The last and best one standing turned out to be -- drum roll, please -- Tyler Thigpen.
"Obviously, you have to take advantage of your opportunities," Thigpen said Sunday.
Obviously, a No. 3 quarterback doesn't get many of those, which made the Miami Dolphins' zany 29-17 defeat of the practically Randy Moss-less Tennessee Titans at Sun Life Stadium ever zanier. Thigpen, the fourth-year pro who had completed a total of six passes the last two seasons combined, had taken exactly zero -- repeat: none -- snaps with Miami's first-team offense during practice all year.
Not all last week, mind you.
All year, including the offseason and training camp.
"Whatever you have to do to win," Thigpen said. "Whatever it takes."
For the Dolphins (5-4) to win their first home game of the year and stay relevant in the AFC wild-card chase, it took a paddle-wheel of four guys playing quarterback (make that five, if you want to count the pass wideout Brandon Marshall threw on a third-quarter gadget play). The conga line of QBs reduced much-hyped debut of the malcontent Moss (1 catch late in the game for 24 yards) in a Titans uniform to an insignificant footnote.
(Note to footnote: Thank you!)
In South Florida, the big pre-game storyline was last week's decision by Coach Tony Sparano to bench Chad Henne, who the club committed to last season as its future franchise QB, for 11-year veteran Chad Pennington, who helped guide the team to a division title two years ago.
The new Pennington era last two plays.
On his second snap from scrimmage, Pennington was hit by defensive end Jason Babin and his arm was bent awkwardly while throwing a 19-yard completion to Brian Hartline. Out went Pennington with shoulder injury -- he's facing his third shoulder injury in five years -- and in came Henne, who immediately took his spot at wide receiver while Ronnie Brown ran a couple "Wildcat" plays. Henne's third play was an 11-yard touchdown pass that set up a 2-yard touchdown run by Brown and a 7-0 Miami lead.
Just like that, it was Henne's offense again.
And then it wasn't.
With Miami ahead 20-17 and just over a minute to play in the third quarter, the Titans pass rush made like a meat-grinder with Henne the hamburger. After lying prone on the field with a knee injury for several minutes, Henne walked off on his own power. Thigpen, though, did not come in.
By NFL rules, if the designated No. 3 quarterback enters the game before the fourth quarter, Nos. 1 and 2 cannot return. Because the Dolphins weren't certain about Henne's status, they had to play it safe. Which meant playing the Wildcat at least through the end of the quarter.
"It all felt a little different," Brown said of the quarterback carousel. "At the same time, you don't really expect that, but when it [happens] you have to react."
Here's how the Dolphins reacted: the much-maligned Wildcat, so ineffectiveness this season that it wasn't even part of the Tennessee game plan, went for Ricky Williams rushing gains of 14 and 23 yards to end the quarter. Thigpen check in the third play of the final period, throwing an incomplete pass on third-and-6 before Dan Carpenter kicked a 42-yard field goal for a 23-17 lead.
"The thing about this league, anything can happen out there. It's all about how you react," Dolphins receiver Devone Bess said. "It's a matter of how you deal with it."
Miami dealt with their QB issues better than Tennessee did. Kerry Collins got the start due to a sore ankle for Vince Young, but was badly off target throughout the first half (9 of 20 for 51 yards), so the Titans decided to go with Young after intermission. Young led a second-half touchdown drive on his second possession but the Dolphins stopped him two yards shy of a first down on a fourth-quarter scramble to force a punt.
In came Thigpen to play QB for real.
"We spent a lot of time talking about people having to be prepared and spending a little bit more time [getting ready]," Sparano said. "This guy was."
Up by just six and backed up at his 16, Thigpen hit Marshall for a 16-yard gain on the second play of the drive. On the next play, Thigpen bootlegged to his right, avoided a defender and just before running out of bounds hoisted a perfect pass for tight end Anthony Fasano for a 31-yard gain. The Titans committed a face-mask penalty on the play, moving the ball to the Tennessee 23.
Six plays later, Fasano fired a 9-yard touchdown strike to Fasano to seal the game.
"He doesn't take a rep all week," Sparano said, clearly impressed (if not amazed).
He will take some this week. The Dolphins play host to the Chicago Bears (6-3) Thursday night and Henne, speaking to reporters on crutches afterward and his optimism notwithstanding, didn't look like a quarterback who will be ready on a short week.
"I have to go get an MRI at 6:30 [Monday] morning and we'll see what happens from there," said Henne, who became just the fifth player in team history to throw for over 5,000 career yards. "It doesn't feel good, but for me, if I can stand on it and I can run on it I'm going to be playing. So whatever happens, we'll see."
Whatever it takes, right?
For the Dolphins this season, it appears it's going to take Tyler Thigpen.
"If I do get the start," he said, "I'm going to be physically ready to go ... and mentally ready to go."
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