What Reggie Bush giveth, Big Ben taketh away.
Before the Dolphins could even celebrate their 24-10 thrashing of the Bills on Sunday — with Bush’s three-touchdown day temporarily keeping alive their faint playoff hopes — the Steelers doomed those postseason chances (not to mention their own) with one last dose of ineptitude.
Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger’s interception in the closing moments of regulation allowed the Bengals to kick a game-winning field goal, putting Cincinnati in the playoffs and officially knocking the Dolphins out.
For Miami (7-8), it was a bittersweet — yet fitting — unofficial end to a season littered by inconsistent play and missed chances.
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They beat Buffalo (5-10) yet lose out. They put together their best back-to-back stretch of games of the year but peak about two weeks too late to make a difference. All that’s left to play for, aside from pride, is the team’s first non-losing season since 2008.
“That’s not good enough,” Cameron Wake said. “There’s no pat on the back, way to go, you almost got there. There are no moral victories in football.”
The irony of the situation: With the way they’re finishing the season, the Dolphins might have been a tough opponent had they pulled the inside straight and gotten into the playoff field.
They’ve outscored their (admittedly bad) opposition 48-13 in the past two weeks.
Ryan Tannehill has thrown five touchdown passes — including two more Sunday — and no interceptions in his past four games.
The Dolphins have averaged 149.2 rushing yards per game over the past five weeks.
And the defense finally forced some turnovers Sunday — four to be exact, with three courtesy of Reshad Jones.
Jones, the Dolphins’ rising star at safety, recovered two fumbles and made a leaping interception at the goal line late to preserve the Dolphins’ second win in a row.
“We had a great win today,” Jones said, who has quietly put together a season worthy of Pro Bowl consideration.
Jones’ big plays ensured Bush’s monster game wasn’t wasted. In what could have been his final home game in a Dolphins uniform, Bush became the first Miami tailback since 2009 to score three touchdowns in a game.
The pending free agent had touchdown catches of 17 and 12 yards, as well as a bruising run from 1 yard out. He finished with 107 all-purpose yards, and needs just 40 yards on the ground at New England next week to go over 1,000 for the second season in a row.
“I feel like we’re getting into a rhythm,” Bush said. “I think we hit a low point midway through the season, where we were kind of struggling to run the ball, and I think that really hurt us.”
Losses to league dregs such as the Cardinals, Titans, Bills and Jets ultimately proved to be the Dolphins’ undoing.
But with the way Tannehill has progressed in recent weeks, there’s plenty of reason for optimism in the future. After a horrid stretch — he had just one touchdown pass in 13 quarters earlier this season — he is playing winning, error-free football.
Tannehill went 13 of 25 for 130 yards and the two touchdown passes. And, most important, he didn’t turn the ball over. In fact, Tannehill has gone 136 passes without throwing an interception.
“I think I’ve grown a lot,” Tannehill said. “Just thinking back to going into Houston, I think I’ve learned something from every game and grown. Hopefully, I can continue that.”
He had a lot of help from Bush, whose 17-yard catch-and-run to open the game’s scoring was a thing of beauty. Tannehill faked the give to Bush out of the backfield, but no one picked up the back in the flat. Bush made the catch, turned on the jets and leapt to the pylon.
Tannehill’s career is on the right trajectory, yet his learning curve is about to take an eight-month hiatus. A Cincinnati loss would have kept alive the possibility for Tannehill to become the first Dolphins rookie quarterback since Dan Marino to lead Miami to the playoffs.
Instead, the Dolphins are on the outside looking in for the 10th time in 11 years.
“At then end of the day, it’s not Cincinnati’s job to get us in playoffs,” said Wake, who recorded his 15th sack of the season Sunday, a new career high. “It’s our job to get us in the playoffs.”