Thanks to the steady kicking of Dan Carpenter, the Dolphins' season is alive and kicking.
Carpenter booted a game-winning 41-yarder Sunday, giving Miami a come-from-behind 22-21 victory over the Patriots.
The Dolphins improved to 6-6 and are just one game behind the AFC East-leading Patriots. Although the Dolphins are tied with the Jets, they hold the tiebreaker edge on the basis of their sweep of New York this season.
Coach Tony Sparano doesn't care to know about all the possible playoff permutations, but he is grateful his team is still relevant with four games remaining. Several of those games, including Sunday's against the 7-5 Jaguars, are against potential wild-card competitors. The Dolphins end the season at home against the defending Super Bowl champion Steelers, who are also 6-6.
"It sounds to me like (the Jaguars) hold some of the keys to the wild-card spot right now. It's a big game for us," Sparano said. "We just gave ourselves an opportunity to keep playing big football games for however long it lasts. For however long there is that possibility there, however long you people tell me there is still a chance, I am going to listen. There is a chance, and the chance got a little better (Sunday) due to the people in that locker room."
And the Dolphins knocked off the Patriots without the Wildcat, instead riding the arm of second-year quarterback Chad Henne, who directed his third fourth-quarter comeback in just nine starts.
Still, the fourth quarter had been a nightmare for the Dolphins prior to Sunday. Miami had given up a league-leading 134 points in the fourth quarter this season. The Dolphins had committed just 24 offensive penalties, but 12 were in the fourth quarter, including nine false starts. The defense had committed 27 penalties, with nine in the fourth quarter. Not Sunday.
On four Patriots possessions, the Dolphins came up with two three-and-outs and two drive-ending interceptions -- double the turnovers they had all season in the fourth quarter.
As for Henne, he completed a clutch fourth-and-6 pass to Greg Camarillo for 13 yards that kept alive the drive that resulted in Carpenter's game-winner.
"I thought everybody was very focused," Henne said. "All week we preached the fourth quarter, coach Sparano put us through a fourth-quarter thing at the end of practice. It transferred from practice to the game (Sunday). It let us focus and concentrate on what we had to get done."
No Wildcat, No Problem
For the first time since shocking the Patriots in Game 3 of the 2009 season with the Wildcat, the Dolphins didn't run the trendy formation at all in Sunday's 22-21 victory over New England. Part of that had to do with the loss of triggerman Ronnie Brown.
"It was the plan," coach Tony Sparano said. "We didn't have it up and ready right now. To be honest with you, we had two plays on the game plan sheet we thought were good plays if we needed to go to it, but it wasn't something we needed to go to at this point.
"(Using it again) depends what we see on tape, it really does. We will look at it on tape, bring it out there, but whatever we have to do to win, we are going to do it. We might do that 52 times."
Outside linebacker Cameron Wake, who dominated the CFL the past two years with 39 sacks, had Tom Brady by the legs and was hauling him down as Brady threw the game-deciding interception to inside linebacker Channing Crowder. The play was reviewed to determine if Brady was down before he threw the ball.
"That's the first sack I didn't want," Wake said. "I definitely was like, 'Oh, please, let that be a throw.' Normally you're the other way around. 'His knee was down, his knee was down.' But I just wanted it to be a pass."
Outside linebacker Jason Taylor had fun with Crowder's first career pick. "I was surprised he caught it," Taylor said. "I see Channing at practice every day. The Lord blessed him with a lot of things, (but) a good set of hands wasn't one of them."
The Dolphins are 5-0 in December under coach Tony Sparano, including 4-0 last season.
Enjoying The Win
"Excuse my voice, but it's a great day to be a Dolphins fan." -- Dolphins owner Stephen M. Ross, before introducing NFL commissioner Roger Goodell to an audience at the South Florida host committee Super Bowl kickoff luncheon Monday.
After giving up a league-leading 134 points in the fourth quarter this season, the Dolphins shut out the Patriots and held them to just 60 yards on four fourth-quarter possessions, two of which ended in interceptions.
"This is how it's supposed to be," cornerback Nate Jones said. "I'm like a proud dad right now -- all that hard work and sweat, we finished. We beat a good team out there."
Career Day For Chad
Quarterback Chad Henne set career highs in completions (29), attempts (52) and yards (335) and directed his third fourth-quarter comeback of his career. He is 6-3 in his first nine starts, tied for fourth-best record of any Dolphins quarterback after their first nine starts. Earl Morrall leads the way with a 9-0 start during the perfect season of 1972.
"If you want to, we could throw all day. I love it. Put it in my hands, put pressure situations upon me, and I really thrive on those," Henne said.