Prayers and swears.
You can do a lot of both in three seconds.
Especially when those three seconds feel like three years.
Just ask the Dolphins. They muttered it all between the time Bills quarterback Josh Allen chucked the ball downfield on fourth down and when Charles Clay had the game-winner slip through his grasp Sunday.
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“Can’t say it on camera,” defensive end Robert Quinn said, of the thoughts running through his mind. “Put it this way, my heart dropped.”
Quipped safety T.J. McDonald: “It was like a Turkey Bowl type play. It was running around. I can’t even remember. I just saw somebody come up on the opposite side of the field. I looked back and said, ‘Please no.’ Said a prayer and I guess it worked.”
It did. Clay, the ex-Dolphin, dropped a pass at the goal line despite being open by more than 20 yards.
And because he did, the Dolphins still have a playoff pulse.
Clay’s gaffe allowed the Dolphins to escape with a 21-17 victory, and keep relevant as their season enters the final quarter.
“I said to everybody that I’ve got to make a play,” Clay said. “That’s on me. Everybody played good enough to win and in that situation, I kind of took it away from everybody. So I’ve got to be better in that situation.”
Be fair to Clay. The pass was under-thrown. But Clay — who began his career with the Dolphins before signing a five-year, $38 million contract with the Bills in 2015— had the time and was in position to make the play.
Because he didn’t, the Dolphins are somehow 6-6, a game behind the Ravens for the sixth seed in the AFC. The Bills fell to 4-8.
This was a regression-to-the-mean affair for the Dolphins.
A week after losing a game they should have won, they lost one they should have lost.
The statistics were galling.
Pick most any one, and the Dolphins were far worse.
Total yards: 415-175 edge for Buffalo.
First downs? 24-15.
Rushing yards: 198-60.
The Dolphins only crossed midfield four times.
They were 2 of 9 on third downs.
So how could did they possibly win?
Well, Clay’s drop was huge, coming on fourth-and-11 from Miami’s 30 with a minute to go.
But so was Xavien Howard’s two interceptions — he now leads the league with 7, and proclaimed himself the league’s best corner after the game.
Plus three touchdowns in as many red zone trips were huge too.
So the Dolphins made no excuses for winning in the moments that followed.
“I don’t care,” Gase said, when made aware of the huge discrepancy in yards. “It’s fine. We didn’t turn it over. We left too much out there on offense. We had opportunities. It’s a good defense, one of the top teams in yardage. But we knew if we won the turnover margin that was going to give us a good chance to win.”
They did, 3-to-1.
Plus Ryan Tannehill threw three touchdown passes to just one pick, so that was huge too.
But none of that would have mattered if Allen, who channeled Fran Tarkenton with his scrambling Sunday, had thrown the ball a little farther on his final pass.
Or if Clay would have adjusted to the under-throw a little more.
Or, you know, simply, hung onto the ball.
Allen, who ran for an absurd 135 yards Sunday, was impossible to tackle, down to the last snap. Both Quinn and Cameron Wake had a shot at him. Neither could finish the sack.
“He zigged left, he zigged right,” Wake said. “I guess everybody knew it was going to be the last play of the game and he was doing whatever he could to buy time to get his receivers down the field. I don’t remember who it was, but I know I was one of the guys chasing him around. He kept giving ground and he launched it up there.”
The Dolphins were in Cover-2, but there’s no coverage that can account for a quarterback getting close to 10 seconds to survey the throw.
DeVante Parker, watching from the sidelines, thought for a second Allen was throwing the ball away. All the action was to the left, yet he pivoted and launched the pass to his right. Clay was literally the only person on the TV screen when it came down.
“He was juking some folk,” Quinn said. “See him crow-hop it, wide open receiver. Luckily [Clay] had bad hands on that play. It was a heart-dropping play, but I guess we made the plays or they didn’t make the plays when they needed to. We came out with a win.”