Photo courtesy of New York Jets
For the Miami Dolphins, the middle parts of the 2000’s weren’t particularly special times, but there were some moments.
One of those moments came on this day 15 years ago as the Dolphins completed a comeback for the ages. Capped by a last-second touchdown pass from Sage Rosenfels to Chris Chambers, Miami rallied from 20 points down in the fourth quarter to beat the Buffalo Bills, 24-23.
Setting the Stage
Not much was on the line as the Dolphins and Bills arrived at Dolphin Stadium on Dec. 4, 2005. Both teams were 4-7 and virtually out of the playoff hunt.
After a 3-7 start, Miami was coming off a win over the Oakland Raiders. The Bills had dropped four of five after a 3-3 start, but was in control for most of the day.
Things seemed to be going from bad to worse for the Dolphins early in the third quarter. Miami trailed 21-3 when quarterback Gus Frerotte was sacked in the end zone for a safety. Frerotte was injured on the play and the Dolphins were forced to turn to backup Sage Rosenfels.
Buffalo looked like it would take the ensuing drive the distance, but on 1st-and-goal from the Dolphins’ 3-yard-line, cornerback Sam Madison intercepted quarterback J.P. Losman. Few would have guessed at the time, but the play breathed new life into the Miami defense.
After an empty possession that ended inside the Bills’ 10-yard-line, Rosenfels and the Miami offense got going. On the Dolphins’ first possession of the fourth quarter, Rosenfels drove Miami 70 yards. The march was capped with a 5-yard touchdown run by Ricky Williams.
The next drive for the Dolphins started in Buffalo territory. Rosenfels completed five passes on the drive, including a 23-yard touchdown toss to Ronnie Brown on 3rd-and-13. With more than half a quarter to play, the Dolphins were down just 23-17.
Miami would get the stop it needed, but with more than three minutes to play, Buffalo defensive end Aaron Schobel intercepted Rosenfels for what looked like the game-sealing pick. With two timeouts left, the Dolphins got a timely stop to give Rosenfels and the offense one last shot.
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With less than two minutes to play, the Dolphins took over at their own 27-yard-line. On the final drive, it was the Chris Chambers show.
Chambers broke the Dolphins’ single-game record with 238 yards receiving and caught three passes on the final drive, including a 57-yard reception that put Miami in the red zone. After an 8-yard reception by Chambers gave Miami 1st-and-goal from the 1, the Dolphins had consecutive incomplete passes before an illegal touch moved the ball back to the 6.
On 3rd-and-goal, Rosenfels scrambled for two yards to the 4-yard-line. On 4th-and-goal, it came down to one play. There was no question where the ball was going.
With time ticking away, Rosenfels threw a fade to Chambers. Chambers was able to go high and grab the football in front of Buffalo’s Jabari Greer with just six seconds remaining. Olindo Mare’s extra point won it for the Dolphins, 24-23.
Prior to Miami’s improbable rally, the game’s only touchdowns had been scored in the first quarter. Losman found Lee Evans for touchdown passes of 46, 56 and four yards in the first 12:46 of the contest.
Miami got on the board on Mare’s 23-yard field goal in the final minute of the first half.
The Dolphins finished with 434 yards of offense in the victory. Chambers’ record of 238 yards receiving would last seven seasons before being beat by Brian Hartline. His 15 catches remains a club record.
Rosenfels finished with 272 yards passing in the win. Buffalo’s Willis McGahee led all rushers with 81 yards. Evans finished with five catches for 117 yards to lead the Bills in the loss.
Under first-year head coach Nick Saban, the Dolphins would be sparked by the improbable comeback. The Dolphins won their final six games of the season to finish 9-7. It marked the eighth winning season in nine years for the Dolphins.
As for the Bills, they won just once more during a 5-11 campaign. The heartbreaking loss helped lead to the dismissal of head coach Mike Mularkey.
For the Dolphins, the win served as their biggest comeback in 31 years. It remains their biggest fourth-quarter comeback ever. It happened on this day 15 years ago.