Ryan Fitzpatrick came off the bench Saturday night to help deliver a crazy and huge victory for the Miami Dolphins.
Jason Sanders kicked a 44-yard field goal with one second remaining to give the Dolphins a wild 26-25 victory against the Las Vegas Raiders at Allegiant Stadium.
Sanders' kick came two plays after Fitzpatrick completed a 34-yard pass to Mack Hollins while getting his facemask yanked, a penalty that added 15 yards to the gain.
Before that play, the Dolphins had the ball at their 25-yard line down two points with 19 seconds left and no timeouts and staring at the likelihood of absorbing a crushing loss in terms of their playoff hopes.
"I think the odds were pretty low there of us to be able to complete something with the proper yardage and not have to throw a Hail Mary but actually kick a field goal," Fitzpatrick said. "I didn’t know that it was complete. As you guys saw, my facemask was getting pulled and my head was getting ripped off. I turned around to say ‘Hey, facemask,’ just to make sure they saw it. I think Jesse Davis, or maybe Myles (Gaskin) had to tell me that it was complete, but I didn’t know that we completed it.”
The Dolphins somehow pulled out a victory when they appeared destined to lose after Daniel Carlson's fourth field goal, a 22-yarder with 19 seconds remaining, gave the Raiders a 25-23 lead.
The improbable victory helped the Dolphins (10-5) keep control of their playoff destiny. They will make the playoffs with a victory at Buffalo in Week 17 or with a loss by the Baltimore Ravens against the Cincinnati Bengals on the same day.
Las Vegas (7-8) was eliminated from playoff contention with the loss.
"I think we have a special team," Fitzpatrick said. "I think this team all year long has fought. And for me, it’s not just this year, it’s the last two years and trying to build this foundation and build this vision of what Coach (Brian) Flores thinks that we are. I’m proud of the fact that I’ve really been able to contribute to that and have a strong contribution. That, today, was a great play at the end, but just on the sideline, the excitement, being able to hug your teammates and your coaches, I mean that’s why we play the game."
Carlson's apparent game-winning field goal was set up by a 49-yard pass interference penalty on cornerback Byron Jones on a deep throw from David Carr to Nelson Agholor, who earlier in the fourth quarter had scored on an 85-yard touchdown reception.
Fitzpatrick replaced rookie Tua Tagovailoa early in the fourth quarter and led the Dolphins to two scoring drives, including a 59-yard touchdown pass to running back Myles Gaskin that gave Miami a 23-22 lead with 2:55 left.
Fitzpatrick ended up completing 9 of 13 passes for 182 yards and had a passer rating of 137.5.
“We felt like we needed a spark, trying to win the game," Flores said. "If we’ve got to go to our relief pitcher in the ninth, that’s what we’ll do. Fitz, he’s always ready to go. He went in and moved the ball for us, but we had contributions from a lot of guys. Myles Gaskin played well. Mack Hollins, good catch at the end. We were able to make enough plays to win the game.”
Fitzpatrick immediately led the Dolphins to an 84-yard field goal drive to tie the score, though the offense failed to get into the end zone after a 31-yard completion to tight end Mike Gesicki gave Miami a first-and-goal from the 4-yard line.
The Raiders answered on the long touchdown pass to Agholor, though Carlson missed the extra-point attempt.
Carr, who played the whole game 10 days after sustaining a groin injury, threw deep downfield after scrambling out of the pocket and Agholor slightly pushed off Jones to make the catch and then avoided safety Bobby McCain in the open field.
Tagovailoa, who was pulled from a game for the second time since taking over as the start in October, completed 17 for 22 passes with a touchdown, but for only 94 yards.
"This is the second time it’s happened, but I would say it’s just something you’ve got to learn from," Tagovailoa said. "While Fitz is in there, I’m going to support him. I’m going to support the entire offense in there and as a team, really all you’re looking forward to is a win, and that’s what we got tonight, so that’s what we’re happy with.”
The Dolphins again played without leading receiver DeVante Parker, who missed a second consecutive game with a hamstring, though Gesicki and wide receiver Jakeem Grant both returned after missing a game — Grant left the game early with a knee injury.
Tagovailoa, who also was benched against the Denver Broncos on Nov. 22, threw a 10-yard touchdown pass to Gaskin in the third quarter.
Gaskin, back after missing a couple of games while on the COVID-19 list, rushed for 87 yards and had 82 receiving yards.
“That’s what football is all about," Gaskin said. "That’s what you love about football, especially in the NFL. Ain’t anybody weak, ain’t anybody an easy win, especially in football in December. You play that all the way out. I love this atmosphere. I love this game. Hats off to the Raiders, they played a great game. Probably the most fun game I ever played in my life. I think that’s what sports and competing, all that stuff is really about. It’s coming down to the wire, who is going to make the play.”
The game had a familiar look for the Dolphins, who for the third time in four weeks were kept out of the end zone in the first half before scoring on their first drive of the third quarter.
The Dolphins tied the score 13-13 by driving 75 yards on nine plays, the last a 10-yard pass from Tagovailoa to Gaskin. Gaskin had the biggest play on the drive with a 24-yard run into Las Vegas territory.
But the Dolphins offense struggled most of the night with Tagovailoa at quarterback.
The Raiders took a 16-13 lead on Carlson's third field goal, which capped an 80-yard drive highlighted by a 33-yard completion to Waller.
That set the stage for Fitzpatrick's appearance into the game and the crazy — and ultimately disappointing — finish for the Dolphins.
"To think back a year ago to where we were at this point winning three or four games, whatever we were at, and now really having a chance to make the playoffs, it’s kind of cool to look back and see the bigger picture," Hollins said. "This is pretty high up there with the excitement and fun, and just being with the guys that are on this team that really make it special.”