Faced with the reality of seeing Tom Brady have 75 seconds and all three timeouts to go 80 yards, Miami Dolphins defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle had to call plays for a totally unfamiliar secondary.
Gone were starting cornerbacks
“Nothing really surprises me anymore in this league,” Coyle said. “We had friends and family in the stands and a portion of them had no clue who was in the game at the end of the game and thought it was business as usual but it wasn’t really. I credit those guys for stepping up and doing a heck of a job. … You never really anticipate it to happen that way during the course of a game but it did and we were kind of holding on for dear life there at the end but fortunately the guys kept battling.”
Davis was making just his fourth appearance for Miami, Thomas was making his NFL debut after spending all of last season and the majority of this season on the San Francisco 49ers’ practice squad and Wilson was being asked to play the boundary for the first time since his rookie year in 2011. That was with a totally different coaching staff, so Coyle only remembers seeing Wilson in that role back in OTAs, and he conceded that Thomas is more of a natural safety than corner.
Meanwhile, Wilson found himself in the unique position of being the veteran among the cornerbacks and making sure Davis and Thomas knew their assignments and reads while at the same acclimating himself to his new position. He wasn’t quite as concerned with Davis because he had seen what the rookie was capable of since training camp and he knew Thomas, having played at Stanford, had the smarts to pick things up quickly, but to see it all come together in the fourth quarter against a future Hall-of-Fame quarterback was something he won’t soon forget.
“A guy that just got to us five days ago and a rookie stepped up big time and that was out of control,” said Wilson, who had a blocked punt last week at Pittsburgh and has two interceptions on the season. “This is what you play for. We knew it was going to be this type of game and our message at the beginning of the week was to just play four quarters and even more. They played a lot of tight games, we played a lot of tight games and we knew it was going to come down to this.”
Coyle was quick to point out the job defensive backs coach Lou Anaarumo and assistant defensive backs coach Blue Adams getting Thomas up to speed during the week because Thomas did not get any practice snaps with the regular defense. He was working scout team the entire team, which meant the film room and the meeting room were the only places he was learning some of the calls he ended up having to execute on Sunday.
At one point during that fourth quarter, Coyle recalled asking Adams how much Thomas could handle before he sent in the plays and Adams told him he could handle everything. Coyle laughed when he told that story because he kept reminding Adams that Thomas had only been on the team since last Tuesday, but the extra time Adams and Anarumo put in with Thomas worked out well in the end.
“I don’t know how typical that is, but it happens,” Philbin said. “It’s certainly probably not the first time it has happened or the last, but again I thought our staff did a good job. We’ve got a guy coming off the plane, and you get him acclimated to the system as quickly as you possibly can. Let’s face it, (Thomas) is a bright young man. He’s eager. I think like most of us if you are going to work for a new employer you want to make a good impression. He was a willing learner, and things worked out.”
Now Coyle has the confidence in Thomas, Davis and Wilson to keep the same game plan in play whether or not Grimes and Carroll are in the lineup, especially after seeing Thomas come up with what he described as an even bigger play than the interception a few snaps earlier.
Patriots wide receiver Danny Amendola had beaten him on a fade to the right corner and Brady placed the ball perfectly over Amendola’s shoulder, but Thomas stayed with Amendola through the catch and knocked the ball out as they came to the ground for an incompletion.
“It looks like on our film the guy’s got the ball in his hands and he comes over the top and punches it out,” Coyle said. “If he doesn’t make that play we never get to the last play of the game there.”
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