Dolphins lean heavily on Ryan Tannehill to take down Falcons
SEP 22, 2013 9:50p ET
He was on his back much of the afternoon looking up.
The Miami Dolphins quarterback was sacked five times. But when it really counted he was able to remain upright.
Tannehill directed a long drive and threw a 1-yard touchdown pass to tight end Dion Sims with 38 seconds left to give the Dolphins a 27-23 win over the Atlanta Falcons. That gave them their first 3-0 start since 2002.
"Just hang in there," Tannehill said about what he told his linemen on a 13-play 75-yard drive for the winning points. "It doesn't matter what happened before. It's what you do right now. It wasn't pretty, but we hung in there and kept fighting and faced the adversity."
When the game ended, the song "This is How We Do It" blared out of the loudspeakers. But this was hardly how most teams usually do it.
While Tannehill was regularly on the ground, Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan wasn't sacked once. And the Dolphins had been tied for the NFL lead after two weeks with nine sacks.
But it was a battered Miami defense. Defensive tackle Paul Soliai was out due to a knee injury, and Pro Bowl defensive end Cameron Wake did not play the second half because of a knee injury (fellow defensive end Olivier Vernon believes, though, it's "nothing serious").
Also, linebacker Koa Misi was lost for much of the second half with a shoulder injury and cornerback Dimitri Patterson sat out due to an ankle problem.
"They respected our pass-rushing ability, so they threw the ball fast," Vernon said. "We were just trying to pound it and pound it."
For a while, the offensive line got pounded. But they did the job on the final drive.
What crazy drive it was. It featured second-year tight end Michael Egnew and Sims, with the touchdown, making the first catches of their careers.
It had running back Lamar Miller dropping what could have been a touchdown pass when he was wide open around the Atlanta 20 and tight end Charles Clay also dropping a pass. But Clay on the next play caught a 21-yard pass to the Falcons 8, setting up first-and-goal in the final two minutes.
With 43 seconds left, the Dolphins faced second-and-goal at the 1. The Falcons called timeout and Tannehill recommended a play.
"We were calling something and I suggested that one (to quarterbacks coach Zac Taylor),'' Tannehill said of the play in which he faked to fullback Tyler Clutts and threw a looping pass over the line to Sims. "(Offensive coordinator) Mike Sherman agreed and thought it was a good idea, and Dion stepped up and made a huge play."
That showed right there the maturation of the second-year man. Tannehill last week outdueled Indianapolis' Andrew Luck, who was taken with the No. 1 pick in the 2012 draft while Tannehill went No. 8.
Tannehill on Sunday got the win over Ryan, a two-time Pro Bowler. While Ryan was 23 of 38 for 231 yards with two touchdowns and an interception, Tannehill was slightly better by completing 24 of 35 passes for 236 yards with two touchdowns and an interception.
Tannehill was fantastic on the final drive. He completed 9 of 12 passes for 69 yards.
"It was important," Dolphins coach Joe Philbin said. "We talk all the time about the quarterback has to make decisions and throw the ball accurately and make plays at the critical time of the game."
It sure helps when the quarterback isn't on the ground.
Chris Tomasson can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @christomasson.