LOS ANGELES -- The Miami Dolphins played “terrible” on offense the first 54 minutes of Sunday’s game, to use head coach Adam Gase’s word, and yet when the offense came onto field the final six minutes knowing it might get only one or two more chances to win, quarterback Ryan Tannehill told his teammates to get ready for an improbable victory because it was happening.
“I told the guys just before we went on that first touchdown drive, ‘Hey, everyone take a deep breath. We’re going to win this game.’” Tannehill said. “And that’s what we did.”
How could Tannehill make such a prediction? The offense had faced 10 third down situations up to that point and converted exactly none of them.
The Miami drive chart to that point looked like something out of a Football Follies highlight reel:
So a victory? How?
“Because as long as there’s time on the clock, I’m going to believe we can win,” Tannehill said. “I have a lot of faith in everyone that steps on that field with me. We put in a lot of work and a lot of time. We’ve grown together over the past three months. As long as there’s time on that clock and we’re within reasonable scoring range, I believe we’re going to find a way to win.”
And this is important because the Dolphins are 6-4 now. And while they won’t dare articulate the idea of being a playoff-caliber team because Gase has them thinking strictly week to week -- Nick Saban style -- the idea this team might make it to the postseason is going to leak through the print media or social media and electronic media and maybe into your head.
And if you’re one of those who have suffered and been hurt and maybe even cried (admit it, you did) at any point the past 15 years because the Dolphins cut your heart out, you will absolutely refuse to believe this team can possibly be postseason good later this year.
You will resist the temptation to think this team that started 1-4 but just extended its win streak to five games on the same field the franchise won Super Bowl VII and completed its perfect season can play past the regular season in 2016.
And today I say, don’t resist.
Allow yourself to dream.
These Dolphins merit you considering playoff possibilities because as the holidays approach they are on a hot streak and they are winning in every way imaginable. And that, by the way, is what playoff teams do.
Remember that two weeks ago, the win came on a Kenyan Drake kickoff return touchdown. Thanks, special teams.
Remember that last week, the win came on a Kiko Alonso pick six. Thanks, defense.
And Sunday, the win came on two late touchdown passes from Tannehill to Jarvis Landry and DeVante Parker. And those two scores, the second of which with only 36 seconds left to play, were a show of tenacity and grit and determination that is typically a trait of playoff teams.
Notice nowhere in the last few paragraphs have I said the Dolphins are so talented and playing so well that they look like a playoff team. I haven’t said that. The Dolphins themselves won’t say that.
This team has flaws. This team has injuries. And this team needs to continue to improve.
But this team will continue to make a case for the postseason because it’s strong willed and it has ... it has ... heart.
“We just want it more,” DeVante Parker said comparing this team to the team he played on his rookie year in 2015.
There’s tangible proof of that intangible trait if you look hard enough. The first touchdown drive the Dolphins authored included three completions to Jarvis Landry. Landry had exactly two catches for one yard before that drive. He was cramping on that drive.
And framed against 54 minutes of failure, Landry ignored the mess and reached for victory. His 10-yard touchdown catch seemed to end a good five yards short of the goal line. But Landry kept fighting for the end zone. And then other receivers joined in. And then offensive linemen piled on, pushing the rolling avalanche of a scrum across the goal line.
“It’s all about will,” Landry said. “All about will.”
Parker scored the winning touchdown on an out route. He created separation and Tannehill delivered a perfect pass. (Tannehill by the way completed 12 of his final 13 passes for 115 yards after completing only 12 of 21 passes for 57 yards before that). Parker dove for the catch and stayed in bounds for the score.
He did that with sore hamstrings. Indeed, Parker’s hamstrings have been chronically sore all season. Some days he’s felt badly. Lately he’s felt better. But it never feels great. Is he 100 percent?
“Close,” he said after a long pause.
Close was good enough.
The Dolphins opened this game with two offensive line starters -- Branden Albert and Mike Pouncey -- out of the lineup. Then Laremy Tunsil left the game in the first half with a shoulder injury. And against the makeshift line, the Los Angeles front and its blitzes and stunts collected four sacks.
It was ugly.
But in the final six minutes while the Dolphins drove for their two touchdowns, Tannehill was not sacked. The Rams, frustrated, actually were called for two roughing the passer penalties. But no sacks against a line missing three of five starters in the final six minutes.
“I guess we just had to make it dramatic for the fans,” right guard Jermon Bushrod said. “We looked inside ourselves and said it’s time to go. We don’t have any more opportunities. This is it. Right now. And if we don’t get it done, we’re going home losers.”
The Dolphins went home winners.
Isn’t that what playoff teams do?