Dolphins Pull Out 27-23 Comeback Win Over Atlanta

Posted Sep 22, 2013

Tannehill leads dramatic fourth-quarter touchdown drive.

This year’s Miami Dolphins sure know how to keep it exciting and they did just that today in their home opener, pulling out a dramatic 27-23 comeback win over the Atlanta Falcons.

Second-year quarterback Ryan Tannehill capped off a flawless 75-yard scoring drive in with a 1-yard touchdown pass to rookie tight end Dion Sims with 38 seconds left in the game. The perfectly thrown lob pass set off a raucous celebration by the crowd of 70,660 at Sun Life Stadium and kept Miami unbeaten at 3-0.

“Before the drive started I just told the guys, hey, it doesn’t matter what happened before now, all that matters is what we do on this drive and they responded,” said Tannehill, who surpassed 4,000 career passing yards and had a passé rating of 94.5. “Guys stepped up and made plays, I had great pass protection the entire drive, guys were catching the ball downfield. All you can say is the guys stepped up and made plays when they counted.”

In addition to Sims, tight ends Charles Clay and Michael Egnew also came up with big receptions on that final drive. Egnew’s first career catch went for 8 yards on a 2nd-and-10 across midfield to set up a short third-down situation. Clay, who had a career-high 109 receiving yards against the Colts, hauled in a 21-yarder down the seam all the way to the Atlanta 8-yardline with just over a minute left.

Two plays after Clay’s catch, Sims fought off Falcons linebacker Stephen Nicholas and made a nifty one-handed grab of Tannehill’s pass for the game-winning score. He was mobbed by his teammates and of course kept the ball as a memento.

“”It was awesome,” Sims said. “It all started with the O-line protecting and then Tannehill making a great throw, an absolutely perfect throw over the top, and it was just up to me to make the play. He grabbed my arm and I just used my instincts. I had no choice but to grab it with the other hand and it was something that we practiced all week.”

Third-year safety Jimmy Wilson sealed the victory with a leaping interception of Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan with 26 second left in the game and ran out of bounds at the Atlanta 41.

Tannehill finished the afternoon completing 24-of-35 for 236 yards, two touchdowns and one interception to win his head-to-head duel with Ryan. He connected earlier in the third quarter with wide receiver Brian Hartline on an 18-yard score and rookie kicker Caleb Sturgis drilled field goals of 46 and 50 yards to remain perfect on the season at 5-for-5.

All of the players made it a point to express their gratitude to the crowd for the atmosphere they provided in the fourth quarter to help spur the team onto victory. Center Mike Pouncey is in his third season and was accustomed to playing in front of one of the loudest home crowds in college football at The Swamp in Gainesville with the Florida Gators.

“Number one. It’s the best I have ever seen this stadium,” Pouncey said. “The fans were into it. They helped us out a lot. When the fans are into it that hurts the other team. They were all juiced up and so were we on the sidelines.”

If ever a football game illustrated how important it is to remember it lasts four quarters and takes a full 60 minutes to determine an outcome it was this one. Atlanta completely dominated the time of possession in the first half by more than a 2-to-1 advantage (22:48 to 7:12) and quarterback Matt Ryan was nearly perfect completing 15-of-17 passes for 118 yards and a touchdown.

The Falcons led 10-0 early in the second quarter before the Dolphins even touched the ball a second time, yet Tannehill and company never panicked. Running back Lamar Miller’s 49-yard burst up the middle keyed a six-play, 80-yard scoring drive that culminated with fellow running back Daniel Thomas’ 5-yard touchdown run, and then Tannehill executed the two-minute drill at the end of the half well enough to set Sturgis up for his 46-yard field goal as time expired. Miami trailed only 13-10 at intermission.

“We told the guys at halftime that the team that had the most faith and confidence in one another had the best chance to win,” Head Coach Joe Philbin said. “We made some plays when we had to. At the end of the first half, those three points were big.”

Last week at Indianapolis, Sturgis drilled a 53-yard field goal at the end of the first half to tie that game at 17-17 and give his team momentum headed into the second half. This felt similar, especially with the Dolphins receiving the second-half kickoff.

Unfortunately, Tannehill’s opening drive ended in a sack and a lost fumble that was recovered at his own 12 by Falcons defensive tackle Peria Jerry, older brother of Dolphins right guard John Jerry. Atlanta converted on the turnover when Ryan found tight end Levine Toilolo from 2 yards out to extend his team’s lead back to 10 points.

After Sturgis made it a one-score game again with his 50-yard field goal early in the third quarter the Miami defense forced Atlanta to punt for the first time and Matt Bosher shanked it badly out of bounds at the Dolphins’ 40. A tipped pass off the hands of Clay resulted in an interception by Falcons safety William Moore but their offense stalled again with a three-and-out, and then their defense responded by forcing a Brandon Fields 53-yard punt. Dolphins rookie cornerback Don Jones forced a fumble by Harry Douglas that was recovered by John Denney and three plays later Tannehill found Hartline alone in the end zone.

“I saw the coverage and I thought I had an opportunity to get the ball,” said Hartline, who caught four passes for 56 yards. “Of course the only spot where the sun is left in the stadium decided to find the football and I honestly couldn’t see the darn thing. So I caught the black dot and it worked out pretty well, but it was definitely hard to locate.”

It was up to the Dolphins’ defense for the rest of the second half to contain Atlanta and keep the score close enough so that the offense could have a chance to pull out the win. That unit had to perform without it’s best player, Pro Bowl defensive end Cameron Wake (left with a knee injury), and starting linebacker Koa Misi (shoulder), but the rest of the defensive players answered the call.

“We just know everybody is going to get in and do their job,” cornerback Brent Grimes said. “You never want people to go down but it happens. In this game people get hurt and somebody has to step up and we did that. Everybody was talking on the sideline. It wasn’t just one person, everybody was out there picking guys up, telling people to keep it going, and we made a bunch of stops when we had to in the second half.”

Miami has an extra day to prepare for its next opponent, the New Orleans Saints, and the players were given tomorrow off. They will travel to the Big Easy next Sunday for a big Monday night showdown at the Mercedes Dome in an attempt to stay unbeaten.

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