Just when the Dolphins appeared destined for doom yet again, Ryan Tannehill orchestrated his first signature win and Dan Carpenter lifted Miami to a 24-21 victory over the Seattle Seahawks with a game-winning field goal as time expired.
Despite generating virtually no offense through the first three quarters of the game, the Phins flipped a switch in the fourth and scored 17 points in 12 minutes. Although the offense's explosion was impressive, Miami's defense deserves just as much credit for clamping down when it mattered most.
With this victory, the Dolphins improve to 5-6 with five games remaining.
In the months leading up to the 2012 NFL draft, we heard plenty about Ryan Tannehill's weaknesses, namely inexperience and rawness.
There was another weakness that went overlooked: his ability to close games.
With Tannehill under center in 2011, Texas A&M blew four double-digit halftime leads. Entering Sunday's game, he was yet to lead the Dolphins to a comeback victory or put together a signature game-winning drive.
On Sunday, Tannehill put any outstanding concerns about his late-game play to rest. He led the Dolphins on three scoring drives within the last 12 minutes of the fourth quarter (two of the drives were of more than 80 yards). On the drive that set up Dan Carpenter's game-winning field goal, Tannehill was 3-of-3 for 51 yards.
In total, he finished the afternoon with this stat line: 18/26, 253 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT, 97.1 Rating.
Although Tannehill was nothing shy of spectacular in the fourth quarter, he was anything but in the other three quarters of this game. He made some absolutely awful decisions—most notably throwing across his body over the middle at the 6-yard line—and struggled to move the chains.
Overall, this was a promising and positive step in Tannehill's development, but let's not ignore the first three quarters of his afternoon.
Midway through the third quarter, the Dolphins trailed the Seahawks 14-7.
Miami was finally moving the ball and gathering some momentum. Ryan Tannehill racked up 19 yards on a scramble and had completed eight straight passes.
But, an unforeseen force disrupted the drive: sprinklers.
Yes, the sprinklers at Sun Life Stadium went off in the middle of the game.
That's so Dolphins, right?
The Dolphins drive stalled immediately after SprinklerGate, which killed all of the momentum they generated on that drive. Fortunately for the organization, there wasn't really anybody in the stands to witness this debacle.
Here's the official explanation:
Official reason for sprinklers from the #Dolphins: There was a computer glitch, and sprinklers were still set on the Saturday schedule
— Ben Volin (@BenVolinPBP) November 25, 2012
The Dolphins boasted one of, if not the single most dominant run defense in the NFL for the first half of this season.
However, things quickly took a turn for the worse in the last two weeks, when Miami allowed Chris Johnson and C.J. Spiller to rush for a combined 217 rushing yards. Consequently, Marshawn Lynch—who entered Sunday's game as the league's second-leading rusher—figured to find similar success.
Not so fast.
The Dolphins limited Lynch to just 46 yards on 19 carries.
Miami's front seven literally swarmed him every time he touched the ball, and it's largely responsible for this win. Had Lynch gotten into a rhythm, the Dolphins would've had serious issues containing him and the evasive Russell Wilson.
All of this being said, the front seven had serious issues bringing Wilson down. He rushed for 38 yards on five carries and made countless throws after making magician-esque escapes from the pocket. The Dolphins are now visibly vulnerable to scrambling quarterbacks, as both Andrew Luck and Jake Locker gave them similar problems.
This defense will have its handful with Colin Kaepernick when Miami visits San Francisco in two weeks.
Brian Hartline caught only two passes for 17 yards on Sunday.
This shouldn't necessarily come as a surprise.
Hartline was matched up with Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman, who's currently enjoying a phenomenal season. Pro Football Focus ranks him as the NFL's fourth best cornerback in pass coverage and he's creeping into elite status.
This is the third time Hartline has faced an elite cornerback this season:
Hartline's struggles against top-flight cornerbacks lament Miami's need for an alpha wide receiver. He could thrive as a No. 2 option, but it's clear the Dolphins passing game will be limited until this position is addressed.
UPDATE: Maybe this had something to do with Sherman's dominance...
Remember when Charles Clay was tearing it up at minicamp?
He was billed as a potential breakout player for the Dolphins, a team lacking an athletic, seam-threat tight end. Well, Clay never fulfilled that prophecy, to say the least. In fact, he had only seven receptions entering Sunday's game.
With Brian Hartline locked down and Anthony Fasano not playing at full strength, Ryan Tannehill looked Clay's way early and often. Clay responded by reeling in six receptions—nearly matching his season total—for 84 yards and a touchdown.
Clay wasn't the only skill player to shine, though.
Davone Bess caught seven passes for a career-high 129 yards. In the fourth quarter alone, he caught passes of 19, 25 and 39 yards. Week in and week out, Bess produces. He just might be the most valuable player on a Dolphins offense plagued by inconsistency.
Who else can you count on to deliver every week like Bess does?
For the second consecutive week, the Dolphins surrendered a special teams return touchdown.
Last week, Leodis McKelvin returned a punt 79 yards for a touchdown.
On Sunday, Leon Washington took a 98-yard kickoff return to the house.
Washington's return touchdown could've been a fatal blow to the Dolphins. It came immediately after Miami tied the game at 14 midway through the fourth quarter. It also silenced the crowd at Sun Life Stadium and sobered a hyped Dolphins team.
Special teams coach Darren Rizzi has to rectify his kick coverage unit's issues.
The Dolphins rushing attack got off to a scorching hot start this season thanks to Reggie Bush.
That hot start was short lived, though. Once Bush injured his left knee in Week 3, Miami's rushing attack began a swift descend down the rankings and entered Sunday's game ranked 21st in the NFL.
Nearly two months after suffering that injury, Bush finally returned to form. He rushed for 87 yards on 14 carries including a highlight-reel worthy 21-yard touchdown scamper. Bush wouldn't have thrived were it not for Daniel Thomas, though.
Thomas rushed for 60 yards on nine carries in his best performance of the season.
This is the first time all season that both Bush and Thomas played up to their potential. When these two are clicking, the Dolphins have a two-headed rushing attack capable of giving any run defense problems.
If I told you before Sunday's game that only one Dolphins offense lineman would surrender a sack, then which player would you suspect?
Probably Jonathan Martin, right?
Or, maybe John Jerry?
Well, guess what: Jake Long was the culprit.
Seahawks defensive end Chris Clemons got the best of Long and sacked Ryan Tannehill for a 7-yard loss in the first quarter. This was the only sack and quarterback hit Seattle was able to register.
Barring this one play, Long had a solid game. However, this is the fourth sack he has yielded in 2012. That's unacceptable for a player billed as a "franchise" left tackle.
This is pure speculation but there's a fairly good chance Long is playing injured. After all, he has been hindered by an assortment of injuries for the last two-and-a-half years. If this is the case, then Long deserves some slack. But, at the same time, is he worth re-signing if he can't stay healthy?
This Jake Long dilemma gets more controversial with each passing week.
Dan Carpenter should be happier than an antelope with night vision goggles today.
Not only did he hit a game-wining field goal on his birthday, he also redeemed himself for a slew of missed field goals from this season.
Dan Carpenter cost the Dolphins a win in Week 3, missed another crucial field goal in Week 4 and nearly cost the team another win in Week 5. And, last week, he shanked a 50-yard try that eventually forced Miami to pursue a game-winning touchdown rather than set up for a game-winning field goal attempt.
This one kick doesn't negate those other costly misses, but it is reassuring to see Carpenter hit a field goal in the clutch.
At the same time, this should be expected from a kicker making $2.5 million this season.