MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. (AP) — Jubilant to be 3-0 for the first time in 11 years, the Miami Dolphins doused coach Joe Philbin in the locker room with a bucket of icy sports drink.
The players believe they're practicing for celebrations to come.
Surprising Miami rallied Sunday with a 75-yard touchdown drive in the final 5 minutes, scoring with 38 seconds to go to beat the Atlanta Falcons 27-23.
The three-game start is the best by Miami since 2002, and never mind that those Dolphins didn't make the playoffs.
"We have a special team," receiver Brian Hartline said. "Expectations will continue to rise, and high expectations bring out the best in you. We welcome it."
Backup tight end Dion Sims, a rookie, made a one-handed catch of Ryan Tannehill's 1-yard pass for the decisive touchdown.
"Awesome," Sims said of his first NFL score. "Amazing."
Atlanta led 10-0 and 20-10 and lost despite advantages of 24-16 in first downs, 377-285 in yards, 5-0 in sacks and 37-23 in time of possession minutes.
"Statistics don't always tell the whole story," Atlanta quarterback Matt Ryan said.
The injury-plagued Falcons, who were one play from the Super Bowl last season, fell to 1-2. Here are five things we learned in Miami's defeat of Atlanta:
1. MISSED CHANCES: The Falcons stalled four times in scoring territory, and Matt Bryant went 3 for 4 on field goals, missing a 35-yarder that would have given them a six-point lead with less than 5 minutes left.
Ryan led drives of 14, 11 and 13 plays on the first three possessions, but twice Atlanta settled for field goals. As a result, the Falcons' lead was only 13-10 at halftime, even though they kept the ball for nearly 23 minutes in the first half.
"We had a lot of opportunities to finish the game," Ryan said. "We just didn't get it done in the red zone. We have to find a way to punch it in."
2. TANNEHILL LEADS RALLY: The last-minute comeback victory was the first for Miami's second-year QB. Tannehill finished 24 for 35 for 236 yards and two scores, shook off two turnovers and was at his best at the end of each half.
On the final drive Tannehill went 8 for 11 for 69 yards, with two of the incompletions because of dropped passes. The winner came on second down, when Tannehill lobbed his throw over linebacker Stephen Nicholas to Sims.
Tannehill suggested the play to his coaches during a timeout just beforehand.
His other scoring pass was an 18-yarder to Hartline to make it 20-20 late in the third quarter. Tannehill also moved Miami 60 yards in the final 2:04 of the first half for a field goal on the final play.
3. DEFENSE DIGS IN: The Dolphins lost defensive end Cameron Wake (knee) and linebacker Koa Misi (shoulder) to injuries, but the defense dug in after a slow start.
At one point the Dolphins trailed in total yards by 127-3. Ryan finished with 231 yards passing, and in the absence of Steven Jackson — one of several sidelined Falcons — Jacquizz Rodgers and Jason Snelling combined for 139 yards rushing.
But consecutive possessions by Atlanta in the second half netted a total of 10 yards, which allowed the Dolphins to rally.
"Guys had to step up," said first-round draft pick Dion Jordan, who came off the bench to see his most extensive action of the season. "We stuck together and it came up big."
4. SPECIAL TEAMS TURNOVER: Despite the contributions by Jordan and Sims, the biggest play by a rookie may have come from seventh-round draft choice Don Jones.
A jarring tackle by Jones on punt returner Harry Douglas forced a fumble the Dolphins recovered to set up the touchdown that made the score 20-all.
"Biggest play of the game," Miami receiver Mike Wallace said.
5. HOME-FIELD ADVANTAGE: The Dolphins are only 35-46 at home since 2003, and they've often played in a half-empty stadium in recent years.
But an enthusiastic crowd of 70,660 reflected the buzz building about the home team. After Hartline's touchdown, he jumped on the bench and waved both arms to encourage more noise from the crowd.
The place could really be rocking in two weeks when the Dolphins play defending Super Bowl champion Baltimore. First comes a game at New Orleans next Monday night.
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