First as an intro let me say that i think we were all pretty confident of winning this game going in. After a tough opening day win in Cleveland against the Browns - Never an easy task going into the hostile pit they like to call The Dog Pound and facing a team whose front 7 rivals ours. Next onto Indy, where we faced the up & coming Colts led by their 'New Messiah' Andrew Luck..Well this day luck was on our side as Ryan Tannehill out-played Luck and the Fins escaped with another hard-fought win on the road..You get the feeling the NFL schedule makers were stunned, thinking the Fins would finally get to return home, albeit with an 0 & 2 record, definitely no better than 1-1, and soon to be worse when the Dirty Birds would undoubtedly fly in and ruin the Fins home-opener..
The script was set but somehow the Fins didn't get the memo..We were now 2 & Zero after two tough road tests and as the old saying goes, it's why we play the game!
Now just a brief synopsis of the late afternoon home opener against the Falcons, setting the table for the final scene: We knew going in that the Falcons were going to be without several key stars; they had just lost DE Kroy Biermann, one of their best defensive players and LB Sean Weatherspoon, a leader on D..possibly their best defensive player, he would be sorely missed. Also sitting this one out was their stud RB Stephen Jackson..not to mention several other players questionable with injuries, including Roddy White & Asante Samuel..Hell, this was gonna be a piece of cake, right?? Apparently the Falcons didn't get that memo!
We win the toss & elect to defer (I love it when that happens & we're 3 for 3 so far this season) Now we're set, we just need to stop 'em, perhaps a quick 3 & out and we can get this party started. Well, apparently the Falcons did a little film work and have noticed that we're having a bit of a problem stopping the run (probably also noticed that our huge space-eater AKA Paul Soliai was to be a spectator on the sidelines), so while our D is back on their heels expecting the Stephen Jackson-less pass-happy Falcons to attempt to pass their way down the field, the Birds decided instead to slowly, methodically and for the most part very easily march down the field for an easy opening touchdown..Not just easy, but WAY TOO EASY! No need to panic though, as the announcers said the Fins weren't the first team that the Falcons have done that to...But unfortunately for us, things didn't seem to get much better from there...
The game quickly became one of 'those' games, a game us Fins fans know all too well. Our vaunted D suddenly has forgotten how to tackle, our O looks out of sync and by the time we've gotten our first 1st down, the Falcons are already up 10-0 and have an unbelievable T.O.P. advantage (At one point it was close to 4-1) we're being pressured , we're being sacked, we're turning the ball over, we can't get their offense off the field (they didn't punt once in the whole first half). It's beginning to look like a game we have no realistic shot at winning...But amazingly enough, though the game has the feel of a blowout, we look to the scoreboard and we're only down by seven..The Falcons would mind-boggingly never lead by more than 10, and as the game was winding down we had actually tied it up..How did this happen i think to myself,, perhaps i shouldn't drink so much during games..Nah!!..
Anyway, the Falcons would kick a FG to go up by 3, and were on the move once again with time quickly slipping away, looking to drive that final nail into the coffin, escape with a W wondering how in the hell they only beat us by a few points when they were killing us all day & ultimately sending the Fins fans home with a parting gift home-opener loss to digest!
The Falcons as mentioned are driving once again, seemingly way too easy down the field..Miami knows what's at stake but just seem incapable of stopping 'em. The Birds have moved the ball all the way to Miami's 24 yard line with a 1st & 10. With time winding down (around 5 minutes to go) it's obvious that a touchdown here ices the game, even a FG which we're all hoping for at this point will mean it'll take a TD for us to pull this rabbit out of our ass! Anyway, i'm sure we're all already thinking how we're gonna score 10 points in under 4 minutes after the Falcons score their touchdown..Let's see, quick drive for 7, on-side kick..a miracle drive for a game tying FG..Overtime..Hey, it could happen...
Well, while we're running every possible scenario through our heads, the Fins have somehow amazingly held the Falcons on the first two downs..Now the table is set...
Prelude to the game-winning drive:
The Falcons are now faced with a 3rd and 4 from the Fins 18. My MOTO (Master Of The Obvious) statement: The BIGGEST play of the ballgame (at least up to this point)...
