehill directed a 13-play touchdown drive that took 7:28 off the clock, capped by a two-yard scoring run by Lamar Miller.
Every time the Dolphins needed a play on the clock-killing possession, Tannehill delivered. Second-and-7 from the Miami 20? Tannehill threw to Miller for 12. Third-and-2 at midfield? Tannehill found Daniel Thomas for six feet (and not an inch more).
And fourth-and-1 at the Bears’ 39 — a call that would have been pilloried had it failed? Tannehill raced 30 yards on the keeper, proving again his legs can be as dangerous as his right arm.
“I didn’t feel like we had to score,” Tannehill said. “I had the mindset we were going to score. That was the name of the game today. When we put our mind to it, there’s nothing that is going to hold us back from a touchdown. If it’s a penalty, a sack, a bad play, we’re going to be able to overcome it.”
His day, like the Dolphins’ performance overall Sunday, was his most complete of the season. Tannehill completed his first 14 passes of the game and finished 25 of 32 for 277 yards. He threw two touchdown passes and didn’t have an interception.
Tannehill also gained 48 yards on six carries, an average buoyed by Joe Philbin’s fourth-down gamble. Tannehill continued an encouraging trend: he made the right decision, keeping the ball on a read option instead of handing it off.
As a result, the noise quiets down for a week. No second-guessing the coaches (both inside the locker room and out) like after the Green Bay loss last week. And no apocalyptic talk with a full 10 weeks left in the season.
The Dolphins are most certainly still in the playoff conversation, and should remain there for some time. They are only a game-and-a-half behind AFC East-leading New England, with a trip to cellar-dwelling Jacksonville this coming Sunday.
Rather, the Bears look like the team in disarray. Reports out of their locker room after the game painted a grim picture, with players loudly airing a growing list of grievances.
“This is a tough place to come in and win,” Philbin said. “I thought it was a good team win.”
Perhaps it was more than that. Perhaps it was a blueprint for the team’s future success.
An efficient Tannehill is a good start (his passer rating was his best ever). Tannehill has now completed 63 percent of his passes this season for 1,423 yards and has twice as many touchdowns (10) as interceptions (5).
An active Mike Wallace — who led the team with five catches for 46 and had his sixth touchdown reception in his past seven games — is an important ingredient. Gaining 137 yards on the ground is another.
“Every rep, I feel more and more comfortable with the offense,” Tannehill said. “The blocking schemes, the receivers with their routes, it’s a total package. I think we are continuing to grow as a team.”
On defense, it always starts with stopping the run (Chicago averaged 3.7 yards per carry).
Then, you can make the opposition one-dimensional, and rattle the opposing quarterback (namely, Jay Cutler) into mistakes. The Dolphins sacked Cutler three times and forced three turnovers, including two by Chicago’s mercurial quarterback.
“I don’t care who you are as a quarterback, I can imagine having 300-pound men chasing you around probably isn’t fun,” said Cameron Wake, who had a strip-sack and fumble recovery.
Add it all together — and do it 10 more times — and the Dolphins just might be a playoff team.
Said Wake: “I would like to say that snowball starts to form. ... It should start building that fire, and building that confidence in your gut.”
Added Wallace: “Keep grinding. Keep your head down. Keep working. Don’t listen to what anybody say, and keep doing you.”
It worked on Sunday.