On October 21, quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick addressed the South Florida media after the team's decision to make the switch to rookie Tua Tagovailoa. That day, he spoke of a heavy heart and of the internal opining over whether or not he had taken his last snap as a professional football player.
Saturday night in Las Vegas, Fitzpatrick helped revive the hearts of Dolphins fans everywhere. Trailing 16-13 with just over nine minutes to play, Head Coach Brian Flores went to the 16-year NFL vet in hopes of sparking the offense. Fitzpatrick delivered with three fourth-quarter scoring drives, including the one that ultimately won the game, trailing by two points with 19 seconds left.
"He stepped up in the pocket and made some good throws," Dolphins Head Coach Brian Flores said of Fitzpatrick's performance. "I have to watch the film before I can make a true assessment. He made enough plays to help us win the game and that's good enough for me."
"In a way, it really wasn't as shocking to see what happened," quarterback Tua Tagovailoa said. "They call him 'Fitzmagic' for a reason."
Fitzpatrick threw for 182 yards and engineered three scoring drives to get the Dolphins back in the win column and one victory away from a postseason berth. None of Fitzpatrick's nine completions were more improbable than the pass that set up Jason Sanders to connect from 45 yards and catapult the Dolphins into the winner's circle.
With just 19 seconds and no timeouts remaining, Fitzpatrick heaved a 34-yard pass to wide receiver Mack Hollins, who was standing all along near the Raiders' sideline. Hollins secured the catch while a roughing the passer call pushed the Dolphins to the 26-yard-line of Las Vegas.
"I didn't know it was complete. As you guys saw, my facemask was getting pulled and my head was getting ripped off," Fitzpatrick said. "I turned around to say 'hey, facemask,' just to make sure they saw it and I think Jesse Davis or Myles (Gaskin) had to tell me it was complete, but I didn't know it was complete."
"Usually when a safety or cornerback goes somewhere where they're not supposed to be, they're following the quarterback's eyes … I'm not even sure how he got the ball off," Hollins said.
|3rd Down Conv.||5/15||0/10|
|Time of Possession||33:01|
Sanders connected on his fourth field goal of the night, this one from 45 yards out.
The magic was made possible by another stellar effort from the NFL's top-ranked scoring defense. The Raiders scored just once on five red zone trips and did not convert a single third down in the game (0-for-10).
After holding down the fort for the first 56 minutes of the game, Raiders wide receiver Nelson Agholor got behind the Miami defense for an 85-yard touchdown from quarterback Derek Carr with 3:37 remaining. Kicker Daniel Carlson left the door open by missing the ensuing extra point, keeping Las Vegas' lead to just 22-16.
The Dolphins took the ensuing possession with 3:27 left in the game and drove 75 yards, with a successful Jason Sanders point after to take a 23-22 lead. The touchdown came courtesy of a 59-yard catch-and-run by running back Myles Gaskin, who made an emphatic return to the lineup.
Gaskin, after spending the previous two games out of action on the reserve/COVID-19 list, returned to his usual position as the team's bell cow. Last week, it was his college teammate (Salvon Ahmed) who led the Dolphins with 122 of the team's 250 rushing yards in the win over the Patriots. Gaskin helped continue the theme of former Washington Huskies leading a second-half offensive surge as he piled up 169 yards from scrimmage and a pair of receiving touchdowns.
The latter scoring catch-and-run was sprung in large part by downfield blocks from Hollins and tight end Mike Gesicki.
"I just kind of got spun around after the catch and saw my dogs out there – Mike and Mack – it was just great," Gaskin said. "Always grinding, always trying to make plays. You don't always have to have the ball in your hands to make plays. That doesn't happen without those two."
The thrill of the 59-yard touchdown reception was short-lived. The Raiders moved into field goal range on the second play of the ensuing drive with a 49-yard pass interference penalty, and proceeded to drain the clock to just 19 seconds. Running back Josh Jacobs went sliding feet first into the Miami defense on a pair of runs to help wind the clock to set up what figured to be the game-winner from the foot of Carlson as Las Vegas took a 25-23 lead.
Miami answered back with the 34-yard completion, and 15 yards from the foul, to put Sanders in position. As he has done all year, Sanders came up aces with his second game-winner of the season. On the ensuing kickoff, the Dolphins extended a league-leading streak for most consecutive games with a takeaway as the Raiders attempted to keep the play alive with several laterals but the ball wound up in the arms of Clayton Fejedelem. That makes 21 straight games with a takeaway for Miami.
Fejedelem also ripped off a 22-yard run on a fake punt in the third quarter. It was the longest run by a non-skill player by Miami since punter Matt Turk went for 23 yards in December of 2003.
The Miami defense held Las Vegas to just one touchdown on five trips to the red zone without a third-down conversion. Miami entered play leading the league in takeaways (now up to 27), third-down defense (32.5 percent) and points allowed per game (18.4).
The theme of a one-game season continues and, in earnest, has never been more true than next week in Buffalo. Although there are scenarios where the Dolphins can clinch a playoff berth with 10 wins, a victory next week automatically gets Miami into the postseason for the first time since 2016.
"I want to go, man. I want to feel what it's like. I think we have a special team," Fitzpatrick said. "This team, all year long, has fought. For me, it's not just this year – it's the last two years and trying to build this foundation and build this vision of what Coach Flores thinks we are. I'm proud of the fact that I've been able to contribution to that … on the sideline, the excitement, being able to hug your teammates and your coaches. That's why you play the game."