So much didn’t go right for the Miami Dolphins on Sunday.
Three starting offensive linemen were out injured. The defense struggled much of the afternoon and gave up almost 500 yards. Running back Jay Ajayi was contained for a change, the “Jay Train” barely leaving the station. And when it comes down a desperate final play to survive an opponent that arrived with a 1-9 record, well, just say it was an overall performance that would bring an exhale of relief more than inspire any boastful bleating.
Two things about this game did go very right for the Dolphins, though.
A sixth consecutive victory was one, because that will work like magic makeup to smooth over all imperfections.
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And why that happened was the other:
Ryan Tannehill, plain and simple.
Tannehill, the fifth-year quarterback Miami fans have never quite fully trusted as being good enough.
Tannehill, the QB the San Francisco 49ers evidently didn’t think was good enough, either.
Maybe it should finally be dawning on everyone by now.
He’s good enough.
The Dolphins held on to beat the 49ers 31-24 here to run the season record to 7-4 and stay vitally alive for the franchise’s first playoff spot since 2008. And it happened because San Francisco coach Chip Kelly dared Tannehill to beat him, and Miami’s No. 17 respectfully obliged.
Alert the media. Alert Dolfans. Alert opponents. Tannehill is good enough.
The Niners entered the game dead last in the NFL in run defense, and game-planned to limit Ajayi at all costs, loading up the line of scrimmage with run stoppers. And it worked. Ajayi, the league’s hottest back, was held to a mortal 45 yards on 18 carries.
But it didn’t work because the strategy put the ball and the result directly in Tannehill’s hands. No problem, apparently. He completed 20 of 30 passes for 285 yards, three touchdowns, no interceptions and a 130.6 passer rating — tied for second-best of his career. The game also featured his 100th career scoring pass.
“I didn’t know I was how many away,” he said of his milestone. “But I came to the sideline and somebody told me.”
There is a word for how the 49ers dared Tannehill to beat them, and Dolphins coach Adam Gase used it after the game:
“We were kind of talking on the sideline that it was disrespectful that they didn’t think we could throw the ball,” Gase said.
Tannehill smiled off the notion of disrespect, saying, “I wasn’t a part of that [sideline] conversation. But we knew we were going to have a chance to push the ball down the field.”
The 10-yard scoring pass to DeVante Parker in the corner of the end zone was a thing of beauty but was overturned on review and didn’t count. But these did:
▪ The 16-yard TD strike to Dion Sims.
▪ The 43-yard direct hit to speed guy Kenny Stills.
▪ And the 15-yarder that became the first career TD for the mellifluously named Leonte Carroo.
There was also the 46-yard completion to Parker on third-and-7.
Even with the caveat that San Francisco will not be mistaken for a quality defense, I have seldom seen Tannehill look better. He is 9-1 on TDs/interceptions in this six-game streak.
The QB also had 34 yards scrambling on six rushes Sunday, continuing his habit of absorbing tackles to gain the extra ground rather than sliding to avoid contact. He exhibits some of the same toughness that we used to admire in Jay Fiedler, but with the arm talent to match.
“There’s definitely a couple of situations where I probably should have slid,” conceded Tannehill.
If Tannehill was the star of the game, give the runner-up trophy to Kiko Alonso, who became the first Dolphins linebacker since 1993 to have a fumble recovery and interception in the same game — and also had a hand in stopping 49ers QB Colin Kaepernick at the Miami 2-yard line on the game’s final play, likely preventing overtime.
Miami ends every Friday practice with a last-play-of-the-game drill, and the defense has won seven consecutive weeks — a thought that occurred to Gase as his team sealed Miami’s first six-game win streak since 2005, the best record after 11 games since 2003, and the first four-game home winning streak in the same season since 2002.
Heady stuff. More important: With a trip to Baltimore on deck, Miami has a chance now for its first seven-game streak since distant 1985, when Dan Marino was a pup.
And the playoffs are looming in view now, of course. Close. Enticing ...
“It’s exciting to play meaningful games in December,” as Tannehill put it.
It was weird. Kaepernick was the quarterback getting all the attention entering this game, all of it wrapped in controversy. For continuing his polarizing habit of kneeling during the pregame national anthem (which he did again Sunday) to protest social injustice. And, this week, for his having worn the image of Fidel Castro on a T-shirt and praised the former Cuban president who died at age 90 on Friday and who is despised by most Cuban Miamians.
On Sunday, there was loud but brief booing of Kaepernick, soon replaced by cheering for his Dolphins counterpart.
See, while one quarterback kept kneeling on Sunday, it was the the other one who stood up.