When Al Pacino famously said “life is just a game of inches; so is football” in the 1999 film Any Given Sunday, he wasn’t exaggerating. Just ask the Miami Dolphins, who saw their playoff lives flash in front of their eyes as Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown sprinted down the sideline for what appeared to be a miracle, last-second touchdown on Sunday.
But sometimes the difference between winning and losing are mere inches. If a football field was 55 inches in width, the Dolphins would be sitting at 6-7 after giving up a double-digit lead for the third time of the season in an embarrassing manner that would undoubtedly haunt the franchise for years.
Luckily for Miami, a football field is only a shade over 53 inches wide, which didn’t allow Brown enough space to tiptoe down the sideline for what would have been the go-ahead score, assuming the extra point. He stepped out of bounds, giving the Dolphins a 34-28 win.
Dolphins fans had several reasons to be pleased. Quarterback Ryan Tannehill displayed resilience after throwing a pick-six to Troy Polamalu in the third quarter. Tannehill led two scoring drives after that costly mistake; the second put Miami ahead for good.
The offensive line continued its revitalization, providing plenty of time to throw on most attempts. It also paved the way for another impressive showing on the ground, as Daniel Thomas and company combined for a season-high 181 rushing yards. There were big-time moments like Charles Clay breaking out of two seemingly sure tackles for the improbable winning touchdown, and the Miami defense forcing Pittsburgh into a turnover on downs with under three minutes to play.
Still, this was a Miami team that has struggled to put opponents away all year that couldn’t put the finishing touches on a gutsy road win. But like the old saying, sometimes it’s better to be lucky than good. And make no mistake about it: the Dolphins were extremely lucky to have left Pennsylvania with a victory in Week 14.
Every successful season is propelled by a lucky break or two or several, though. While the Dolphins have nothing to be proud of for the way Sunday’s game ended, they don’t need to apologize for the opportunity their good fortune presents. In a win-at-nearly-any-cost league, Miami is above .500 in December for the first time since 2010 and has an excellent opportunity to earn its first playoff berth since 2008. Lucky or no, it all counts the same.
And sometimes, it takes a fortuitous bounce or break to instill confidence. After giving up double-digit leads in losses to the New England Patriots and Carolina Panthers, the Dolphins’ ability to finish was in question. Even during some of its victories, Miami hasn’t been able to pull away in games it should win comfortably.
Sunday was more of the same as the Steelers were able to erase a 10-point deficit in less than a minute of game clock during the third quarter. Aided by Brown stepping out, the Dolphins didn’t let another one slip away. Losing another game in such an emotionally-draining manner could have been the last straw for Miami. Even for a resilient team, rebounding from that magnitude of a letdown would have been tough to fathom.
If the Dolphins go on to qualify for the postseason, they’ll look back on Sunday’s near-disaster with relief — relief that was only two or three inches away from being torturous regret.
Cody Strahm is a Miami Dolphins contributor for Rant Sports. Follow him on Twitter @CodyJStrahm.