In basketball, they call it winning time, when the hour is late and the outcome in the balance.
But for Ryan Tannehill through 10 weeks, it was more like wincing time.
Four times previously in Tannehill’s rookie season, he had a chance to be the hero — holding the ball with an opportunity to win the game late in regulation or in overtime. And each time, he failed.
So backed up in his own end, with the league’s third-best pass defense swarming, the odds weren’t with Tannehill on Sunday. Other coaches would have sat on the rock and played for overtime.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to the Miami Herald
Instead, Tannehill proved it was his time.
Tannehill calmly directed a frantic, decisive drive Sunday — the first of his young career — moving the Dolphins from their own 10-yard line deep into Seattle territory in just a minute and half.
Dan Carpenter — on his 27th birthday, no less — did the rest, booting through a 43-yard field goal to lift the Dolphins past the Seahawks 24-21 and snap Miami’s three-game losing streak.
“Ryan never ceases to amaze me,” receiver Marlon Moore said afterward in a celebratory locker room. “His composure, his poise … he’s just in it to win it.
“He’s growing, and he’s going to be an elite quarterback in this league.”
He sure looked it on the final drive.
Tannehill completed three of four passes for 51 yards on that fateful possession. His only incompletion was a clock-stopping spike. He also picked up 15 yards with his legs. And most importantly, he didn’t turn the ball over, putting his team in position to win.
In doing so, Tannehill got the best of Russell Wilson in a matchup of hotshot rookies. Tannehill shrugged off an early interception – which was his sixth in 64 passes — to complete 18 of 26 attempts for 253 yards and a score. In the process, he broke Dan Marino’s rookie passing record (2,210, set in 1983), and will likely obliterate that mark by season’s end.
Plus, he proved he had the full confidence of his coach. Joe Philbin would have spent the next week getting second-guessed if Tannehill had made a fatal mistake. With 92 seconds to play and an entire field to go, many would have thought the risk outweighed the reward.
“You play to win the game,” Tannehill said, channeling Herm Edwards. “I think that, as an offense, Coach Philbin has some confidence in us, even when we haven’t had our best games the past few games.”
For Philbin, it was about winning the game, for sure, but so much more. Like providing a psychological pick-me-up for his fragile team. That’s not to say he was OK with being reckless. A sack or any other negative play on the final drive’s first snap, and Philbin would have been tempted to bleed clock and aim for overtime, he acknowledged.
But Tannehill found Davone Bess for 19 yards on first down (and then Bess again for 25 more) to make the point moot. Bess finished with seven catches for a career-best 129 yards. Charles Clay also went off, catching six balls for 84 yards, including a 29-yard touchdown reception to tie the game at 21-21 with 5:13 to play.
“You need to win some games like this,” Philbin said. “I think it’s important for a quarterback to do this — any quarterback. Ryan Tannehill, certainly, but any quarterback in this league, I think has to demonstrate an ability to do this.”
This town hasn’t had such a quarterback in more than a decade. The Dolphins, meanwhile, hadn’t had a fourth-quarter comeback victory since 2009.
And Carpenter’s game-winning kick was his first since 2010, atoning for a missed would-be winner in Miami’s home loss to the Jets.
While Tannehill and Carpenter closed it out, a resurgent running game and a stout defense made it possible.
Reggie Bush had 87 yards on 14 carries. Daniel Thomas went for 60 on nine. Both had touchdowns. And as a team, the Dolphins grinded out 189, cracking 100 yards for the first time in 63 days.
Meanwhile the defense regrouped late after Wilson gashed them early. He threw for 224 yards and two touchdowns and ran for 38 more, accounting for 81 percent of Seattle’s total offensive output.
But the Dolphins got a stop when they had to have one. Jared Odrick, who let Wilson slip away on the quarterback’s first touchdown pass, sacked him on third down to end a Seahawks (6-5) drive with less than two minutes to play.
Seattle had to punt, and hope Tannehill would play to form. Instead, he began writing his legacy, which is still mostly blank.
And by doing so, he gave a jolt to the Dolphins’ faint playoff hopes. They’re now 5-6 and, amazingly, just a game out of the AFC’s final wild card spot, with division-leading New England on deck.
“When you look at it, every game is a playoff game from now on out,” linebacker Kevin Burnett said. “Now is the time, and this is it.
“One play, one series, and if we can keep that attitude, we are a tough to beat. We are tough. You have to play dang near flawless to beat us.”
And hope Tannehill hasn’t finally figured this game out.