It didn’t involve running through Stanford’s band, but in a sequence that evoked memories of “The Play,” the Miami Dolphins lateraled their way to a last-second, miraculous touchdown on Sunday, beating the New England Patriots, 34-33.
Just like Cal did against the Cardinal in 1982, the Dolphins found themselves down late and needing a touchdown to win. And like Cal, they knew they wouldn’t get in the end zone with just one player carrying the ball.
The Dolphins win on a miracle TD! pic.twitter.com/5UjWO8WXvY
In this 2018 version, which was pulled off at Miami’s Hard Rock Stadium, Ryan Tannehill took the snap at Miami’s 31-yard line. He threw 14 yards to Kenny Stills, and as the wide receiver absorbed some contact from Jonathan Jones, the broadcast team declared “this will end it.”
Stills, though, showed terrific awareness of the field, turning and lateraling the ball to DeVante Parker, who carried it just a bit before pitching the ball to Kenyan Drake.
The play still seemed likely to end in failure, but Drake, a running back, broke a tackle, cut left, got a tremendous block to give him some room, and then cut back to his right and streaked down the sideline and into the end zone. He easily outran Rob Gronkowski, the Patriots’ tight end who had been in on defense to help in deep pass coverage.
“Those guys executed it as well as you could,” Dolphins Coach Adam Gase said after the game. “When you practice it, you don’t really know how it’s going to turn out. Kenyan realized he had a lane and took it.”
The victory kept Miami’s slim playoff chances alive.
The Dolphins fell behind on the first drive of the game when New England fullback James Develin scored on a 2-yard run. But Miami answered with a 75-yard drive that culminated in Tannehill finding Stills for a 7-yard touchdown.
That is how the game would continue to play out, with New England repeatedly seeming to take control only for Miami to fight its way back into a lead.
Tannehill completed 14 of 19 passes for 265 yards and three touchdowns, outdueling Tom Brady despite the five-time Super Bowl-winner throwing for 358 yards and three touchdowns.
Miami’s offense seemed to succeed by throwing everything it had at New England. The ageless Frank Gore rushed for 92 yards, the former Patriot Brandon Bolden ran in two touchdowns, and Stills had 8 catches for 135 yards and a touchdown.
The Patriots’ Stephen Gostkowski missed an extra point for the first time in 38 tries this season early in the game, and he also missed a 42-yard field goal try. But his 32-yarder to cap a 55-yard drive put the Patriots ahead 30-28 with 6:45 left.
Coach Bill Belichick opted to have Gostkowski kick a 22-yarder in the closing seconds rather than pin the Dolphins near their goal line. Instead, they returned the ensuing kickoff to the 31 — and on the next play pulled off a miracle.
With the loss, the Patriots dropped to 9-4, losing ground to the Kansas City Chiefs in the race for home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. The win gave Miami some hope of getting a wild-card spot, though it will be a tough slog as several teams are bunched up with 7-6 records.
Brady broke the N.F.L. record for career touchdown passes including postseason games and now has 582, three more than Peyton Manning.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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