MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. — That was the drive Miami fans were waiting for from Ryan Tannehill and the Dolphins.
This was the first time in four tries the second-year quarterback had beaten the New England Patriots. And unlike in similar situations in his young career that ended with agonizing losses, Tannehill orchestrated a 60-yard scoring drive inside two minutes and the Dolphins defense sealed the win with an interception from a very new face, Michael Thomas.
“It was a wild fourth quarter,” Tannehill said. “I think we knew going into the second half it was going to come down to the fourth quarter.”
The Dolphins improved to 8-6 and still have an outside chance of winning the AFC East. They strengthened their quest for an AFC wild-card spot.
With two games remaining, at Buffalo and at home against the Jets, the Dolphins are seeing their franchise quarterback take control of an offense that struggled early in the season.
One issue that’s come into question repeatedly is Tannehill’s chemistry with the Dolphins’ $60 million receiver, Mike Wallace. But on Sunday the pair looked as in tune as the Dolphins have seen since they signed the former Steeler in the offseason. Wallace had six receptions for 105 yards and a touchdown.
“We’re getting there,” Wallace said. “It’s not going to happen overnight. We’re picking it up at the right time. I’d rather be picking it up right now than at the beginning of the year, then falling off. It was a slow start, but we’re starting to build.”
That Tannehill was able to get so much production from different targets was a high point on the afternoon. “For the last couple of weeks, I think Ryan’s been doing a great job getting everyone involved,” Wallace said. “That’s the way you have to keep it. If everybody’s into the football game and contributing, then everybody keeps their mojo going, everybody’s happy, and everybody feeds off each other.”
In addition to Wallace, not-so-familiar names like Marcus Thigpen and Daniel Thomas contributed with touchdown receptions, and Rishard Matthews had a 24-yard reception on the final scoring drive. One of Miami’s more prominent targets, Brian Hartline, finished with five catches for 70 yards.
Tight end Charles Clay, who had been emerging in recent weeks, finished with one reception for 6 yards. However, that reception proved to be one of the biggest of the day, as it came on a fourth and 5 on the Dolphins’ final scoring drive.
“I think about the fourth down to Charles and how big that was,” Tannehill said. “It was a great effort by him to get the first down and keep the drive alive.”
Tannehill credited other receivers as well for extending plays. Wallace, in particular, turned a 13-yard pass up the middle into a 39-yard touchdown by brushing off two Patriots defenders.
Early in the fourth quarter, Daniel Thomas shed linebacker Dont’a Hightower and slipped in for the go-ahead touchdown.
“The guys around me are really helping me out so much, making small throws into touchdowns,” Tannehill said.
Once the Dolphins had the 4-point lead, the 1:15 that remained on the clock seemed more than enough time for Tom Brady and the Patriots to come back, like they have so many times before. “Honestly, I might die two years earlier,” Wallace said. “I think it took about two years off my life. I was so nervous right there. I had total confidence in our defense, but still, with that guy [Brady] with the ball, you have to be nervous.”
Tannehill had similar anxiety, not for a lack of faith in the Miami defense, but because he had no control over the situation. “It was the longest 75 seconds of my life,” he said. “Obviously I’d rather be on the field any day and be driving to win instead of having to watch.”
But newcomer Michael Thomas, who was signed off the 49ers’ practice squad just last Tuesday, came up with the win-sealing interception in the end zone, leaving Tannehill to take a knee in the final seconds.
“This is just another step in the process,” Tannehill said. “Obviously it feels good. It feels good to beat a divisional team, but we have big things ahead of us.”