It’s OK to believe, Dolphins fans.
Your team is for real.
Kiko Alonso was just the latest hero for a Dolphins team that refuses to lose.
The Dolphins linebacker intercepted Philip Rivers and raced 60 yards to the end zone with 1:01 remaining in the game, lifting Miami past the Chargers 31-24 in a thriller here Sunday.
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And because he did, the Dolphins are riding their first four-game winning streak since 2008 — which, not coincidentally, is the only time they’ve made the playoffs in the last 15 years.
It’s still early, of course. The Dolphins (5-4) remain a game-and-a-half out of the playoffs and have another California road game next week.
But something special might be brewing with a team left for dead after just five weeks.
“That belief is there,” said Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill, who played well Sunday. “We were down. There’s a few games that we’ve been down 10-plus points and on the sidelines you can’t tell that we’re down. There’s a sense of urgency. But there’s no panic. There’s no stress. You just have to go play. This team finds a way to win.”
Last week, Kenyan Drake’s late 96-yard kickoff return for a touchdown was the difference.
On Sunday, it was Alonso’s turn to save the day.
Here’s the background:
The score was tied at 24. Seventy-three seconds remained on the clock. The Chargers (4-6) faced first-and-10 at the Miami 42. Another five or 10 yards of offense, and Josh Lambo would have had a realistic shot at a game-winning kick.
Chargers receiver Tyrell Williams lined up wide left and ran a shallow post. He appeared to be Rivers’ primary target.
The Dolphins, meanwhile, were in Cover-4. Alonso feigned an A-gap blitz and then peeled off just before the snap.
“Maybe [Rivers] was expecting me to go up the seam,” Alsonso said.
He did not. Instead, Alonso jumped the route, came down with the ball and had nothing but open field ahead of him.
“Celebrating,” running back Damien Williams said of the scene on Miami’s bench. “Celebrating. I’m running with him.”
It was a long run. Alonso still had 60 yards to cover. And Tyrell Williams chased him the whole way. He just could never catch Alonso, who scored his first defensive touchdown — ever.
His celebration dance? The Conor McGregor power strut. He earned it. In recent weeks, Alonso has been playing as well as any inside linebacker in the league.
“We had pressure, so the ball came out fast,” said linebacker Jelani Jenkins. “Kiko had his eye on the quarterback and made a play on the ball and won the game for us.”
Well, almost. The Dolphins still needed one last stop.
Rivers obliged, throwing his fourth interception of the quarter on San Diego’s final play from scrimmage. Again, he tried to force the ball to Williams, but Tony Lippett was there to intercept it. It was Lippett’s second pick of the day, and sweet redemption for a secondary taken to the limit.
Rivers is a future Hall of Famer, and he was getting Hall of Fame calls from the officials. The refs flagged Dolphins defensive backs seven times Sunday, including four on nickel corner Bobby McCain.
But no matter how many chances the Dolphins gave Rivers, he couldn’t make them pay. The four interceptions were the most by the Dolphins in any quarter in the team’s 51-year history. It was just the 11th time since 1991 a team intercepted four passes in any single quarter.
As for Tannehill?
He was the anti-Rivers Sunday. He completed 17 of 24 attempts for 240 yards and two touchdowns. His passer rating was 130.6, the second-highest mark of his career.
And he did it in the face of intense pressure. Tannehill was sacked just once, but the Chargers hit him seven times, including once high when he delivered a 56-yard deep completion to DeVante Parker down the left sideline. (Parker had 103 yards on five catches.)
Less than an hour later, Tannehill was still hurting. He grimaced as he put on his dress shirt; Tannehill paid for every button he fastened.
“I’ve felt better,” he said with a bemused half-smile.
Not Alonso. This is the mountain he’s been climbing since mangling his knee after a breakout rookie season. Alonso wasn’t right all last year, prompting the Eagles to deal him to the Dolphins a year after trading for him.
By out-running the entire Chargers defense, Alonso put any lingering questions about his health to rest. He feels at home in Miami, friends say, and loves Vance Joseph’s scheme. On Sunday, he put it all together.
“There’s a lot of close games in this league, and it’s the team that goes and takes it [that wins],” Alonso said. “That’s what we really stressed. We have to go take it.”