As Miami Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill evaded a pass rush from the Indianapolis Colts late in the first half on Sunday, wide receiver Leonte Carroo kept making his charge downfield.
Tannehill rolled to his right, pointed down Carroo and threw a 45-yard pass toward Carroo, who had Colts cornerback Pierre Desir defending him.
As the ball descended near the Colts 40-yard, about 2 yards in front of Carroo and straight into Desir’s path, the young receiver knew he had to salvage the play.
“It’s my ball,” Carroo said Monday, reflecting on what soon became the highlight play of his young NFL career.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to the Miami Herald
Sure enough, Carroo extended his arms just in front of Desir for the catch, spun around and ran untouched down the left sideline for the 74-yard touchdown.
“[I was] just excited to make a play for my team,” Carroo said, “especially at a desperate time when we needed it.”
Even though the game ended in a 27-24 loss, the play also served as a point of validation for Carroo, who spent all but two weeks on the practice squad this season before being called up before the Week 10 matchup against the Green Bay Packers. He has caught a pass in each of the past two games since being called up to the 53-man roster. His phone was filled with more than 300 text messages after the touchdown grab Sunday.
“This is something that I felt like I could’ve always done,” Carroo said. “It was just about the right timing and me having that confidence, and just going out there and executing and performing. Now that my teammates and my coaches know that I’m able to make plays, maybe they’ll have a little bit more trust in me. I just want to do whatever I can to help the team win.”
Carroo, a third-round pick in the 2016 NFL Draft out of Rutgers, has the type of big-play capability the Dolphins need after losing Albert Wilson and Jakeem Grant to season-ending injuries. Add Danny Amendola’s knee injury from Sunday, and Carroo provides another layer of depth to a position group that has seen injuries run its course all year — Kenny Stills missed one game and DeVante Parker is still dealing with a shoulder injury, as well.
“Coach [Adam] Gase is going to trust that anybody who steps up now has to know their job and has to go in there and execute just like any other starter would if they were playing,” Carroo said. “They don’t expect anything less than me to go out there and do what Jakeem, DeVante, Kenny or Albert have done all season. I just have to go out there and do my job.”
Gase added: “I’m glad that he got an opportunity. I know that was great to see him just go up and get one. I don’t think we’ve done that enough to where we’ve had moments where a guy you don’t expect goes up and gets a ball like that. The more we have guys do that, the more confidence Ryan has at throwing the ball down the field when it’s a 50-50 jump ball. That’s ideal.”
The Dolphins will need Carroo — and the rest of the offense — to find ways to make plays at pivotal times if they want to keep their slim playoff hopes alive.
At 5-6, the Dolphins are in a four-way tie with the Cincinnati Bengals, Denver Broncos and Tennessee Titans for eighth place in the AFC with five weeks left. The Baltimore Ravens, at 6-5, hold the final wild card spot at the moment, edging out the Colts in a tiebreaker.
The Dolphins will need a lot to work in its favor over this final stretch — one that includes two games against the suddenly hot Buffalo Bills, home games against the New England Patriots and Jacksonville Jaguars and a road game against the Minnesota Vikings — to squeeze into the postseason.
“Obviously, it sucks to lose, but we still have a lot of season left,” Carroo said. “Just like any other loss or win, you have to move on. We have to get ready to be 1-0 for this week coming up and that’s our main focus now.”