MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. — Forget handshakes. Don’t worry about resumes.
When you have been with your team less than a week, beating NFL legend Tom Brady with a last-minute interception in the end zone was a fine way for rookie safety Michael Thomas to make an entrance.
Thomas made the biggest defensive play of the game, and quarterback Ryan Tannehill and Marcus Thigpen combined to provide the key play on offense as the Miami Dolphins upset the New England Patriots 24-20 on Sunday at Sun Life Stadium.
“We had a player in there who got in the building on Tuesday,” Dolphins coach Joe Philbin said, referring to Thomas, who was picked up off the San Francisco 49ers’ practice squad. “Our coaches spent extra time with this guy. All the credit goes to our staff.”
Thomas, who was undrafted out of Stanford in 2012 and had spent all his time since on the 49ers’ practice squad, deserves praise, too, of course.
On his interception, he foiled Brady, who was facing a fourth-and-5 from the Miami 14 with seven seconds left.
Four plays before his interception, he managed to dislodge the ball from Patriots wide receiver Danny Amendola, who had both of his hands on the ball in the end zone before the rookie disrupted things.
Could Philbin share some insight on who exactly is Michael Thomas?
“I don’t know him awful well,” Philbin said. “He is a serious guy. He came in to work every day. He spent a lot of time with our staff because he was so far behind. He is a bright guy. He picks thing up. We needed him, and he contributed.”
Tannehill, a player Philbin is a lot more familiar with, also came through in the clutch. He completed 25 of 37 passes for 312 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions.
With Miami trailing 20-17 and 4:07 left on the clock, the Dolphins took over at their own 40 after a crucial mistake by New England’s Stephen Gostkowski, who booted the ball out of bounds.
Tannehill needed nine plays and 2:52 off the clock to drive the team 60 yards, capping the drive with his 14-yard touchdown pass to Thigpen.
“It looked like Thigpen ran an inside route and was able to turn back out for a good catch,” Patriots coach Bill Belichick said.
But perhaps Tannehill’s biggest play of the game came earlier in that same drive, when he was faced with a fourth-and-5 play. Tannehill hit tight end Charles Clay for a 6-yard gain to keep the drive alive.
“We usually want to hit that play a little quicker,” Tannehill said. “(Clay) had press coverage, and a guy came in my face with his hands up. So I had to throw it around (the defender) — just a great effort by Charles to make the catch and get the first down.”
Brady passed for 364 yards, two touchdowns and the one interception.
“We had plenty of chances all day,” said Brady, who spoke to the media for about one minute. “We made some good plays, and we made some (expletive) plays. Thank you.”
The Dolphins (8-6) won their third straight game and kept the Patriots (10-4) from clinching the AFC East for the fifth straight year. The Patriots can still clinch with one win or tie or one Dolphins tie or loss in the next two weeks.
New England had its three-game win streak snapped. New England’s streak of seven consecutive wins over the Dolphins — dating to Dec. 6, 2009 — also ended.
Three wide receivers eclipsed 100 yards on Sunday — the Dolphins’ Mike Wallace (six catches, 105 yards), and the Patriots’ Amendola (10 catches, 131 yards) and Julian Edelman (13 catches, 139 yards).
The Dolphins trailed 10-0 in the second quarter but got back in the game when Tannehill tossed a 39-yard touchdown pass to Wallace with 32 seconds left in the first half. Wallace took a slant pass, broke a tackle try by cornerback Marquice Cole and scored.
The Dolphins tied the score 10-10 when they ended their first drive of the second half with a 32-yard field goal by Caleb Sturgis.
The Dolphins then took their first lead at 17-10 when Tannehil hit running back Daniel Thomas with a two-yard TD pass in the right flat.
New England battled back with a 23-yard field goal by Gostkowski — he had missed wide left on a 48-yarder to start the third quarter — and the Patriots regained the lead on Brady’s 24-yard TD pass to Edelman with 4:07 left in the game.
Then, after the Dolphins took their 24-20 lead, all Tannehill could do was watch for the final 1:15.
“Those were the longest 75 seconds of my life,” he said.
NOTES: Attendance was 71,863. .. Patriots LT Nate Solder suffered a head injury in the second half and did not return. … Dolphins DT Paul Soliai (ankle) and CB Nolan Carroll (knee) aggravated existing injuries Sunday. … Among the Patriots’ top four WRs, two of them were out with injuries Sunday — Aaron Dobson (foot) and Kenbrell Thompkins (hips). … The Patriots close the regular season with games Sunday at Baltimore and Dec. 29 at home vs. Buffalo. … The Dolphins end their regular season with games Sunday at Buffalo and Dec. 29 at home vs. the Jets.