Posted November 01, 2013

Rare walk-off safety propels Dolphins to overtime victory over the Bengals

AFC East, AFC North, Cincinnati Bengals, Miami Dolphins
(Wilfredo Lee/AP Photo)

Cameron Wake’s game-winning safety was just the third in league history. (Wilfredo Lee/AP Photo)

Before Thursday’s Bengals-Dolphins game, there had been 11 safeties recorded during this NFL season. Number 12 was one for the ages.

With less than seven minutes separating Cincinnati and Miami from an overtime tie, the Dolphins’ Cameron Wake blew through a block and dropped Andy Dalton in his own end zone for the rarely-seen walk-off safety. Wake’s play, which gave his now 4-4 Dolphins a 22-20 win, was just the third game-ending safety in league history — Chicago pulled the trick in 2004 and Minnesota in 1989.

It was a bizarre, stunning end to a relatively entertaining game. And it was a result that the reeling Dolphins desperately needed to stay in the playoff hunt.

“Man, talk about a team win,” Wake said on the NFL Network’s postgame show. “We had a short week, [lost] the last couple games, it was really tough. Everybody had to dig down deep.”

Wake’s play put the game to bed, but it was Ryan Tannehill and the Miami offense that pushed the game to OT with a clutch, late drive. That offense spent much of the second half on the bench, as Cincinnati controlled the clock (a situation skewed by a pick-six from Miami’s Brent Grimes at the end of a nearly eight-minute drive by the Bengals).

When Mike Nugent drilled a 54-yarder to give the Bengals a 20-17 lead with 1:29 left in regulation, Miami had run just 11 second-half plays to Cincinnati’s 48.

Just as they had a week earlier in letting a 17-3 lead slip in a loss at New England, the Dolphins were unable to move the ball when they had a chance to put the game away. Their lone drive of the third quarter was a quick three-and-out, and they followed that up with a pair of four-play possessions.

Thus, the chances of coming up with a game-tying march in the final 80 seconds of regulation seemed slim — especially after a Michael Johnson sack of Tannehill left the Dolphins facing a 2nd-and-17 from their own 17, with no timeouts left.

But Tannehill then completed four passes in a row, including a brilliant 21-yard strike to a sprawling Brian Hartline. Caleb Sturgis, who entered Thursday in a 1-for-4 slump on field goals and shanked a 34-yarder early, nailed one from 44 to send the game into OT.

The rest is now part of NFL history.

“I don’t know if we could’ve made it one more series,” Wake said. “The engine light was on, tire pressure gauge was going off …”

Miami had not been able to come up with those game-altering moments in its past four outings, all losses on the heels of a 3-0 start. Perhaps Thursday’s heroics from Wake will change the course of their season.

Meanwhile, the Bengals have to be concerned that their setback could send them tumbling in the other direction. Not necessarily because they fell to 6-3 in heartbreaking fashion, but because star defensive tackle Geno Atkins may have suffered a season-ending ACL injury along the way.

Though the Bengals loss dropped them behind New England in the overall AFC standings, they still have a two-game edge in the AFC North. But Atkins being carted off coupled with a somewhat controversial ending will make the wait for Week 10 a long one.

“In my opinion, the ball was out of the end zone and so … I don’t know,” said frustrated Bengals coach Marvin Lewis of the Dalton safety. “That’s a quick look at the board, they got a little better-resolution look at it than I do.”

Cincinnati’s second half would have been one of total domination, had it not been for the Grimes interception (Dalton’s second of three on the night) and the late Miami drive. Shaking off a sluggish first two quarters, the Bengals appeared to have taken full control of this game late.

They opted to throw deep on a third-and-seven prior to Nugent’s kick, though, saving Miami an all-important timeout. Tannehill burned that TO after Johnson’s sack, leaving him 1:11 to push his team down the field.

That he did so might be enough to erase the memories of close losses in Weeks 5, 7 and 8. And if seeing some welcome life from their quarterback was not enough to bolster the Dolphins’ mood, Wake’s game-winner ought to do the trick.

“No one expected to win the game this way,” Tannehill said.

Only a few believed the Dolphins could pick up a victory on Thursday night at all. Approximately 24 hours earlier, reports broke that starting right tackle Jonathan Martin had left the team to seek mental counseling. The potentially serious situation was another black cloud hovering over Miami’s once-promising season.

The Dolphins needed something, anything to break their way on Thursday.

“It was one of those things,” Wake said, “when you go on the sideline, everyone looked in each other’s eyes and said, ‘Look, we’ve got to make a play right now.’”

Wake answered the call, handing the Dolphins the result they desperately sought, on one of the most unusual finishes the National Football League has ever seen.

23 comments
Jon8
Jon8

A "walk-off" safety, get real and take your Mayockian jibber-jabber with you!

Both teams had possessions in OT which put the game in sudden death, hence a game ending safety!

Al_Davus
Al_Davus

What da hell is a "walk off safety?"  Thanks for NO EXPLANATION SI! 

dwb_alpha
dwb_alpha

STOP. SAYING. WALK-OFF.  That is a term for baseball, and should only be used when a player hits a home-run in the bottom of 9th or extra innings to end the game.  "Walk-off single" was the stupidest thing I had ever heard until you just said "walk-off safety".  Wow, you are just too cool for school.  I'm leaving the SI site now, so I guess this is my walk-off comment.

anon76
anon76

You can dance all you want to
Back behind the endzone line
But if your receivers don't break out, your o-line isn't stout
So I will end your overtime
I say, you can lose if you want to
Your first place in the North is fine
And you can act like you don't need your 7th win
'Cause the Ravens are so far behind
So you can dance

-Cameron Wake, The Safety Dance.

whardin196
whardin196

Gotta love that the o/u was generally 42.5.  Lot of sick over fans when that "walk-off" happened. Wonder how much Vegas saved on that one?

Brian117
Brian117

Anyone using the term "walk off" to describe a play in sports should turn in their writer's card and send a note of apology to their journalism professor.

btsambirsky
btsambirsky

Walk-off and overtime used in the same sentence.  Is that repetition for emphasis or yet another journalist trying to force the most over-used sports statement into their headline? 

JimNoonan
JimNoonan

A "rare" ending? I'd say "never before happened" ending. But then I'm not a journalist, paid to research and report on sports. Has any NFL game ever ended on a safety in OT?  

UnishowponyWherebeef
UnishowponyWherebeef

The ref said:

"The ruling on the field is confirmed"

The ref did not say:

"The ruling on the field is upheld"

Therefore, there is no controversy and Marvin Lewis should keep his incorrect opinions to himself or face a nice fine.

HarryX
HarryX

yea George, what a boring, underwhelming game.  Yawn.

George
George

I was underwhelmed with both teams - Miami's tackling at times was pathetic, and their defense was weak against the run.

Carrot Top was exposed for the qb that he is (55.4 qb rating with 3 picks) and a game-losing safety.   

Overall, a waste of a Thursday night.

larrybradford
larrybradford

@Al_Davus ....How long have you been watching football Al ?  Was last night your first game....

anon76
anon76

@Al_Davus 

A "walk off" is any play in sports, at the conclusion of which the game ends.  A safety in overtime (or any other points scored in overtime after the 1st offensive possession) is a walk off play, because at the conclusion the game ends.

Jon8
Jon8

What you said!!

rmcjls
rmcjls

@btsambirsky I assume you complain when they call it a "touchdown" too.  "Walk-off" is the term used to describe a scoring play that ends the game, it's not a cliche.

DarrenZancan
DarrenZancan

@btsambirsky The game ended on a safety, meaning the play resulted in the end, a walk-off, not overused, but merely accurate.

jb22
jb22

@JimNoonan How else could it be a game ending safety if not in overtime there genius?  Both of the games mentioned above as happening before were OT.

Jon8
Jon8

Nonsense, it is a perversion of the language of sports being propagated by fools like Mayock, like catching in space (getting open), running downhill ( straight ahead), climbing the ladder (jumping), putting the ball on the ground (fumbling), and a walk-off safety instead of a game ending safety!

If the power had not been restored at last year's Super Bowl, we would have been treated to a walk-off power outage! If lightning resulted in a suspended game, we could have a walk-off lightning strike! If a game was called due to the fans fighting, we could have a walk-off brawl!

Nurse!!!

George
George

@brendans @George Nope.  If I was doomed to be a bungles fan I would have to either move or commit hari kari.   Try again, girlie.