Dolphins start season with win after weathering Titans, 2 lightning delays
MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. (AP) — Jakeem Grant won the longest game with the longest play.
Grant struck like lightning when he scored on a tiebreaking 102-yard kickoff return with 14 minutes to go, and the Miami Dolphins overcame two weather delays to win the longest game since the 1970 NFL-AFL merger, beating the Tennessee Titans 27-20 Sunday.
Delays for lightning lasted a total of 3 hours, 59 minutes, and the game took 7 hours, 8 minutes to play. The previous longest game since 1970 was a Bears overtime victory against the Ravens in 2013 that took 5 hours, 16 minutes.
Grant’s touchdown triggered a late flurry of big plays in a season opener that was lackluster for the first six hours.
After his score, Ryan Tannehill hit Kenny Stills deep for a 75-yard touchdown. Darius Jennings returned the ensuing kickoff 94 yards for a Titans score, and they were driving when Miami’s Reshad Jones helped to clinch the win with a 54-yard return after he intercepted Blaine Gabbert.
“I love the way we responded — the way we were able to overcome the delays, to come out with energy after sitting around,” Tannehill said. “To come away from this long day, this grind of a game, and get a win, it feels good.”
Titans starting quarterback Marcus Mariota threw two interceptions in the third quarter and then came out of the game with an elbow injury. Tight end Delanie Walker was carted off the field later in the period with a right leg injury, and tackle Taylor Lewan suffered a concussion, all of which meant a miserable start for Mike Vrabel in his head coaching debut.
Walker’s injury appeared the most serious.
“I haven’t seen him since he left the field,” Vrabel said. “Our thoughts and prayers are with him.”
Miami led 7-3 when the game was suspended for nearly two hours late in the first half. The teams went to the locker room during the delay and stayed on the field for halftime, which was shortened to 3½ minutes.
Lightning forced a halt again midway through the third quarter, and the second stoppage lasted just over two hours. Perhaps 10,000 fans remained at the finish.
“That’s the job we have — to make sure we play through whatever situation,” Vrabel said. “I felt we handled it well, but in the end we didn’t do enough to win the game.”
Sandwiched between the delays was a brawl that started after Lewan appeared to be briefly knocked out . Jordan Phillips and Bobby McCain of Miami and Dion Lewis of Tennessee received offsetting unsportsmanlike conduct penalties for taunting, and Lewan missed the rest of the game.
Gabbert drove the Titans 75 yards to make the score 10-10, but Grant needed only 13 seconds to break the tie, splitting the coverage untouched and racing into the clear near midfield.
“I saw it was just him and the kicker,” Miami coach Adam Gase said. “I was going, ‘Please run by me.'”
Tannehill, playing for the first time since a knee injury in late 2016, went 20 for 28 for 230 yards with two scores and two interceptions.
“I left a lot out there,” Tannehill said. “There are a lot of plays I wanted to have back.”
Titans: Mariota was hurt early in the third quarter when hit on the right side by William Hayes. Mariota missed one play, and then returned to throw two interceptions before again coming out of the lineup.
He said he couldn’t feel his fingers or grip the ball well, and hinted he shouldn’t have returned to the game.
“I’m not using it as an excuse, but I should have made sure I was making the best decision for the team,” he said.
Lewan was flattened on Andre Branch‘s blindside block during an interception return by Jones. Lewan sprawled face down on the turf, then suddenly sprang to his feet, and players exchanged words and shoves.
Dolphins receivers Stills and Albert Wilson knelt during the national anthem, and defensive end Robert Quinn raised his right fist. They followed the same practice before preseason games. No Titans appeared to protest.
The Dolphins play at the New York Jets next Sunday.
The Titans face Houston in their home opener next Sunday.