Miami Dolphins: Top 5 Performers From Week 15 Victory Over New England Patriots
Miami Dolphins: Top 5 Performers From Win Over Patriots
The Miami Dolphins are one step closer to the playoffs, and it's the biggest step they've taken towards the postseason in five years. With Sunday's 24-20 win over the New England Patriots in addition to the Cincinnati Bengals falling to the Pittsburgh Steelers, the Dolphins control their own destiny to qualify for the dance: beat the Buffalo Bills in Week 16 and the New York Jets in Week 17, and a roller coaster season will have a happy ending.
The euphoria must be sweet for the Dolphins and their fans. Sunday's win has the potential to be a true turning point for the franchise. A loss would have made it clear that the Dolphins still aren't ready for the big stage and still aren't ready to emerge as a contender.
A win, however, made it clear that the Dolphins are heading in the right direction. It showed they are closer to achieving their aspirations than at arguably any other point over the past decade. It all came versus the team that's owned the AFC East for most of the new millennium.
But the Dolphins aren't out of the woods yet. They must finish strong in the final two weeks or risk spoiling a win that would be remembered for years to come otherwise. Lose in either one of those contests, and the narrative could change considerably. Sunday's win could eventually be attributed to the Patriots' poor health instead of the Dolphins turning the corner. Make the playoffs, however, and there isn't a Dolphins fan on earth who won't forever cherish what happened on Sunday afternoon.
Let's take one last look back at the win by highlighting the Dolphins' top five performers.
Cody Strahm is a Miami Dolphins contributor for Rant Sports. Follow him on Twitter @CodyJStrahm.
5. Tyson Clabo
Once considered a free agent bust, Tyson Clabo has done a complete 180 since his return to the starting lineup after a brief benching. On Sunday versus the Patriots, Clabo had his best outing as a member of the Dolphins.
Ryan Tannehill was sacked four times, but Clabo wasn't to blame. For the first time all season, Clabo didn't give up a sack, a quarterback hit or a hurry in pass protection. Overall, Clabo produced a +3.4 grade according to Pro Football Focus, which was the highest for a Dolphins offensive lineman.
4. Mike Wallace
He may not be living up to the $60 million contract he signed back in March, but Mike Wallace is dispelling the notion that he's a one-dimensional receiver. Wallace has run a variety of routes with success for the Dolphins in 2013.
On Sunday, he worked the intermediate range of the field with ease as Ryan Tannehill was able to connect with him for 105 yards and a touchdown. Tannehill hit him on a strike down the middle near the end of the first half and Wallace did the rest, breaking away from one defender and eluding another for Miami's first score of the game.
3. Cameron Wake
It's quite clear that Cameron Wake is now 100 percent after suffering a knee injury during the first month of the season. Wake relentlessly got after Tom Brady in Week 15, sacking him once, hitting him an additional four times and hurrying him another four.
Although Brady was able to pick apart Miami's backup cornerbacks down the stretch, Wake's pressure was a big reason why the Dolphins' defense bent but rarely broke. Wake led the Dolphins' defense with a +2.9 overall grade, including a +4.2 pass rushing grade according to Pro Football Focus.
2. Michael Thomas
Safety Michael Thomas, who was just signed off of the San Francisco 49ers practice squad on December 10, intercepted Tom Brady to preserve a Dolphins win in his first-ever NFL game. He did so filling in at nickel cornerback, a position he hadn't played since he was a freshman in college. The improbability is off the charts.
Thomas was so new to the Dolphins that several players mentioned after the game that they didn't even know his first name and had been calling him by his jersey number. Well, they all know the name now. The interception will be one of the most replayed highlights of the season for Miami, but Thomas arguably had a more impressive play two snaps prior.
Brady placed a dime in Julian Edelman's hands for what appeared to be the game-winning touchdown despite solid coverage. But, Thomas worked to rip the ball away from Edelman's grasp. That pass breakup and the interception will undoubtedly be remembered as two of the biggest plays of the year for the Dolphins' secondary.
1. Ryan Tannehill
The numbers speak for themselves: 312 passing yards, three touchdown passes and no interceptions. But numbers alone don't do Tannehill's performance on Sunday versus the Patriots justice.
Poised as always, Tannehill helped dig the Dolphins out of an early 10-0 hole and answered a Tom Brady go-ahead scoring drive with the game-winning touchdown drive late in the fourth quarter. Tannehill is playing the best football of his young career, and his improvement is the biggest reason why the Dolphins are two wins away from their first playoff berth in five years.