No Andrew Luck magic this time. Instead, the Dolphins’ defense changed fortunes — of both the game, and just maybe, a franchise.
Miami made a four-point lead hold up for the game’s final 19 minutes, getting stop after critical stop to escape town with a 24-20 victory against the Colts on Sunday.
After watching Luck pull Houdini acts all afternoon, Philip Wheeler and Randy Starks finally sacked the Colts’ gifted quarterback at the most important time.
Their stop on fourth-and-10 deep in Dolphins territory preserved the win over a 2012 playoff team and handed Luck just his second home loss in 10 career games.
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The Dolphins’ reward for winning: their first 2-0 start since 2010, putting them atop the AFC East with all eight home games still to come.
Inside a joyous postgame locker room, the win’s significance wasn’t lost on the Dolphins, from the top down. Even the normally stoic Joe Philbin was emotionally charged when he addressed the team.
“We were really fired up to get a win on the road against a team that doesn’t lose [at home] typically,” said Wheeler, who made his first impact play for the Dolphins since signing in March.
Added Starks: “We knew we needed a big play. We know [Luck] gets a lot of credit for bringing his team back in the fourth quarter.”
For a while, the game looked destined to play to script. The Dolphins jumped to an early 14-3 lead, but as in last year’s loss to Indianapolis, they let it slip away. The Colts led 20-17 early in the third quarter, and Luck, who entered Sunday with eight career fourth-quarter comeback victories, was rolling.
That’s when the Dolphins made four plays that won the game.
They were, in order:
• 5:05 left in the third quarter; Dolphins ball; second-and-10 at Indy’s 35. Mike Wallace, who roasted the Colts for nine catches and 115 yards, got behind Greg Toler on a double move and pulled in a deep sideline catch, which he took to the 1. One play later, Charles Clay scored on his first career carry, putting the Dolphins ahead for good.
• 8:29 left in regulation; Colts ball; first-and-10 at Miami’s 34. Luck tested Brent Grimes with a throw to the end zone. But Grimes got inside position on Reggie Wayne and pulled in the interception — his first since tearing his Achilles tendon last September.
• 7:04 left in regulation; Dolphins ball; third-and-8 at their 22. The last thing the Dolphins wanted to do was give the ball right back to Luck, so Ryan Tannehill found Brandon Gibson on an 11-yard pass across the middle. It was Gibson’s lone catch of the day, but allowed Miami to drain another three minutes off the clock.
• 1:35 left in regulation; Colts ball; fourth-and-10 at Miami’s 23. This is when Wheeler and Starks sealed it. While Wheeler, who blitzed from the second level, was credited with the sack, Starks was there to clean it up had Luck wiggled free again.
“They might have been a little bit confused,” Wheeler said. “I think I missed a sack earlier in the game. I never played against [Luck] before. He’s bigger than I thought. I just wanted to get him on the ground the last play of the game. I had a little help, maybe.”
The white-knuckle finish was fitting for a game as close as the score suggested. The Colts had the edge in total yards (448 to 398). Indianapolis converted just one more third down than Miami.
And each team turned the ball over only once.
A key difference: Tannehill was more efficient than Luck, who went seven picks earlier in the 2012 draft.
Tannehill completed 23 of 34 passes for 319 yards with a touchdown — an 18-yard bubble screen pass to Wallace on the game’s opening drive. Tannehill also found Clay five times for 109 yards.
Luck, meanwhile, was 25 of 43 for 321 yards. He connected with T.Y. Hilton (Miami Springs, FIU) six times for 124 yards, but also threw the costly interception.
Lost in the fireworks shuffle: the Dolphins running game was much improved over last week. Lamar Miller went for 69 yards on 14 carries, including a 10-yard touchdown jaunt in the first quarter.
And Caleb Sturgis pounded through a 54-yard field goal on the last play of the first half, tying the score at 17. The Dolphins would surrender just three more points the rest of the way.
“It is very satisfying anytime you can win on the road and to have a complete game,” said Tannehill, who has completed 65.3 percent of his passes on this young season. “[A] tough situation, the defense is backed up, everyone needed to make a play. It’s really satisfying.”