MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. With their playoff hopes on the verge of going in the tank, the Miami Dolphins turned to religion.
Having lost three games in a row, the Dolphins looked in serious jeopardy Sunday of enduring a fourth straight. With just over eight minutes left and Miami trailing Seattle 14-7 at Sun Life Stadium, quarterback Ryan Tannehill apparently had thrown his second interception of the day and seventh in the past three games, fluttering a ball to Seahawks linebacker Bobby Wagner.
But wait a minute. The Dolphins got a reprieve. Safety Earl Thomas was called for roughing the passer.
"I knew it was a bad play before he had even intercepted it," Tannehill said. "The Good Lord was looking out for me and got it called back."
Given a second chance, the Dolphins got a 3-yard touchdown run by Daniel Thomas on the next play to tie the score at 14. They eventually won 24-21 on a Dan Carpenter 43-yard field goal on the game's final play.
The play was a big source of controversy in Seattle's locker room. Thomas said he was already in midair when Tannehill released the ball and that "the NFL, they need some goggles."
Had the call not been made, it would have been the second ball on the day Tannehill had thrown right to Wagner. Talk would have continued on whether the rookie barrier he has hit is of the Great Wall of China variety.
"It was a good thing we said the Lord's Prayer before the game," Dolphins running back Reggie Bush said of what he thought when seeing the flag.
Suddenly, the Dolphins (5-6) have what amounts to a second chance to make the playoffs. With Pittsburgh (6-5) having lost Sunday at Cleveland, Miami is just one game behind the Steelers and Cincinnati (6-5) for the second and final wild-card berth in the AFC.
"We're one game out," said Miami linebacker Karlos Dansby. "That's how we're looking at it. It's realistic (to make the playoffs). We haven't given up and we haven't laid down. This was a must win. We knew that we dug ourselves a hole and we knew that we had to put all our eggs in one basket going from here on out. It was like a playoff game."
The Dolphins play host to New England (8-3) next week in a desperate final chance to remain in the AFC East race. At least the game now means something for Miami.
After the roughing-the-passer call, the Dolphins took advantage of their new life. Yes, they allowed a 98-yard kickoff return for a touchdown by Seattle's Leon Washington after Thomas' score. But a more confident Tannehill then led them down field to tie the score on a 29-yard TD pass to Charles Clay with 5:13 left in the game.
Soon, it was time for the rookie quarterback's first NFL game-winning drive. He marched the Dolphins from their own 10 with 1:32 left to the Seattle 25 before Carpenter split the uprights with his winning kick.
"It's huge," Tannehill said of the win. "From a team standpoint, three tough losses. Any time you lose consecutive games like that, it's really rough."
It was huge for Tannehill's confidence after he had been regressing in recent weeks. Tannehill completed 18 of 26 passes for 253 yards with one touchdown and one interception.
"It's going to be key for him," said Miami wide receiver Davone Bess. "He needed that confidence. We all needed that."
Indeed, the Dolphins did. Entering the game, they had scored just one offensive touchdown in the previous 10 quarters. The dry spell reached two in 13 quarters before Miami broke loose for two TDs and 17 points in the fourth quarter.
Bess caught seven passes for a season-high 129 yards. Bush carried 14 times for 87 yards, his second-best effort of the season, after having run for less yards (82) in his previous three games combined.
"We want to be able to run the ball well," Bush, whose 21-yard TD jaunt gave the Dolphins a 7-0 lead midway through the second quarter, said of Miami rushing for 189 yards. "Obviously, it's going to help Ryan out a lot, it's going to help the receivers out a lot. We want to be able to have that balanced attack."
The Seahawks didn't. While quarterback Russell Wilson completed 21 of 27 passes for 224 yards with two touchdowns, Seattle got a meager 46 yards on 19 carries from star back Marshawn Lynch.
After the game, Lynch and his Seattle teammates weren't happy. They figured no way should the Seahawks (6-5) have lost to the Dolphins.
"You know on paper, with their record, they should not have been in this game," said Seattle wide receiver Golden Tate.
But this was a day for the unexpected. Late in the third quarter, shortly after Tannehill had thrown a nine-yard pass to break Dan Marino's 1983 rookie Miami record of 2,210 passing yards, the automatic sprinklers went on.
A Dolphins official said an error was made in the timer having remained set to go off at the same time (3 p.m.) as the previous day. The incident provided plenty of levity, with the crowd giving a big cheer when the sprinklers finally were turned off after about a minute.
"I've never seen anything like that happen during a football game," Bush said. "It kind of reminded me of the old 18th-hole trick (on a golf course), where you send a rookie out there at 9 p.m., and the sprinklers come on."
Had Tannehill's interception in the end zone stood, some might have wanted to send that rookie to the showers. But Tannehill got a reprieve.
As far as some Dolphins were concerned, it was divine intervention.
Chris Tomasson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @christomasson