Dolphins-Patriots: What we learned

Walter Villa, The Sports Xchange
The SportsXchange

MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. -- Forget handshakes. Don't worry about resumes.
When you have been with your team less than a week, beating NFL legend Tom Brady with a last-minute interception in the end zone was a fine way for rookie safety Michael Thomas to make an entrance.
Thomas made the biggest defensive play of the game, and quarterback Ryan Tannehill and Marcus Thigpen combined to provide the key play on offense as the Miami Dolphins upset the New England Patriots 24-20 on Sunday at Sun Life Stadium.
"We had a player in there who got in the building on Tuesday," Dolphins coach Joe Philbin said, referring to Thomas, who was picked up off the San Francisco 49ers' practice squad. "Our coaches spent extra time with this guy. All the credit goes to our staff."
Thomas, who was undrafted out of Stanford in 2012 and had spent all his time since on the 49ers' practice squad, deserves praise, too, of course.
On his interception, he foiled Brady, who was facing a fourth-and-5 from the Miami 14 with seven seconds left.
Four plays before his interception, he managed to dislodge the ball from Patriots wide receiver Danny Amendola, who had both of his hands on the ball in the end zone before the rookie disrupted things.
Could Philbin share some insight on who exactly is Michael Thomas?
"I don't know him awful well," Philbin said. "He is a serious guy. He came in to work every day. He spent a lot of time with our staff because he was so far behind. He is a bright guy. He picks thing up. We needed him, and he contributed."
Tannehill, a player Philbin is a lot more familiar with, also came through in the clutch. He completed 25 of 37 passes for 312 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions.
With Miami trailing 20-17 and 4:07 left on the clock, the Dolphins took over at their own 40 after a crucial mistake by New England's Stephen Gostkowski, who booted the ball out of bounds.
Tannehill needed nine plays and 2:52 off the clock to drive the team 60 yards, capping the drive with his 14-yard touchdown pass to Thigpen.
"It looked like Thigpen ran an inside route and was able to turn back out for a good catch," Patriots coach Bill Belichick said.
But perhaps Tannehill's biggest play of the game came earlier in that same drive, when he was faced with a fourth-and-5 play. Tannehill hit tight end Charles Clay for a 6-yard gain to keep the drive alive.
"We usually want to hit that play a little quicker," Tannehill said. "(Clay) had press coverage, and a guy came in my face with his hands up. So I had to throw it around (the defender) -- just a great effort by Charles to make the catch and get the first down."
Brady passed for 364 yards, two touchdowns and the one interception.
"We had plenty of chances all day," said Brady, who spoke to the media for about one minute. "We made some good plays, and we made some (expletive) plays. Thanks you."
The Dolphins (8-6) won their third straight game and kept the Patriots (10-4) from clinching the AFC East for the fifth straight year. The Patriots can still clinch with one win or tie or one Dolphins tie or loss in the next two weeks.
New England had its three-game win streak snapped. New England's streak of seven consecutive wins over the Dolphins -- dating to Dec. 6, 2009 -- also ended.

What the Dolphins said
"I might jump in my pool. I've only been in it once." -- Coach Joe Philbin on how he will celebrate after beating the Patriots for the first time since he arrived in Miami.

What the Patriots said
"We didn't do a good job in the red area, and we didn't do a good job finishing drives." -- Quarterback Tom Brady on why New England lost.

What we learned about the Dolphins
1. The Dolphins are still alive in a bid for a playoff berth. They would have to win both their remaining games and hope New England loses both of its games for the Dolphins to win their first AFC East crown since 2009. A more plausible route to the playoffs would be the second wild-card spot. Currently, the Dolphins (8-6) lead in that battle against their closest pursuer, the Baltimore Ravens (7-6), who play at the Detroit Lions on Monday night.
2. Quarterback Ryan Tannehill took another step up Sunday in leading his team to its third straight win. The second-year pro completed 25 of 37 passes for 312 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions. For the season, he has completed 62 percent of his passes for 20 touchdowns and 14 interceptions. Last season, he completed 58 percent for 12 touchdowns and 13 interceptions.

What we learned about the Patriots
1. The Patriots' bid to have one of the top two records in the AFC and thus earn a first-round bye for the playoffs was damaged by Sunday's loss to the Dolphins. The Denver Broncos and the Kansas City Chiefs are now more likely to earn those spots, although New England still has a chance. The Patriots' magic number to win their record-tying fifth straight AFC East Division title is one. The Patriots would have to lose both their remaining games with the Dolphins winning their two to keep New England from winning the AFC East.
2. As long as quarterback Tom Brady is healthy, the Patriots' offense is dangerous. Even with two receivers out with injuries -- Kembrell Thompkins (hip) and Aaron Dobson (foot) -- and star tight end Rob Gronkowski lost to a busted knee, Brady still passed for 364 yards and two touchdowns. He nearly had a third touchdown when Danny Amendola got two hands on the ball in the end zone in the final minute, but the play was broken up by Dolphins safety Michael Thomas. Amendola finished with 10 catches for 131 yards, and fellow wide receiver Julian Edelman had 13 grabs for 139 yards.

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