Miami Dolphins Kenny Stills on defeating the Patriots
That final impossible play that could never happen but did was nothing short of a Miami Miracle, the word that tries to explain divine intervention, or something inexplicably divine.
But this whole season has been one of those unexpected gifts for the Dolphins. who were made fun of and pigeonholed for awfulness this season but find themselves above .500 at 7-6 and clawing for the NFL playoffs with three games left in the regular season.
None of this should be happening.
Start with the splendid last-second chaos that ended the Fins’ 34-33 triumph over the nemesis New England Patriots on Sunday at Hard Rock Stadium.
“We had ‘em right where we wanted them,” joked quarterback Ryan Tannehill.
Miami, down 30-27. Own 31-yard line. Seven seconds left. No timeout.
The Pats were defending for a deep Hail Mary pass. That’s why 6-6 Rob Gronkowski was back there. Tannehill threw quickly to Kenny Stiills, who ran 14 yards and pitched back to DeVante Parker, who ran five yards more and pitched back to Kenyan Drake. He weaved 50 yards into the end zone -- Gronk that last defender he ran past.
The crowd of 66,087 has been half-filled with Pats fans, but as Drake ran toward the miracle finish the crowd sounded as if it was all Dolfans. And that they were cheering a Super Bowl win.
“I got into the locker room and felt like collapsing almost from all the emotion,” Tannehill admitted. “The elation, from knowing you don;t have much of a shot to winning the game.”
The so called “hook-and-lateral” play is a storied part of Dolphins lore. The team practices it occasionally.
Sometimes you think, ‘Why are we doing this?’” Stills admitted. “Now we know.”
The hook-and-lateral is practiced “on air,” meaning without defenders. So you never know it will play live, or where the laterals will go, or when, or to whom.
“That play doesn’t exist, as sackman Cam Wake said -- meaning exactly how it unfolded. “We gave the fans their money’s worth for sure.”
The Dolphins have played 53 franchises seasons.
This was one of the very best, biggest, most memorable and astonishing plays and finished ever for this club.
It also was one of the most entertaining, pulse-pounding games in Fins history. setting a club record with nine lead changes.
This, too: It was a game that made you believe in Tannehill. He completed 14-of-19 passes for 265 yards, three TDs and a near-perfect 155.1 passer rating. He stood facemask-to-facemask with the G.O.A.T. Tom Brady and did everything right. He got into the shootout nobody thought Miami could win, and made it happen.
Tannehill was limping noticeably in the jubilant postgame locker room, after toughing through an ankle injury suffered late in the first half.
His left guard, Ted Larsen, had thrown a key block on that final, winning miracle-play.
“Ted! Ted! Ted! Ted!,” teammates chanted in the merry din.
Tannehill, limping, raised both fists above his head, smiling, as he moved toward the showers.
See, this was more than that one final play. It was more than winning. It was the opponent that has had you in a stranglehold seemingly forever and was a huge 9 1/2-point favorite Sunday. It was the triumph that was the difference between playoff hopes fizzling in disappointment or rising like helium balloons. Party balloons.
It also is special because it marks the zenith thus far of a season that was supposed to amount to nothing but has far exceeded all expectations.
Adam Gase should get coach of the year consideration for what he has made of the circumstances handed him.
I’d have felt the same had Sunday ended in a 33-28 loss as it surely seemed ti would, and had it left Miami at 6-7 and gasping for playoff life. Now, though, it is undeniable.
By most any measure, the Dolphins are the biggest surprise of this NFL season -- and deserve the credit for that, at last, no matter what happens in the final three regular-season games from here.
These were the Dolphins ranked 32nd -- dead last -- in ESPN’s NFL Power Rankings entering the season. The club questions and mocked for letting go of proven talent such as Jarvis Landry, Ndamukong Suh and Mike Pouncey.
This is the injury-wracked team with 16 players on injured reserve, tied for sixth-most in the league, including three-fifths of the starting offensive line and speedy playmakers Albert Wilson and Jakeem Grant.
This was the team with the worst points-differential by far (minus-56) of any team in playoff contention. The one with the fourth-worst third-down conversion rate in the league, ahead only of three teams with a combined 10-26 record. The team that allowed almost 100 yards per game more than it gained. The team second-to-last in total offensive plays and fourth-worst in time of possession.
How on earth is this team 7-6!?
“With all of the injuries and everything else that’s happened to us this season,” said the veteran Cam Wake, “today was one of the days when you just keep swinging and keep fighting and keep hoping for something good.”
It came, finally, with the scoreboard clocks reading “:00.”
It came with Dolphins players pouring onto the field with the walkoff miracle, and with Dolfans sending the sonic noise of stunned joy up to the heavens.
It came as an instant, first-ballot addition to franchise lore, because, for so many reasons, that play and all it meant was simply this: