The football season everyone still wants at Sun Life Stadium is the one that appeared for a few hours Sunday. The defense rose up in the end. The offense did just enough. And an unknown guard named Sam Brenner shuffled through text messages on his phone afterward at his locker.
"My mom says she loves me,'' said Brenner, elevated from the practice squad to starter in the Dolphins 20-16 win against San Diego. "My dad basically says, 'Attaboy, son.' ''
Dolphins fans still want a Norman Rockwell scene like this and still want to talk about their team's resuscitated playoff hopes, even if they're out on a ledge as they talk. That remains the strained romance between them and this team.
- Bio | E-mail | Recent columns
- Dave Hyde and Omar Kelly discuss the Miami Dolphins win.
- Joe Philbin 'I felt confident that they would come out and play hard'
- Ryan Tannehill 'We still have our confidence'
- Photos: Dolphins 20, Chargers 16
- Jonathan Martin's Top 25 most telling tweets
- Brenner talks about his first NFL start.
- Video: Jonathan Martin finally breaks his silence
- Professional Football
- Miami Dolphins
See more topics »
"You know how good that felt to get that win?" defensive end Cameron Wake said to a group of reporters but, mainly, to himself.
He needed Sunday. Everyone in the locker room did after the past few weeks. The reality is the Dolphins won despite the same shortcomings of stopping the run and scoring enough points that lost five of six previous games.
The reality is absent linemen Jonathan Martin and Richie Incognito remain the face of the franchise nationally. The reality is NFL investigator Ted Wells comes to town on Monday to begin talking with players about what they knew, if anything, in the story that's a runaway train inside the Dolphins organization.
"It's too early, way too early to think about that,'' cornerback Brent Grimes said. "All we can do is think about the next week."
It was Grimes who made the final play on a day full of small heroics. There was the sack by Wake that forced San Diego to use its final time-out with 56 seconds left.
There were two previous sacks in the fourth quarter by Jared Odrick and Olivier Vernon. There also was tight end Charles Clay taking a five-yard catch, running over San Diego safety Marques Gilchrist and turning in the kind of 39-yard touchdown this team has had few of this year.
"We've struggled — let's put it on the table — to make real big, explosive plays and we need more of them,'' coach Joe Philbin said. "Sometimes you just have to have a player decide that he's going to break some tackles and kind of make it on his own … he made it."
Then there was the final play of the game, with Philip Rivers taking the snap from the Dolphins' 25-yard line, and throwing the ball up for grabs in the end zone between the 5-9 Grimes against 5-11 San Diego receiver Vincent Brown.
"I was just thinking to attack the ball,'' Grimes said.
He's been the most consistent player on the team, game to game, month to month now. He had his third interception of the year in the first quarter. Now he jumped as he high as could and knocked down San Diego's final chance.
"Now we've got to do the same thing next week,'' Grimes said. "That's the position we're in."
What this meant is the Dolphins can play through this season as a football story as well as a legal story. They're a flawed team. Ryan Matthews ran for 127 yards on them Sunday.
Ryan Tannehill was sacked three more times. And there was Brenner, elevated from the practice squad to a starter, on a line that was missing three starters.
But some flawed team will make the playoffs. The Jets (5-5) lost to Buffalo on Sunday. Baltimore (4-6), Cleveland (4-6) and San Diego (4-6) all lost on Sunday. Someone has to fill the sixth playoff spot.
"We've got a chance, and that's all you want,'' Odrick said.
After all they've been through, a chance is all any fan wants. They got a few hours of the season everyone wanted on Sunday. Where it leads is anyone's guess.