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AC In The AM: A Win That Will Never Be Forgotten

Any talk about the Vikings and this Sunday’s game in Minnesota will have to wait at least a day or two. There is too much to dissect, too much to discuss and certainly too much to enjoy from a victory over the Patriots that will surely have its own remarkable place in team history.

  • You’ve got to start with The Play. This franchise has had many unforgettable moments since its inception back in 1966. Garo’s kick in double overtime that beat Kansas City back on Christmas night in 1971. The hook-and-lateral against San Diego in a 1981 playoff game. Lamar Smith’s game winning overtime run in the 2000 playoffs. But for pure final play drama, for the unexpected and improbable becoming reality, for the consummate “I can’t believe what I just saw” moment, nothing compares to the electricity of that 69-yard game-deciding, season-saving play that began with a short pass from Ryan Tannehill to Kenny Stills and ended precious seconds later with Kenyan Drake crossing the goal line.
  • I’ll never forget that celebration, how Drake heaved the ball high into the stands, how the Dolphins’ sideline exploded in excitement, players and coaches sprinting across the field, a stadium roaring its approval, the final scoreboard telling us everything we needed to know: Dolphins 34, Patriots 33.
  • Don’t tell me the heat wasn’t a factor on that final play. It’s been a factor in every one of the six home victories this season. Sure, it was late afternoon by then, but the 80-plus degree temperatures had clearly taken its toll on a team from the Northeast. Replay after replay shows the Patriots defenders laboring to stay with the play, always a step or two behind, never really in position to make the tackle. That late game fatigue was never more evident than when Drake had the ball in his hands in the open field, going at a speed that nobody else on the field could match.
  • How about offensive guard Ted Larsen, throwing the key block on Drake’s run, leveling New England safety Patrick Chung some 40 yards down field, trying to stay ahead of the play so nobody would even think about lateralling to him. That play doesn’t happen without Larsen doing what he did.
  • So the Dolphins are 6-1 at home, 4-1 in the AFC East, 2-0 in December and 7-6 overall and logic still dictates that they probably need to win these final three games to have a real shot at the playoffs. But let’s put this in perspective for a moment. For them to be in this position despite so many important pieces on injured reserve and despite having to play Sunday’s game without their most dynamic defender in Xavien Howard is impressive to say the least. Isn’t it time we salute this team for what they ARE doing instead of what they’re not? Isn’t it time we recognized the resiliency and the belief that has permeated that locker room? There are no guarantees from this point on. But after two straight home victories against the Bills and Patriots, actually winning both games on the final play, you just have to wonder what this team could possibly do next.
  • I said before the Patriots game that Ryan Tannehill might have to play one of the best games of his career to pull off the upset. He certainly delivered. Tannehill was bordering on flawless, his quarterback rating of 155.2, the third highest in team history. Tough? He played the entire second half on a bum ankle injured late in the first half. Only he knows how much pain he was dealing with. But the Dolphins don’t win this game without him stepping up the way he did. “I just had to fight through it,” he says. Afterward, there was total exhaustion and complete elation, Tannehill at one point lying on his back in the center of the field, soaking it all in.
  • How unlike Tom Brady not realizing he had no time outs left at the end of the first half, the sack by Robert Quinn eliminating any chances of a late field goal that would have made it a nine-point halftime lead instead of six. “That was a terrible play by me,” Brady said afterward. When’s the last time we’ve heard him say that?
  • Then there’s Frank Gore. What more can we say that we haven’t already? All he did Sunday was average 7.7 yards on 12 carries, taking one 36 yards, and then adding a reception for 24 more. At 35 years old, could he possibly be getting stronger as the season wears on? I’ve never before covered an athlete quite like him. As much as I heard about him over the years, you really have to see it close up to appreciate what he does and how consistently he does it.
  • Lost in the euphoria of that final play were some other very telling performances. Special teams ace Brandon Bolden getting a more extended look on offense, scoring touchdowns on each of his two carries, taking one 54 yards. I mean who really saw that coming? Got a feeling we’re going to see plenty more of Bolden. Then there was wide receiver Kenny Stills targeted on nine of Tannehill’s 19 passes and producing eight catches for 135 yards. With all the injuries at receiver, it is imperative that Stills continue having this increased role.
  • Yes, the defense had more than its share of breakdowns in the secondary and that comes from both the excellence of Brady and the absence of Howard. But the rushing defense was outstanding, holding the Patriots to 2.6 yards on 30 carries and limiting rookie Sony Michel in particular to 57 yards on 20 carries. The improvement of this rushing defense, buoyed in part by the progression of the young linebackers, could prove so critical down the stretch. It certainly made a difference against the Patriots. 
  • Concerns? There always are. The third down offense remains an issue (1 for 7 against the Patriots), the special teams took a hit with two blocked punts and there’s the matter of better protecting Tannehill, who was sacked four times and now must deal with that sprained ankle. But none of that seems so daunting after Sunday. “If you’re not excited now,” said Adam Gase, “you may as well find something else to do.”
  • The challenge this week is putting this victory behind them, as difficult as that is to do, and channeling all thoughts on a Sunday afternoon game in Minnesota, no doubt realizing that they’ve probably used up their quota on miracle finishes. Then again, you never know.

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