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This was a victory to mount on your trophy case and think about whenever you want to smile. It was improbable. It was imperfect. It was incredible. It was so much wrapped into one giant delicious package, the day a football team and its young quarterback grew up.
And when it was over, after New Years Eve arrived at a packed Sun Life Stadium, after one of the most memorable touchdown drives you’ll ever see, after the 27-23 victory over Atlanta was safely tucked away, there was Mike Pouncey and Brian Hartline dousing coach Joe Philbin with a large bucket of ice and water in the center of the locker room.
Yep, low key Joe Philbin getting a shower he will not soon forget.
“You get a win like this,” said Pouncey, “and the coach is going to get wet.”
I can’t tell you how many times over the years I have seen these Dolphins lose this exact type of game. Down 10-0. Then down 20-10. The defense struggling against the run; the offense struggling to protect Ryan Tannehill. All the numbers saying that the Falcons should be winning this game going away.
But this team is different. This year is different. We began to see that in two road wins over Cleveland and Indy. But it took on a different life, reached a different level, against the Falcons. There is something special happening here and it’s not some early season pipe dream.
This was a top-tier team they had beaten. This was a statement. And there was no bigger statement than that 75-yard drive late in the fourth quarter that sealed the deal.
Are you still not convinced that Ryan Tannehill is this franchise’s long-term answer at quarterback? Then you didn’t see that drive. You didn’t see Tannehill complete 8 of 11 passes for 69 yards — and two of those three incompletions were drops. You didn’t see how confident he looked, how he took complete control, how he refused to back down in the face of a relentless pass rush. You didn’t see the third-down conversions or the 1-yard flip to rookie Dion Sims for the game-winning score.
Ryan Tannehill showed me more on that one drive than he had at any time in his previous 18 professional games. He showed me that he belonged and that he’s here to stay and that the Dolphins always have a chance with him in the lineup. Sure, he’ll have rough spots. Everybody quarterback does. But to know that he is capable of doing what he did Sunday afternoon, to see the undeniable evidence of a touchdown drive in the most pressure-packed moments, clearly shows us the upside we’ve been looking for.
“He stepped back there,” said Hartline, “and put together a Ryan Tannehill-type of moment.”
Yes, Tannehill was special. But he wasn’t alone. Go up and down this roster. So many players stepped up against the Falcons. So many unlikely heroes emerged. Philbin likes to talk about team wins; about getting contributions from the entire roster. Can there be a better example of that than Sunday’s win?
There was unheralded seventh-round pick Don Jones forcing a third quarter fumble of a punt return with a ferocious hit. There was long-snapper John Denney somehow recovering the fumble that Jones forced. There was seldom used tight end Michal Egnew catching a pass on the game-winning drive. There was Sims catching the game-winner with just one hand and then there was Jimmy Wilson closing it out with an interception.
As I evaluate the stat sheet, the outcome becomes even more incredible. Tannehill was sacked five times; the Dolphins didn’t register a single sack. Atlanta averaged almost 5 yards a carry and won time of possession by almost 15 minutes. Mike Wallace caught just two passes for 22 yards while Atlanta’s Julio Jones caught nine for 115.
You can’t win games like this. You shouldn’t win games like this. But the Dolphins won the only stat that really matters and in that wild unforgettable fourth quarter, they stepped up the way good teams do.
“A big win for a new era of Dolphins football,” said Hartline.
And a win that said so much about this football team.
On Tuesday, AC in the AM takes a look back at the Falcons game and a look ahead to Monday night in New Orleans.
The opinions, analysis and/or speculation expressed by The Finsiders Blog represent those of individual writers, and unless quoted or clearly labeled as such, do not represent the opinions, policies or desires of the Miami Dolphins organization, front office, coaches and executives. Writers' views are formulated independently from any inside information and/or conversation with Dolphins officials, including the coaches and scouts, unless otherwise noted.
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