MIAMI GARDENS – Skylar Thompson’s first NFL victory was historic. At least for the Mispanmi Dolphins.
Thompson, the rookie quarterback drafted in the seventh round, did something only two other quarterbacks have done since 2001: Win a game that put the Dolphins into the playoffs.
This was not pretty. Nothing has been for the Dolphins the last six weeks of a bizarre, streaky season. But it was enough. Even if Miami never found the end zone. Heck, never came closer than 19 yards from scoring a touchdown.
But three Jason Sanders’ field goals, and zero turnovers by an offense led by the rookie quarterback making just his second start, was enough for an 11-6 victory over the New York Jets Sunday at Hard Rock Stadium. A meaningless safety – unless you took the Dolphins giving 3.5 points – concluded the scoring on the game’s final play.
That, and the Patriots losing at Buffalo, secured Miami’s first trip to the playoffs in seven seasons while snapping a five-game losing streak.
Thompson, the backup to the backup who was thrust into this spot with Tua Tagovailoa in concussion protocol and Teddy Bridgewater nursing a dislocated right pinky, was asked how it felt.
“See my face,” he said, pointing to the perpetual smile. “Amazing.”
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Although Thompson was not told he was starting until Friday morning, he knew early in the week Miami’s playoff hopes partly would rest on his shoulders because of his reps with the starting offense.
If nothing else, Thompson was steady, doing exactly what Miami needed in a game against a team whose last touchdown was one week before Christmas. He said people told him all week he did not have to “be the hero” or “save the season.”
He wasn’t but he calmly did what he had to do to win a defensive struggle.
“To finish it like this is pretty special,” Thompson said. “And I think it speaks volumes about the type of a guys we got in the locker room. They’re willing to fight. And that’s something that I prided myself on my entire life, is fighting.
“I felt like that game today was the definition of just fighting. It wasn’t always pretty, but we did what we had to do to win and made the plays we needed to to win. And that is all that matters.”
Before we get into what Thompson did in a game in which Miami’s defense dominated the offensively-challenged Jets and their third-team quarterback, 37-year-old Joe Flacco, the most pressing question surrounding the Dolphins is who will start Sunday in a playoff game that likely will be played in below freezing temperatures and in a stadium where Miami has lost 10 of its last 11, including a 32-29 heartbreaker to the Buffalo Bills on Dec. 17.
No one expected coach Mike McDaniel to answer that question after the win, but when he said Bridgewater could have played against the Jets in an “emergency situation,” that is a strong hint Bridgewater will be back, barring a setback this week.
As for Tua, McDaniel is making it clear his availability is out of the team’s hands and in those of the doctors’.
That left Thompson as the lone healthy quarterback on the roster who had been with the team for more than a week. Miami signed Mike Glennon last week as the true emergency quarterback.
“I have no idea what that’s gonna look like,” Thompson said when asked about the playoffs. “That’s something for a couple of days from now.
“I’ve had my own ups and downs,” Thompson said. “And it’s been a crazy journey for me this year. And just the experiences and situations that I’ve experienced hasn’t always been pretty, hasn’t been perfect. But I believe everything that I went through, set me up, prepared me for this moment.”
Thompson was 20 of 31 for 152 yards. He was sacked once, a play in which he thought about tossing a blind pass as he was falling backwards but wisely held onto the ball.
What awaited was the most crucial drive of the season in the game’s final minutes. It was pedestrian and methodical and one in which the biggest play was a 15-yard penalty by Jets lineman Quinnen Williams, who dragged Dolphins receiver Jaylen Waddle down by the collar. That moved the ball to the Jets 39.
Otherwise, Miami had 21 yards. Thompson scrambled for 3 of those and he completed both of his passes for 11 yards.
The perfect non-de drive for a non-de game.
“My mindset was just to take care of the football,” Thompson said. “There’s ways of (doing that) where it’s not playing scared. Just taking what the defense gives us, trusting our defense, trusting that everybody’s gonna do their job. And all I got to do is put us in position to score. If that is field goals, if that is touchdowns. It’s just having that one-play mentality.
“I think that really helped me just manage the game and put us in a situation to win.”
Jason Sanders’ field goal came with 18 seconds remaining. And the distance, 50 yards, certainly did not make this a gimme.
But don’t tell that to Thompson.
“I was pacing,” Thompson said. “I watched it. I watched it. I had all the confidence in the world he was going to nail it. And he did. It was awesome.”
Dolphins at Bills
1 p.m., CBS