The Dolphin Report

By Ron Poltorack

THE LONGEST 75 SECONDS

When you’re holding a 24-20 lead with 1:15 left to play, missing key players in the defensive backfield and facing Tom Brady, time moves ever so slowly.  And while Fins’ QB Ryan Tannehill could only watch helplessly as his defense tried to hold on to the 4-point lead he had managed to give his team, those last 75 seconds were the longest of his life as he later related in his post-game press conference.

It was nerve-racking for Dolfans who have seen Brady bring his team back a number of times just as he had in each of the last 3 weeks.  And when he had a first down at the Fins’ 14-yard line it was difficult not to think:  “Oh no, not again!”  But this day would be different as the Fins would stop Brady on fourth down with an interception in the end zone by a defensive back who had not worn aqua and orange before Tuesday.  The Fins claimed Michael Thomas off the Niners’ practice squad earlier this week and then when Brandon Gibson and Nolan Carroll went down on Sunday, he was pressed into action.  And don’t think Tom Brady didn’t know it.  Brady picked on him a number of times in the fourth quarter, but Thomas had the last laugh in his first NFL game.  What a thrill!  He’s probably still clutching the ball as you read this, but at least it got good and clean in his post-game shower!

Brady completed 34 of 55 (61.8%) for 364 yards and 2 TDs before he suffered that killer interception.  But Ryan Tannehill came up bigger this time.  He completed 25 of 37 (67.6%) for 312 yards and 3 TDs with 0 INTs.  His QB rating of 120.6 far surpassed Brady’s 85.7.  But even with these impressive stats Tannehill only led the team to 24 points.  True, it could have been 27 points, but for an embarrassing field goal attempt in which the snap hit holder Brandon Fields in the helmet when he wasn’t looking.  With the Fins’ running game producing only 89 yards (and 13 of those came from WR Mike Wallace on an end around that he successfully turned inside), this game fell upon the shoulders of Ryan Tannehill.  Fortunately, Tannehill showed he was up to the challenge.

Although the Fins had to battle back from a 10-0 second quarter deficit, the challenge was never greater than it was in the fourth quarter.  The Patriots took the lead 20-17 with only 4:07 to go.  Tannehill came onto the field after the kickoff went out of bounds, giving the Fins the ball at their own 40-yard line.  With Tom Brady standing on the Patriots’ sideline, two things were only too obvious.  The Fins not only needed a touchdown, but they also needed to kill the remaining 4:07 in the process to keep Brady from weaving his magic once again.  After all Brady has an amazing knack for bringing the Patriots back at the end of games.  Just last week he led the Patriots to 2 TDs in the last 1:01 to get the W.

Tannehill started slowly on that final drive, first throwing incomplete to Mike Wallace and then getting sacked.  On third and 16 he threw to Hartline for 11 yards.  With 3:24 left on the clock and the Fins facing a fourth and 5 at their own 45, Joe Philbin wisely decided to go for the first down. Tannehill passed short to Charles Clay who fought for the first down.  The Fins then got a big play from Rishard Matthews who caught a 24-yard pass to get down to the 14-yard line.  On first down with 1:25 left, it seemed as though a running play would be in order to use up some of the 85 seconds remaining, but Tannehill threw incomplete to Brian Hartline.  The clock stopped. Then he completed a pass to Marcus Thigpen for the go-ahead TD.  But there were still those 75 ominous seconds left for Brady.

Brady and the Pats started at their own 20.  Brady methodically took them down the field.  They got to the red zone with 27 seconds remaining.  It was intense and Dolfans were regretting the failure to call a running play ball when the Fins had that first down at the Pats’ 14-yard line right before they scored their touchdown.  Had that been the case there would have been a lot less time on the clock for Brady to work with, but here they were with 27 seconds left and only 19 yards to go for another last-second Pats’ victory.  Two plays later an understandably over-anxious Cameron Wake went off-sides moving the Pats to the Fins’ 14-yard line with 16 seconds left.  Two incompletions followed and it was fourth and 5 with only 7 seconds showing on the clock.  That’s when Michael Williams Thomas made the play that sent the Fins’ faithful home happy.

And so the Fins came away with a badly needed win.  With two winnable games remaining (next week at Buffalo and the season-ender at home against the Jets) the Fins are closing in on a wild card playoff spot.  They will get to the playoffs if they win their final two games and the Ravens lose one of their last 3 games, all of which are against teams currently leading their respective divisions.  So things are getting very interesting for Tannehill and Company now that they survived the longest 75 seconds.   

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