Ryan fades back and is immediately under intense pressure from both his left (A blitzing Jimmy Wilson is coming in fast & untouched) and his right (Philip Wheeler is driving hard, straight at Ryan) Wilson appears to take a bad angle and actually hits Wheeler just as he's attempting to grab Ryan. Ryan somehow spins away & out of the tackle while both Wheeler & Wilson brush past him. Luckily Ellerbe keeps pressure & containment forcing Ryan to throw the ball away. It is now 4th & 4 and the D has finally done it's job and held Atlanta to a FG. Because of the bungled sack attempt however it will now be a chip-shot from 35 out instead of a 49-50 yarder. Just been one of those games!
To add insult to injury the network is kind enough to put up Matt Bryants stats which tell us that he is 3 for 3 on the day and get this, he hasn't missed a FG since November of last year, having made 16 straight..Oh well, at least they didn't score a TD,, we're down by 6 & still have a chance..What more could you ask for right??WELL HOW ABOUT A MISSED FG,, WIDE-RIGHT!!!!! You know i might be reading too much into this, but i kind of wonder if the missed sack & the dodging of a bullet almost messed with Bryants head a bit,, went from almost being forced to kick a relatively long 50 yarder to trotting out onto the field for a relatively easy chip-shot...
The Fins take over at their 25 with only one timeout but plenty of time (4 minutes & 46 seconds to be exact!) to get into FG range & perhaps force overtime.
1st & 10:
Screen to Miller that nets only 1 yd. The Falcons were all over it and it was only Miller's elusiveness that prevented this from being a 5 yd. loss - Near crisis averted.
2nd & 9:
Slant to Rishard Matthews complete for a gain of 7 1/2.
3rd & a long 1:
Just under 4 minutes to go..Beautiful pass from RT hitting Matthews on another slant. A nice grab by RM with a defender draped all over him, gain of 9 yds! FIRST DOWN!!! Drive continues, ball on our 43 with 3 1/2 minutes and counting...
1st & 10:
Incomplete pass to Brandon Gibson down the right sideline, 15 yds. downfield..Gibson had a couple of steps on his man and was positioned to make a big play but the ball was overthrown stopping the clock @ 3:02.
2nd & 10:
Quick-hitter out to the right to a wide-open Micheal Egnew. Closest defender is a good 5-6 yds off & he's being blocked by Mike Wallace. Egnew makes the grab turning upfield & heading for the sideline. It appears that if he makes a hard cut back inside he will make a huge gain - he elects however to run out of bounds but still gains 8 yds. To Egnews credit he lowers his shoulder into the defender before being forced out. Good to see a bit of aggression from him!
3rd & 2:
Another big 3rd down, though obviouslt the whole drive is 4 down territory..We've crossed midfield, and face a 3rd & 2 from Atlanta's 49 with 2:57 left.
Empty backfield. A quick & accurate throw 4 yds. out to the rightside to Gibson just as pressure gets to RT. Gibson just misses breaking a tackle for a potentially huge gain. He still manages to get an additional 6 yds after the catch for a big 10 yd gain down to the Falcons 39, another HUGE FIRST DOWN!!! And 2:53 remaining with the clock running...
We have seen Caleb Sturgis' range and are now within FG range for the tie..Somehow you get the feeling that a tie at this point just isn't good enough!
1st & 10:
2:25 remaining now with the clock doing its thing..Perfect world scenario would be to run every bit of clock down while scoring the game-winning TD!
Handoff to Lamar Miller up the gut for a gain of 6. Good blocking & a nice strong run on first down puts us at the 33 1/2, bringing us a 2nd & 4 and down to the two minute warning!
2nd & 4:
RT fades back to pass and the Fins catch a break as Lamar miller streaks past the LB who's supposed to be covering him (Newsflash:That Lamar Miller guy is deceptively fast!!!) He's 10 yds down the right sideline and the LB who is now several stepd behind him can only watch as RT lays the ball in perfectly for what just might be the game-winning TD!!! Perfect play call, perfect pass that hits Miller right in the hands! Everything is absolutely perfect...except for that one little thing, you know that 'catching the ball' thing..Miller drops the ball, the clock stops @ 1:56 and we have to wonder if that gut-punch to the stomach was the clock striking twelve!
