MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. — In a rivalry that has spanned 104 regular-season games, the Miami Dolphins and New England Patriots never had a moment like Sunday. The Wildcat explosion a decade ago was a shocking result, but this year’s stunner came in just 17 seconds of real time, on a 69-yard touchdown with two laterals, a couple downfield blocks and an odd personnel decision by the Patriots. According to ESPN’s win-probability statistic, the play took the Dolphins from a 99.9 percent chance of losing to a 100 percent chance of winning.
“I’ve never seen anything like that in my entire life. It was f—ing crazy,” Dolphins receiver Danny Amendola said.
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The Dolphins were at their own 31-yard line with seven seconds left, down by five points. They had that fleeting chance thanks to their defense holding the Patriots to a field goal after a first-and-goal situation on the previous drive. Dolphins coach Adam Gase called “Boise,” a hook-and-lateral play similar to the one Boise State ran in their 2007 Fiesta Bowl victory over Oklahoma.
The play called for Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill to throw a 15- to 20-yard pass to receiver Kenny Stills, who ran an inside curl route. He would then pitch to receiver DeVante Parker. Parker would then find running back Kenyan Drake, trailing the play, with a lateral. Then they’d just hope for Drake, or another player behind him on the field, to find an opening and perhaps break some tackles.
ESPN talked with several Dolphins and Patriots to discuss what happened:
No Hail Mary
The Patriots were playing a soft, prevent defense. Curiously, their last line of defense was All-Pro tight end Rob Gronkowski, who has been playing hurt for weeks. After the game, Tannehill and Gase said a Hail Mary wasn’t in consideration because they couldn’t have reached the end zone that was 69 yards away.
Drake got the ball after two laterals from Stills and Parker and ran 52 yards down the sideline.
Drake: That was the last part of the play that was scripted when I got the pitch. I’m the trailer behind the play. It was sandlot football. I was looking for someone to pitch it to and make sure I threw it behind for a lateral. I had no one around me, so I had to make something out of nothing.”
Patriots coach Bill Belichick: “Yeah, well they could throw it deeper. They could have run the desperado-type play, which is kind of an in-between 20-yard pass, then it turned into a desperado [with multiple laterals].
Patriots safety Duron Harmon: “We knew it was going to be a lateral situation. The ball was at the -yard line; we weren’t thinking it was a Hail Mary, everyone get back.”
‘Pitch it, pitch it’
The Dolphins practice “Boise” every week, including this past Friday, in a walk-through setting. They typically run it against their scout-team defense without any offensive linemen, so it doesn’t get a true game feel until it happens.
Several key blocks sprung Drake to a touchdown, but Dolphins guard Ted Larsen’s block on Patriots safety Patrick Chung around the 30-yard line made the biggest difference.
Tannehill: “I was kind of trailing along. [The] play kind of got messed up. I saw Kenny there. I’m like, ‘Pitch it! Pitch it!’ He pitches it, KD [Drake] came back inside — I kind of had a great view of the whole thing — came back inside, then I saw him and Gronk about 10 yards away and I was like, ‘Gronk is on the field! We got this!’ [Laughter.] It was pretty amazing.”
Stills: “Honestly, I’m supposed to catch the ball and pitch it a little quicker.”
Parker: “When I caught it, I just wanted to get some extra yards. I got what I could get and then pitched it back to KD.”
Gase: “I was really mad at DeVante at one point ’cause I thought he had a chance to turn and run, but he made a good decision.”
Harmon: “I thought we had solid spacing, but toward the end, everything kind of just got jumbled up and they were able to hit a crease.”
Larsen: “I just had to get downfield and cover, allow the skill guys to make a play. ‘Don’t go down with the ball’ is the name of the game. I was looking to make a block; that way they wouldn’t throw me the ball.”
Patriots CB Jonathan Jones: “It just happened quickly.”
‘I’ve got somewhere to be’
The entire play took 17 seconds, but the last few seconds is what people will remember most. Drake had just Gronkowski to beat, and the Patriots tight end stumbled to the ground as Drake tightroped the sideline and ran into the end zone.
Drake: “Once I got past the corner and linebacker, it was just me and Gronk. I couldn’t let Gronk tackle me in that situation. Look, sorry, Gronk. You’re a great player, but I’ve got somewhere to be.”
Gronkowski: “I did trip a little bit, but that’s football.”
Tannehill: “Drake runs a 4.3 and Gronk probably runs a 4.6 or 4.7, so I feel good about that matchup.”
Gronkowski: “I just saw the ball going lateral, hook-and-ladder and stuff. I didn’t think it was going to get to me, and then just saw the guy trucking down the field. I mean, it would have been — you saw what happened from there.”
Gore: “I saw that m—–f—– hit the corner, I knew he was gone.”
Euphoria and disbelief
After the game, the Dolphins locker room was euphoric. Miami’s players chanted, “Ted, Ted, Ted” in honor of Larsen. Drake was overwhelmed with interviews. The Patriots were in disbelief. How could that happen?
Several Dolphins recalled the five minutes after the game as one of the best feelings they’ve experienced on a football field.
Drake: “I didn’t know if there was a flag on the play. Did I really just do that? Is there any time left? There was a lot going on in my head. I threw the ball in the stands, so I know I’m going to get a fine from the NFL, but I’m going to take that one on the chin.”
Patriots WR Josh Gordon: “That’s as tough as it gets. A buzzer-beater like that type of a game, or a way to end the game, I’ve never seen anything like that in my career. Maybe in college, but it’s a crazy game. It’s a crazy game.”
Dolphins DT Akeem Spence: “I saw him get the sideline and I said, ‘Got to run on the field, that’s the only thing I can do. I went to the first person I saw and hugged them: That was Adam Gase.”
Stills: “This is going to be in the history books of the Patriots-Dolphins rivalry. It’s a great feeling.”
ESPN NFL Nation reporter Mike Reiss contributed to this story.