The focus of the Dolphins' win on Sunday won't be on the Dolphins. The Patriots are one of the NFL's marquee franchises and when they lose, especially with the chance to get a No. 1 seed in the playoffs, that's the story.
But don't ignore the Ryan Tannehill story.
Tannehill, the Dolphins quarterback, got lost in the avalanche of star quarterbacks in the 2012 draft. Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III, the top two picks, grabbed all the attention. Nick Foles and Russell Wilson were drafted long after Tannehill, who went eighth overall, but they've overshadowed Tannehill too.
So he's used to not getting a lot of credit. And he won't get much notice in the "What's wrong with the Patriots?" teeth gnashing that is coming this week. But he was fantastic in Miami's 24-20 win on Sunday, one that might be the difference in the Dolphins getting to the playoffs.
Tannehill was 25-of-37 for 312 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions. He was great on the Dolphins' game-winning drive. Very Tom Brady-like, even.
With 4:07 left and the Dolphins trailing by three points, Tannehill completed 6-of-8 passes for 66 yards. When the Dolphins gambled and went for it on fourth and 5, he completed a 6-yard pass. He hit Marcus Thigpen for a 14-yard touchdown with 1:15 left, then sat uncomfortably on the bench at the end as Brady tried to pull off his own comeback. But the Dolphins' defense held.
Tannehill is playing very well, and with little help. The offensive line was a mess even before the Jonathan Martin-Richie Incognito fiasco. His receiving targets are not very good. He has almost no help from the running game. And yet, very quietly, he's had a very good second season.
Maybe people will notice him more if the Dolphins end up grabbing that final wild-card spot in the AFC. If they do get to the postseason, it's because Tannehill has carried them. The Dolphins shouldn't have to worry about their quarterback position for a while. They've got their guy.
Here are the rest of the winners and losers from Week 15:
Matt Flynn: Flynn is a punching bag. He's made fun of for the insane money he made for not being able to hold onto starting jobs in Seattle or Oakland. And then he was mocked for how badly he played as Aaron Rodgers was out with a fractured collarbone.
But give Flynn his due. He led perhaps the greatest comeback in Packers history on Sunday.
Green Bay had one other comeback win after trailing by 23 points, in 1982. But given that a loss at Dallas all but eliminated the Packers from the playoffs, this one had a heck of a degree of difficulty. And Flynn came up big, with 182 yards and four touchdowns in the second half of Green Bay's 37-36 win. Nobody saw that coming.
Flynn might fade back into obscurity soon. But the Packers will always appreciate what he did on Sunday.
NFC West: The West went 4-0 on Sunday with some impressive and important wins.
Seattle's 23-0 win at the Giants puts them on the doorstep of a division title and a No. 1 seed. San Francisco got a much-needed win at Tampa Bay. Arizona kept its playoff hopes alive by bouncing back after a fourth-quarter collapse to win in overtime. And St. Louis' dominating win over New Orleans might have been the best of the lot.
The AFC West has a very good argument for the best division in the NFL. But it's hard to vote against the NFC West as the league's best.
Robert Quinn's defensive player of the year case: The Rams haven't played a lot of high-profile games, but those who have watched them have seen Quinn turn into one of the best players in football.
St. Louis' standout defensive end made some huge plays once again against the Saints in the Rams' 27-16 upset. His best play came on a strip-sack of Drew Brees, after he was knocked to the ground by a double-team but crawled until he could get back up and get to Brees to steal the ball. Incredible.
Quinn has 15 sacks on the season. Houston end J.J. Watt is having another great year. Tampa Bay linebacker Lavonte David and Cincinnati linebacker Vontaze Burfict have been fantastic. Kansas City safety Eric Berry, San Francisco linebacker NaVorro Bowman and Indianapolis outside linebacker Robert Mathis have been very good too. But with two games to go, Quinn might have the best argument to be named NFL's defensive player of the year. He's having a great season.
Tony Gonzalez: It seems like Gonzalez, without any question the greatest tight end in NFL history, could play for many more years.
The Atlanta tight end said he's retiring, and there has been no indication he is wavering at all. That's a shame. Because he's still better than all but a handful of tight ends in the league, even at 37. On Sunday he became the fifth player in NFL history to pass 15,000 receiving yards, an amazing feat for a tight end. And he scored a touchdown in his third straight game, and then once again took extra care to not lose the ball. He didn't do his trademark touchdown dunk, he just did a layup over the goal post and made sure to catch it on the other side. He hasn't dunked his last three touchdowns. It's pretty clear he wants to make sure he has his last touchdown ball.
