The Miami Dolphins beat the Arizona Cardinals on Sunday, coming away with the 26-23 victory and putting themselves back into a tie for an AFC Wildcard position. The Playoffs nor the win were the main topic of discussion after the game for the players, however, as everyone focused on a likely season-ending knee injury to Quarterback Ryan Tannehill.
“My heart breaks,” backup - and now presumed starting - quarterback Matt Moore said after the game. “I know how much that guy puts his heart and soul into this and hard work. I just hope it’s nothing crazy. I wish him the best, but it’s hard to see. I just wish him the best, and hopefully it’s not terrible.”
“It’s tough, very, very tough,” defensive end Andre Branch told reporters. “He’s the leader of our team but we’ve been preaching this for the entire season. It’s the next man up mentality. Ryan assured us that he’ll definitely be in this still be leading us, just not on the field. So for us we got to pick it up on defense more, and whatever we got to do to win the next game is what we got to do.”
Tannehill was injured late in the third quarter on a first down pass attempt. The Dolphins were up 21-9 at the time, with just under two minutes remaining in the period and were looking to end any hope the Cardinals had of mounting a comeback. Tannehill threw a pass to wide receiver DeVante Parker, who picked up 11 yards on the reception. Tannehill, however, was hit in the knee just after he delivered the pass, a hit that appeared to bend the knee backwards and send the 2012 first-round pick to the turf. He laid on the ground with trainers looking at him for several minutes before limping to the sideline. He eventually limped off the field and back to the locker room.
“We know it’s the next man up mentality,” safety Walt Aikens said. “And that’s every position on this football team, we knew Matt Moore would come in and do what he needed to do. That’s just the way it goes in the NFL, anybody goes down, you got to have the next man ready to step up.”
Guard Jermon Bushrod added, “I mean that’s what happens when you go low. That’s just what happens and we’ve got to continue to…I don’t know man. We fight to protect quarterbacks. That’s just a tough situation.”
The hit looked similar to a hit in 2008 when New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady was hit low and tore both his ACL and MCL. The league ultimately adjusted the rules to protect quarterbacks’ knees, making it illegal to lunge into their legs. There was no flag on the play for the hit on Tannehill Sunday.
“I don’t know, I don’t know,” Bushrod added on if he thought there should have been a penalty on the hit. “I’m not going to comment on that. I just wish it didn’t happen.”
Wide receiver Jarvis Landry spoke about the emotions swirling after seeing Tannehill get injured, “It’s always a troubling thing when you see somebody go down and they don’t get back up. For us, we have no details with his condition or what’s going on; but we’re going to handle things as if he’s our starting quarterback.
“I just told him that we’re going to get this win for him, no matter what,” Landry continued. “I don’t care if we have to play eight quarters, nine quarters, we’re going to get this one for him and I promised him that and we made it happen.”
“I didn’t see what happened on the play, but I’ve had a chance to talk to him and tell him that everything is going to be alright and that we’re praying for him,” wide receiver Kenny Stills
Dolphins defensive end Cameron Wake returned this season after an Achilles tear ended his 2015 campaign. He was asked about what happens when a team’s quarterback is lost for the season, “It’s unfortunate to say injuries are part of the game. It’s sad to think that there are very few other people that play sports that have to say that. But when he did go down – and I don’t know what the diagnosis is, I’m sure they’re on their way to get that figured out now – whether it’s him, quarterback, or any other player, you want to make sure that the next guys up step up, the rest of the team as a whole. (Ryan Tannehill) is a big part of this team, obviously. (He’s) a big part of the wins that we’ve had, the success we’ve had. Not just the next guy up, but every man on the team has to step up and try their best to fill that void. Matt Moore obviously came in and he did his job. Again, (Moore is) a guy who I have tremendous confidence in from obviously playing with him for such a long time. (He) came in and did his job and allowed us to put us in a position to win the game.”
During the fourth quarter, Tannehill returned to the sideline wearing street clothes. He spent much of the time sitting on the bench with his leg up, but he was clearly talking to other players and trying to do anything he could from the unexpected position on the sideline. “He was still involved in the game, which I give him a lot of credit,” Landry said. “I don’t know what he’s going through, but for him to come out and still be involved in the game, helping guys out, telling guys what he sees, in (Head) Coach (Adam) Gase’s ear, as well. It says a lot about Ryan Tannehill.”
“I told him I loved him,” Moore said of what he spoke to Tannehill about in the locker room after the game. “I said, ‘This team – regardless of what your situation is – this team still needs you,’ and he agreed and said, ‘I’m there.’ He said, ‘Let’s go win one game at a time.’”
The Dolphins are now tied for the final position in the Playoffs, with three games remaining on the schedule. All three of those games are against AFC East division rivals, starting with a Saturday night game against the New York Jets. If the Dolphins are going to make the postseason this year, the team’s reliance on the “next man up” mentality will absolutely have to happen as Moore starts his first game since 2011.