MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. — Caleb Sturgis’ kick had the height, the distance and much of Sun Life Stadium fooled.
Trailing the Baltimore Ravens 26-23 with 38 seconds left in regulation, the Miami Dolphins teed up a potential game-tying field goal for Sturgis.
Lining up at the tail of the Dolphins logo painted at the 50-yard line, the rookie launched a kick over the mass of players colliding in front of him, low and long. When the ball hit the net, victory music blared.
“I think some of the crowd thought it was good, so I was about to set up and be ready to go back out,” linebacker Philip Wheeler said.
“I thought it actually went in,” quarterback Ryan Tannehill said. “I saw the refs kind of hestitate and kind of look at each other.”
Referees then stepped onto the field and signaled. The kick drifted just left.
“At first glance, I thought it went in,” Tannehill said. “But unfortunately that wasn’t the case.”
Head coach Joe Philbin didn’t have a good angle, and wasn’t sure if the kick was good either.
But Sturgis knew the moment it came off his foot.
“I mishit it a little bit,” he said. “It was a great snap and hold. The protection was great. The wind usually blows into you from there. I wanted to make sure I got it there and I mishit the ball a little bit and it cost the team.”
In a locker room where every player took fault for something gone awry in Sunday’s defeat, a humble Sturgis took his undeserved share of the blame.
“It was a bad time to miss,” he said.
Never mind his earlier kicks of 25, 37 and 48 yards kept the Dolphins from falling too far behind the surging Ravens.
Or that the Dolphins’ offensive line, which allowed six sacks on Sunday, gave up a critical one only seconds before Sturgis’ field goal attempt. The 5-yard loss turned a makeable 50-yarder into one of the longer attempts in the NFL this season.
“[For] the game-winner, we thought near the 40-yard line would be a game winner,” Philbin said.
Forty yards, in the perfect conditions South Florida offered this afternoon would have been easy for Sturgis. Until his final attempt Sunday, Sturgis was a perfect 10 for 10 on the season. He remains 12 for 12 on extra points.
And kicking from beyond 55 yards? Not an impossible feat. While at the University of Florida, Sturgis nailed a kick of 56 against the Georgia Bulldogs, the longest in the SEC during the 2009 season.
During a preseason game against Jacksonville, he put one between the uprights from 58 yards, helping seal his spot on the team.
It is those kind of details that give Philbin and the Dolphins confidence in sending Sturgis onto the field even in seemingly insurmountable situations.
“It’s not his fault,” linebacker Koa Misi said. “It’s a team effort and we as a team missed that field goal. Nothing on Caleb. That was a long field goal, a tough one to make. If we — offense, defense — would have played better, he wouldn’t have had to worry about that.
“We have all the faith in the world in him.”
Sturgis knows it.
“They still have confidence in me,” he said. “That’s the biggest thing they can say to me. Now it’s my job to make things right.”
Chances are, he will have more than enough opportunities to do so.