The way he's playing, there might be a few more to save before he's done.
New Orleans Saints: It might not get a ton of attention with some of the other results on Sunday, but the NFC playoff picture experienced a potentially enormous shift during the afternoon games.
The Saints were upset in St. Louis. Carolina handled business against the Jets. The Panthers now are tied with New Orleans for first place in the division, and can take control of the division by beating the Saints next week. The NFC South champion is guaranteed to get a first-round playoff bye (the NFC East and NFC North leaders have at least six losses, and the South champ can't have more than five losses ... because they're both 10-4 and one of them has to win next week).
And the bad news for the Saints is next week's game against Carolina is on the road, where they turn into an average team.
New Orleans is 7-0 at home and 3-4 on the road. They've been dominated in their last two road games. At least the loss at Seattle was against the NFL's best team. Then on Sunday the Saints were thoroughly dominated by a very inconsistent Rams team. They were never really in the game, down 27-3 after three quarters.
Even worse for New Orleans? Wild-card teams have to play on the road for at least their first two playoff games. The Saints don't want that.
Everyone criticizing Mike Shanahan's 2-point decision: You have to separate the decision from the result. You can go all-in at a poker table with 2-7 offsuit. It doesn't make it the smart move if the flop comes 7-7-2. You made the wrong move and got lucky.
Shanahan's decision to go for 2 instead of the extra point and overtime at the end of the Falcons game wasn't wrong. He took a shot in the final minute on a 2-point conversion rather than gamble in overtime with a 3-10 team on the road. Kirk Cousins couldn't find anyone and threw incomplete, and the Redskins lost. But the decision made sense. It worked for Shanahan in 2008, when the Broncos went for the 2-point conversion in a similar situation and Eddie Royal caught it to beat the Chargers.
Shanahan has made some questionable decisions this season. Going for 2 wasn't one of them. It just didn't work out.
Eagles defense: We thought we had a handle on the Philadelphia defense. It was bad early in the season but got better, and wasn't much of a concern the past few weeks. After Sunday, it's a five-alarm fire.
The Vikings' offense had Matt Cassel at quarterback and third-string running back Matt Asiata at running back. And that crew rolled up 455 yards and 48 points. Cassel threw for 382 yards. Asiata had three touchdowns.
Philadelphia still has a one-game lead in the NFC East, thanks to the Cowboys' shocking loss to Green Bay. But now the defense is a legitimate concern again. That's not something coach Chip Kelly wants to be concerned about down the stretch.
DeSean Jackson and Dez Bryant: Jackson and Bryant each came into the league with baggage. They've mostly ditched that as they became great NFL players. But, there's always someone watching.
Jackson was spotted on the Eagles sideline in the third quarter angrily yelling at someone. He had to be held back by teammates including LeSean McCoy.
Mostly, it's not a big deal. It's a NFL sideline. People yell. We'll give Jackson a pass.
What people on a NFL team generally don't do is leave for the locker room with more than a minute to go in the game. That's what Bryant did right after Dallas' final interception in a horrible 37-36 loss. He was going up the tunnel to the locker room as the Packers knelt on the ball. It wasn't a good look.
I walked back to the locker room because I was emotional...it had nothing to do with my teammates we had it... We fought and didn't finish
— Dez Bryant (@DezBryant) December 16, 2013
It stinks to lose. It probably wasn't fun for the seven teams the Cowboys beat this year. They still stuck around until the end. That's what professionals do.
Jerry Jones' proclamation that Jason Garrett will be his coach in 2014: First of all, I know the Cowboys' talkative owner doesn't care if he said last month that Garrett will return in 2014 no matter what. If he changes his mind, he doesn't really answer to anyone and a statement to the media isn't binding.
At this point, Jones has to be wondering if Garrett is the right guy for the job.
The Cowboys loss on Sunday was shocking. It takes a lot of ridiculousness to blow a 26-3 halftime lead at home, as Dallas did to Green Bay. The Cowboys' play-calling was questionable down the stretch, and then Garrett seemed to blame Romo for one of the two late interceptions.
Garrett just said that Romo changed the play on the last interception...should have been a run call.
— Bryan Broaddus (@BryanBroaddus) December 16, 2013
The Cowboys' loss on Sunday was ugly but not all that damaging. If Dallas wins at Washington next week, they'll be playing for the NFC East title in Week 17 no matter what Philadelphia does against Chicago next Sunday.
But what if the Cowboys lose in Week 17 and Philadelphia wins the East? Or, if the Cowboys blow it against the Redskins and the finale doesn't even matter? Garrett might not survive that, no matter what Jones previously said.
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