Miracles are powerful stuff. They save lives. They turn doubters into believers. They make everything seem all right, at least for a little while. When applied to football a miracle is strong enough to beat the New England Patriots and turn the disrespected little Miami Dolphins into the NFL’s most unlikely playoff contenders.
The providence or plain luck of Sunday’s final play shape-shifted the entire season for the Fins.
It also let a lot of folks off the hook.
Imagine if that 69-yard magic show with time expired hadn’t happened. Imagine the conversation today if Miami’s 34-33 victory had been the 33-28 loss that only seemed about 99.4 percent likely.
Fans would be eviscerating receiver Kenny Stills for sliding short of a first down, which preceded a sack, a punt and the Patriots’ go ahead score. They’d be pillorying the punter, whose nightmare day included two kicks blocked. They’d have the scope sights on defensive coordinator Matt Burke and his secondary, which, minus injured Xavien Howard, seeemed helpless to stop Tom Brasdy and his gifted crew of pass catchers.
And leading the parade of criticism as Miami tumbled realistically out of the playoff race would have coach Adam Gase.
Oh the bullet he dodged when Stills, DeVante Parker and Kenyan Drake lateraled their way into Dolphins’ lore.
Gase would have been second-guessed from here into next week for electing to punt on 4th-and-4 from his own 40, trailing 30-28, with 4:26 to play.
The coach’s timidity backfired. New England held the ball for 10 plays and more than four minutes, then kicked a short field goal for five-point lead that left Miami with only 16 seconds, no timeouts, and next to no hope.
Gase wasn’t wrong because it didn’t work out, though. He was wrong because everything about the game was begging that he go for it. That this was the time for bravado and faith.
In electing to punt Gase didn’t trust his offense, even though Ryan Tannehill was having a near-perfect game (155.2 rating), the ground game had rushed for almost 200 yards and Frank Gore was averaging 7.7 yards per carry.
In electing to punt Gase was rolling dice on punter Matt Haack, who’d struggled all day.
In electing to punt Gase was trusting his defense ... against Tom Brady, the G.O.A.T. who’d been torching Miami all over Hard Rock Stadium.
Brady did what you thought he would, because he’s Brady, and Miami was quite literally left needing a miracle to save the season and stay the second-guessing.
“It’s a different feeling when you know you’re fighting for your football lives,” Gase said Monday. “Any loss for us now could be the end.”
That could have been Sunday against the Pats. Could be this week at Minnesota. Or the games after that vs. Jacksonville and at Buffalo. At 7-6 Miami will almost certainly make the playoffs if it runs the table for 10-6., while 9-7, chances are, likely would fall short.
A year ago, Miami had a slight playoff shot ruined by three consecutive losses to end the season, a lesson for now.
Any wiggle room this time?
“Probably none,” said Gase.
A continued strong finish will shape, but shouldn’t alter entirely, the club’s plans for improvement moving forward. A major decision on Tannehill is due, but the QB is making it easy for Miami to re-up and stick with him. His passer rating is now 105.7, sixth in the league, ahead of the likes of Carson Wentz, Jared Goff, Deshaun Watson, Aaron Rodgers, Andrew Luck, Kirk Cousins, Ben Roethlisberger ... and Brady.
The Fins keeping Tannehill for 2019 and beyond may now be assumed, but that shouldn;t dsidetrack the need to groom his eventual replacement. Somebody not named Brock Osweiler needs to be in the pipeline. I’d spend a first- or second-round pick on a QB in April if the timing and the player are right.
But that’s for later. Enjoy now, Dolfans. Games are won and lost by a fateful bounce or dumb luck, so no apologies needed for the manner of Sunday’s triumph.
“We’re alive,” Gase said, meaning in the proverbial hunt. “If you’re not excited right now then you might as well just go find something else to do.”
The Dolphins, right now, are the great hope of South Florida sports.
The Dolphins — who’ve mostly let us down since last winning a playoff game on Dec. 30, 2000.
Canes football fizzled to a disappointing 7-5 season. UM’s men’s basketball has lost four in a row, the last two to Ivy Leaguers Yale and Penn. The nothing-special Heat and Panthers both are trying to climb up to .500 and eighth seeds. Derek Jeter’s cost-cutting Marlins might or might not be good in a few years. David Beckham’s Inter Miami soccer team is still a twinkle in the eye.
Right now, for the holidays, it’s the Dolphins as our unlikely gift, chasing something special.
Reaching the playoffs from here might still take a miracle of sorts , but smaller than the one we just saw and still can hardly believe.