Ryan Tannehill saved the Dolphins' season — with a huge assist from Dion Sims and Miami's resilient defense.
Tannehill directed the Dolphins to scores — a touchdown and a field goal — on their final two true drives to rally Miami past the Jets 16-13 on Monday night, averting a year-wrecking embarrassment on national television.
The win improved the Dolphins to 7-5, and for the time being, slid them into the sixth seed in the AFC; they haven’t been to the playoffs since 2008. The Jets fell to 2-10 in the loss.
"Oh yeah," a beaming Sims said post-game, when asked if those late two drives kept the Dolphins' season from flatlining.
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"Today, we got better," added Jared Odrick, whose defense allowed just 94 yards and three points in the second half.
Because the defense made the play it hadn’t all year.
And because Tannehill stepped up. He completed 5 of 8 passes for 68 yards in the fourth quarter. No two throws were bigger than the darts to Sims on the Dolphins’ late drive to set up Caleb Sturgis’ 26-yard, game-winning field goal.
Sims caught passes of 18 and 17 yards on that decisive possession, the latter coming on third-and-7 with the Dolphins on the edge of Sturgis' range. They were the biggest catches of his young career, Sims later acknowledged.
Then it was up to the Miami's defense, which blew late leads to the Packers, Lions and, most recently, Broncos.
Reshad Jones made sure history wouldn’t be repeated. He picked off Geno Smith’s final pass, an effort into double coverage to Jeff Cumberland that was deflected by Jelani Jenkins with 39 seconds left in the game.
“We were due to be in a game like this,” said Dolphins coach Joe Philbin. “You're going to have to win some of those games in the NFL.”
The fact the Dolphins were even in the game was a testament to the Jets’ ability to foul things up. New York bulldozed Miami for 277 rushing yards — and yet somehow lost.
And although Tannehill wasn’t great throughout, he was good enough when he needed to be. He finished 25 of 35 for 235 yards, and led the Dolphins to three second-half scores.
They needed every one.
A week after allowing 201 rushing yards in Denver, the Dolphins’ run defense picked up right where it left off. On New York’s second drive, Chris Johnson shook free — and shook nearly the entire Dolphins defense — for a gain of 47.
Greg Salas then took an end-around 20 yards to the end zone, putting the Dolphins in an early 7-0 hole.
After a missed Sturgis field goal — wide left from 43 yards — the Jets went on the march again. They ended a fast-paced first quarter with 131 rushing yards — the most gained by a team in the first quarter in any NFL game this season.
Nick Foles booted through a 40-yarder to again put the Dolphins down by two scores in the first half — resurrecting a troubling trend from early in the season.
The only way the Dolphins could stop the Jets was when the Jets needed Smith to throw. He horribly overthrew Percy Harvin for a would-be touchdown, and Foles missed a long field goal on the ensuing play.
Sturgis did connect from 43 yards to put the Dolphins on the board before halftime.
Miami whittled into the lead more on the opening possession of the second half — but should have had a touchdown instead of a 44-yard Sturgis field goal. Mike Wallace had a score in his grasp and put couldn’t pull it in a slightly off target pass from Tannehill.
Compounding failures, Sturgis sent the ensuing kickoff out of bounds, giving the Jets a short field. They converted that gift into three points of their own; Folk’s 45-yard attempt bounced over the crossbar to stretch the lead back to seven.
Then, the game just got wacky.
On consecutive plays, Dion Jordan deflected a punt and Tannehill threw a pick — that wasn’t remotely his fault.
First, Jordan's deflection of Ryan Quigley’s punt netted just six yards for the Jets. Then Tannehill, under heavy pressure, tried to dump off the pass to Lamar Miller. But Miller batted he low throw into the air, allowing Darrin Walls to intercept the pass and return it 25 yards.
The Jets should have gone up two scores. Cam Wake had other ideas. He dropped Smith in the backfield on third down, forcing New York to punt.
Another dynamic defensive play — this time Jones ended a drive near the Jets goal line — gave the Dolphins in great field position early in the fourth quarter
This time, they made it count. Tannehill found Jarvis Landry on a 25-yard crossing route, setting up a four-yard touchdown run by Miller. And after all that came before it, the Dolphins were in a tie game with just over 10 minutes remaining.
"I think we're strong mentally," Tannehill said. "Part of that has shown in the second half of football games. There's a lot of confidence in there, a lot of leadership. Guys are always fighting. We're always going to try to find a way."