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The Miami Dolphins did a whole lot of growing up Sunday in the snow and the cold of Pittsburgh. Not only did they keep themselves in the heart of the playoff conversation, but they had to overcome so much to topple the Steelers in what very well could have been their most meaningful victory of the season.
They overcame the weather. They overcame three different deficits. They overcame a blown double-digit lead in the second half. They overcame a Pittsburgh team that was also playing for its postseason lives. They overcame one of the weirdest, heart-stopping endings you may ever see.
Indeed, they overcame and they persevered, combining a large dose of resiliency with enough memorable performances to keep your head spinning. Charles Clay? Was he unstoppable? Daniel Thomas? Did anyone see that coming? Brian Hartline? Can you draw up a better tip-toe scoring catch than the one he had? Even Ryan Tannehill, overcoming what could have been a confidence-shattering pick six, leads the Dolphins on a dramatic fourth quarter comeback. So many players stepped up. Impressive stuff.
We’ve seen baby steps all season long. We’ve seen this team start fast, lose four-in-a-row and then begin an agonizing win one/lose one cycle. We’ve seen too many heartbreaking finishes and fourth quarter fizzles.
But what we’ve seen over the last two weeks in back-to-back road victories over the Jets and now the Steelers is a football team that, plain and simple, has taken its game to another level. A December level. Yes, even potentially, a playoff level.
The big picture at this premise moment is that the Dolphins are 7-6 and tied with Baltimore for the final playoff spot in the AFC. That the Ravens have the tiebreaker because they won the head-to-head matchup against the Dolphins doesn’t evoke concern with three games still left. Nothing, at this point, is even remotely close to certain. The Dolphins finish against the AFC East, beginning Sunday against New England at Sun Life Stadium. Can there be a more appropriate path than that?
Indeed, suddenly everything seems a little more interesting, a little more suspenseful, a little more legitimate. But the big picture will have to wait for another day. There is so much to talk about, so much to reflect upon, from a victory over the Steelers that won’t soon be forgotten.
So many emotions, so many gut-wrenching twists and turns until Antonio Brown’s left foot barely touched out of bounds on one of those childhood “keep on lateraling” plays that almost, inexplicably, worked. But, even by centimeters, his foot was out of bounds and nothing – not even that – could take away what we saw from these Dolphins on a wild, white Sunday.
We saw Charles Clay help mold this victory with one of those games he’ll someday tell his kids about. He’s been good before; he’s never been this good. How about his game-winning score when he broke tackle attempts by Troy Polamalu and Cortez Allen on his way to the end zone? Perhaps most impressive of everything Clay does – and you can start a long list – is his refusal to go down. On some plays, he’s almost like a man among boys.
We saw Daniel Thomas set up Clay’s touchdown with a 55-yard run that saw him change directions a couple of times on that slippery field. Last I heard Thomas might not even play again this season. So all he does Sunday in his first game back from a sprained ankle is come up with perhaps the biggest play of the game – I know that’s saying something — and finish with 105 yards and a touchdown. Imagine, for a minute, if this was not an aberration for Thomas but instead a sign of things to come.
We saw the Dolphins lose a 17-7 lead in what seemed like seconds. We saw them reclaim that lead on Hartline’s remarkable catch, first ruled out of bounds but challenged by Joe Philbin after Hartline implored. Got a feeling Philbin will listen to Hartline the next time as well.
We saw the gritty Steelers come back once again, taking a 28-24 lead early in the fourth quarter. And then we saw the Dolphins accomplish something they haven’t done in far too long – score a fourth quarter touchdown. They did it on a four-play 80-yard drive, with the help of that long Thomas run and that tackle-busting run by Clay.
And then they just held on until the handshakes at midfield and the reality set in that this football team may have finally turned an important corner.
It was a game to remember, a performance to savor, a victory that can not be overstated. Yes, the Dolphins showed us plenty on Sunday. Mostly, though, they showed us a resolve that can prove invaluable as this now meaningful December continues to unfold.
On Tuesday, AC in the AM takes a look back at Pittsburgh and a look ahead to the Patriots.
The opinions, analysis and/or speculation expressed by The Finsiders Blog represent those of individual writers, and unless quoted or clearly labeled as such, do not represent the opinions, policies or desires of the Miami Dolphins organization, front office, coaches and executives. Writers' views are formulated independently from any inside information and/or conversation with Dolphins officials, including the coaches and scouts, unless otherwise noted.