After a slow start to the 2014 season, head coach Mike McCarthy and the Green Bay Packers started to turn their sails towards their sixth straight playoff appearance after convincing wins over the division rival Chicago Bears and Minnesota Vikings to get their record above .500 at 3-2. The week six matchup would take the Packers to Miami, a place the franchise had only one win at in team history against a Dolphins team which held a 10-3 record all-time against them.
In front of an attendance of 70,875 (many of them in green and gold) on a hot 86-degree afternoon inside Sun Life Stadium quarterback Aaron Rodgers got the Packers off to an even hotter start. After the Dolphins won the coin toss and deferred, Rodgers promptly took his offense on a nine play, 80-yard drive which he went 5/5 en route to a nine-yard touchdown strike to Jordy Nelson. The big momentum was short-lived however, as the Dolphins’ return man/receiver Jarvis Landry would take the following kickoff 54 yards to set up quarterback Ryan Tannehill and the Dolphins offense with great field position on the Green Bay 49-yard line. The Dolphins could only muster 15 yards of offense (plus a five-yard neutral zone infraction on Green Bay) and had to settle for a 48-yard field goal which kicked Caleb Sturgis nailed to bring the game to 7-3 halfway through the first quarter.
On the Packers’ second possession Rodgers was sacked by defensive end Cameron Wake on third and 11 forcing head coach McCarthy to send out punter Tim Masthay, whose punt was blocked by defensive lineman Jonathan Freeny and recovered by Miami at the Green Bay 16-yard line. Three plays later, the Dolphins had first and goal from the 4-yard line. A three-yard run by running back Knowshon Moreno brought the ball to the one-yard line, which he then followed up with a run for no gain and Tannehill’s pass on third down fell incomplete bringing up fourth down and goal, from the one-yard line. Dolphin’s head coach, and former Packers’ offensive coordinator, Joe Philbin called Moreno’s number again. Moreno was stuffed two yards behind the line of scrimmage by a gang tackle led by safety Morgan Burnett. After the huge stop the Packers’, starting from their own one-yard line, were able to move the ball to their own 35-yard line before punting the ball and flipping the field, causing the Dolphins to start at their own 27-yard line. Three plays later, cornerback Casey Hayward intercepted Tannehill on a pass intended for Dolphins receiver Jarvis Landry down the right sideline and returned it to the Miami 36-yard line. A 14-yard connection from Rodgers to Nelson brought the ball inside the red zone but a 9-yard sack by Olivier Vernon stalled the Packers’ drive and they settled for a 43-yard field goal by Mason Crosby to extend their lead to 10-3.
After the teams traded punts the next two possessions, a Tannehill pass once again found itself in the hands of a Packer, the culprit on interception two was cornerback, Sam Shields. However, after a series of short passes the Packers’ drive fizzled after two incomplete passes and Masthay punted it back over to Miami. The Dolphins were able to put together consecutive big gains of 11 yards by Mike Wallace and 19 yards by Jarvis Landry before a big sack by Packers’ outside linebacker Mike Neal helped end the drive and punter Brandon Fields booted a touchback. A Rodgers’ kneel down ended the half and the Packers’ went to cool off in the locker room up 10-3.
As the second half opened, both offenses started to heat up starting with the Dolphins. On the second play from scrimmage, Tannehill romped 40 yards around the left end to set up a first and ten on the Green Bay 35-yard line. A pass interference against cornerback Davon House gave the Dolphins the ball inside the red zone on the Packers’ 14-yard line. Three plays later, along with two false starts against Miami offensive lineman, Tannehill found Landry over the middle for their first touchdown of the day to tie the game 10-10. The Packers’ would answer with a grind it out, 14 play series which began with straight runs (five by running back Eddie Lacy, one by Rodgers) which moved the ball to midfield. Three plays later a 24-yard completion to receiver Davante Adams brought the ball to the Miami 18-yard line and a subsequent 11-yard pick up by Nelson moved the ball into first and goal territory. After a short run by fullback John Kuhn and an incomplete pass to Adams, Rodgers connected with receiver Randall Cobb for a touchdown and after a Crosby extra point the green and gold regained the lead at 17-10.
