Miami defensive back Jimmy Wilson strip-sacked Tom Brady, knocking the ball loose in the backfield. All the Dolphins had to do was fall on it to take possession and stop the New England Patriots from putting the game out of reach.
Instead, Miami lineman Olivier Vernon was penalized for batting the ball forward as he reached to bring it in, giving the Patriots a key first down during an 82-yard touchdown drive that helped them clinch a 27-17 victory on Sunday.
"I was trying to make a play, but the referee made the call," Vernon said. "It impacted a lot. The game just didn't go our way."
Thanks in part to an interception on New England's second play from scrimmage, the Dolphins opened a 14-0 lead over the AFC East-leading Patriots. But New England allowed just one more field goal while scoring 24 straight points after trailing by two touchdowns early.
Miami had its chances, missing a 46-yard field goal early in the second half that could have given the Dolphins a 17-point lead. And Ryan Tannehill was intercepted on a long throw down the right sideline when Devin McCourty, unable to stay in bounds, tipped the pass back toward the field of play, and Marquice Cole managed to catch it while keeping his feet inbounds.
The Patriots went 82 yards, scoring on Stevan Ridley 3-yard touchdown run that gave them a 27-17 lead midway through the fourth quarter.
"That was a big play, but there are a lot of big plays in the game," Tannehill said. "It was a big swing in field position — I think it was a 35-yard swing in field position right there — but we had our chances to make an opportunity and it didn't come down to that one play."
Trailing 17-3 after gaining just 59 yards in the opening half, the Patriots quickly turned the game around in the third quarter with two touchdowns in a span of seven plays. The Patriots (6-2) outscored the Dolphins (3-4) in the third quarter 17-0 to send Miami to its fourth consecutive loss.
Brady completed 13 of 22 passes, only the fifth time this season he went over 50 percent, and threw a 14-yard touchdown pass to Aaron Dobson with 6:32 gone in the third quarter. He threw for 76 of his 116 yards in the third, a quarter in which New England was outscored 44-9 in its first seven games.
New England got the ball for the second time in the third quarter after Caleb Sturgis' 46-yard field goal attempt hit the right upright.
Ridley rushed 23 yards to the Miami 41, a 23-yard completion to Rob Gronkowski moved the ball to the 18 and Brandon Bolden ran 4 yards. Then Brady threw his touchdown pass to Dobson, cutting the deficit to 17-10.
The Patriots regained possession two plays after the kickoff when Logan Ryan sacked Tannehill, forcing a fumble that was recovered by Rob Ninkovich at the Miami 13. It was one of six sacks against Tannehill, who began the game having been sacked an NFL-high 26 times.
Three plays later, Bolden scored on a 2-yard run. Stephen Gostkowski's extra point tied it at 17 with 6:42 left in the quarter.
New England took the lead for good when Gostkowski's 48-yard field goal made it 20-17 with 8 seconds left in the third period.
Miami rushed for 103 yards in the first half, more than it picked up in four of its six games this season. And Brady was held to six completions on eight attempts for just 25 yards.
Brady's first pass of the game was intercepted by Dimitri Patterson and returned 2 yards to the Patriots 40. That set up an 11-play drive capped by Tannehill's 4-yard touchdown pass to Brandon Gibson. But Gibson left the game later in the first quarter with a knee injury and didn't return.
Tannehill, who threw a career-high three touchdown passes a week earlier in a 23-21 loss to the Buffalo Bills, made it 14-0 on a 5-yard scoring pass to Daniel Thomas about five minutes into the second quarter.
The Patriots scored with 3:43 left in the half on Gostkowski's 34-yard field goal, but Sturgis connected on a 52-yard field goal for the Dolphins 30 seconds before intermission.