3rd & 4:
ANOTHER HUGE 3RD DOWN: It's like deja vu all over again..Tannehill seems to just shrug off the blown opportunity like it's no big thing..Does anything phase this kid?! And facing yet another 3rd down to try and keep the drive alive RT calmly fades back & hits Gibson (AGAIN!!!) on the right-side. It's a great route by Gibson who fakes a slant inside, makes a hard cut losing his defender and breaks back to the sideline giving RT an excellent target. The throw is slightly off causing Gibson to stretch out & snag it, stumbling as he does so..It looks as if he's going to lose his footing but somehow manages to keep his balance. he's still 2-3 yds from the marker with a couple of defenders closing in. he's hit at the 28 just as he passes the marker and he's forcefully driven back to beyond the 30. Atlanta's HC mike Smith is two feet away from the action and i swear for one brief second i thought he was gonna make the tackle! I'm pretty sure Gibson would be awarded the forward progress & the first down, but we Fins fans know not to leave it in the hands of the judges & apparently Gibson knows this as well. After he's been driven back 2 yds short of the marker, he gathers himself, tiptoes along the sideline & thrusts the ball a yard past the marker as he's going out! FIRST DOWN!!!!!
1ST & 10:
Ball now on the 29, 1:50 to go & the clock stopped.
RT hits Charles Clay in the left flat wide open as the Falcon defenders continue to play with a 5-7 yd cushion. Clay unfortunately takes a peek downfield and promptly drops the ball!
2nd & 10:
Clock is stopped @ 1:45
RT comes right back to Clay, hitting him with a perfect pass 15 ydsdown the middle of the field. Clay makes a nice play on the ball, rolling forward for another 6 yds before being downed - A 21 YARD GAIN!!! Clay pops up immediately after making the grab, seemingly untouched & just drops the ball. Atlanta immediately jumps on the ball. - For one heart-stopping moment i thought Clay went from the penthouse to the shithouse and just handed both the ball & the game back to Atlanta! Replay showed an Atlanta defender brushes him with a leg as he went down,, still surprised they didn't challenge that..Stranger things have been known to happen!
Anyway, we're now sitting pretty with another huge first down & a first & goal from the 7 1/2. The clock is now down to 1:11 & continues to run. I'm sure i'm not the only one who wants to run the rest of the time off before scoring our TD..For some strange reason Atlanta who has all of their timeouts haven't been using them in an effort to salvage some time during the last part of this drive.
1st & Goal:
Tannehill tosses a 3 yd dart to gibson at the 5. Gibson is hit at the 5 spins away, gets to the 2 and is hit again. He stretches the ball out towards the goal line and just as a defender swats at it to knock it loose (Insert heart attack here _______) Gibson pulls it back in and goes down 12 inches from the end zone! Gibson was tackled with around 51 seconds left and Atlanta finally uses their first timeout but amazingly wait 'til the clock runs down to 43 seconds before calling it, another 7-8 seconds lost!
2nd & Goal:
From less than a foot away.
Two back tight set, Lamar Miller goes in motion & the play looks like a straight dive over the top. everyone is expecting it, good thing we didn't call it! - Tannehill with the play-fake on the inside dive hits Dion Sims with a beautiful touch pass in the middle of the end zone. Sims makes an incredible over-the-shoulder one-handed grab with his left hand while the defender prctically undresses him, grabbing jersey and holding his right arm down..And the refs weren't even gonna flag it!!! Oh well, we don't need the refs to do their job, because it's...
A TOUCHDOWN!!!!! A GAME WINNING TOUCHDOWN TO BOOT!!!!!!!!!!
I think everyone got the sense that we were seeing something special unfold before our very eyes on Sunday..This was afterall an amazing game winning drive by a 2nd year QB who hasn't even totalled 40 starts, college & NFL combined. He led the team down the field making play after play, never losing his confidence, his poise or his leadership & command of his football team. His final numbers on the game-winning drive were 9 for 12 and 69 yds & converting on 3 HUGE 3rd downs, remember also that 2 of those incompletions were placed right in the receivers hands & dropped. Tannehill has been battered & bruised, with the 5 sacks suffered on Sunday, i believe he's on pace to be sacked an unheard of close to 80 times! Yet he continues to stand back there and get it done..
I know he still has a way to go, still needs to work on his pocket awareness, still needs to understand that throwing the ball away to avoid a sack is not a bad thing, still needs to find better accuracy on his deep ball.. But it wouldn't surprise me if one day we all look back after Tannehill's hopefully long & illustrious career and look at this drive as his coming of age moment!