The Packers’ lead would be short-lived however. With starting cornerbacks Sam Shields and Tramon Williams nursing injuries on the Packers’ sidelines the Dolphins offense marched the ball 80 yards on 10 plays aided by 48 yards on the ground by running back Lamar Miller, who also capped off the drive with a five-yard touchdown off right tackle to tie the game back up at 17 apiece. A quick three plays and out by the Packers gave the Dolphins the ball back and Tannehill went right back to work hitting Wallace for 25 yards and after two Miller runs, hit Miller on a short pass where he took the ball up field 20 yards to the Green Bay 26-yard line. Jarvis Landry then joined the party with a 21-yard reception and Wallace finished what he started with a five-yard touchdown reception to give Miami their first lead of the day 24-17 with a little over nine minutes remaining.
Rodgers’ would follow-up Tannehill with three quick strikes of his own, two to Nelson for 36 yards and one to Cobb for seven yards to bring the ball inside Miami territory. Two runs by running back James Starks got the ball inside the red zone before a third and six pass to Nelson fell incomplete prompting coach McCarthy to call out Crosby to make a 30-yard field goal and bring the score to 24-20 with a little more than four minutes remaining and the Packers’ with two timeouts left. The Packers’ defense stood up to the challenge and limited the Dolphins to 17 yards on seven plays, including overcoming an illegal hands to the face call on linebacker Brad Jones which nullified his sack of Tannehill and gave Miami an automatic first down. After a 17-yard punt return by Micah Hyde, Rodgers and the Packers found themselves with 60 yards to go with no timeouts remaining and down by four points, meaning touchdown or bust.
A twelve-yard run by Starks started the drive going into the two-minute warning. A short pass to Starks was followed up by an incomplete pass to tight end Andrew Quarless before disaster was nearly averted. On third down and nine, Rodgers stepped up in the pocket only to be corralled by a slew of Dolphins, and lost the football which was luckily hauled in by guard TJ Lang bringing up fourth down and ten. On fourth down, Rodgers stood and delivered a strike to Nelson for an 18-yard gain, even while taking a blow on the throw. A check down pass to Starks gained another first down, and Rodgers hurried the troops to the line and completed a short pass to Cobb who was unable to get out-of-bounds. With the clock ticking down to 13 seconds remaining, Rodgers got the team set and had everyone thinking he would spike the ball to stop the clock. Rodgers’ had other plans, pulling a trick from former Dolphins’ Hall of Fame quarterback Dan Marino, Rodgers’ took the snap, fake spiked the ball and fired a quick pass out to the right into the hands of Adams who was able to shake cornerback Cortland Finnegan for a 12-yard gain and get out-of-bounds to stop the clock with six seconds remaining. On the next play, following a Dolphins timeout, Rodgers called Quarless’ number. Quarless ran a perfect out route towards the right sideline in the end zone and beat a mismatched linebacker Phillip Wheeler, to catch the game winning touchdown pass for Rodgers with two seconds left on the Sun Life Stadium clock. After a pop up kick by Crosby was fair caught, the Dolphins then performed series of laterals before Miller was taken down by Clay Matthews and the game was over.
Rodgers finished the afternoon 24/42 for 264 yards, three touchdowns and no turnovers while his counterpart Tannehill went 20/31 for 244 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions. Nelson led the receiving corps with nine catches for 107-yards and a touchdown while Landry led the Dolphins with six receptions for 75-yards and a touchdown. The Packers’ would go onto win 8 of their next 10 to finish out the 2014 regular season 12-4. The Dolphins would recover to win their next three games but ultimately finished 8-8 and outside of the playoffs for the sixth straight season.