MIAMI — Their lead in jeopardy, the Miami Dolphins preserved it by batting down a 2-point conversion pass with less than three minutes left.
Next, instant replay saved them from a potentially costly fumble. Then they needed one final defensive stand, which ended at midfield with an incomplete pass on fourth down.
Winning’s not easy — as the Dolphins know all too well. They withstood a frantic rally by injury-riddled Seattle to win 21-19 Sunday and climb above .500 for the first time since the end of the 2005 season.
“It stresses me out,” guard Justin Smiley said of the wild finish. “I’ve got bad nerves as it is. I’m sure it was awesome for the fans, but it was nerve-racking.”
Miami scored one long touchdown on a flea-flicker and another with a new play from its Wildcat formation. But their biggest surprise is a 5-4 record.
After going 1-15 last season, Miami has won three games in a row and is only one game out of first place in the tight AFC East.
“At the beginning of the season, no one probably expected it,” running back Ricky Williams said. “But we knew we had something special here.”
The Dolphins’ sizable bag of tricks saved them on a day the offense sputtered. The Wildcat — shut out in the past three games — produced scores on a 51-yard run by Williams and a 16-yard run by Ronnie Brown. Ted Ginn Jr. scored his first touchdown this season when he made a fingertip catch in the end zone of a 39-yard pass from Chad Pennington on a flea-flicker.
Williams ran for 105 yards on 12 carries — his first 100-yard game since Jan. 1, 2006. It almost wasn’t enough.
The Seahawks (2-7) trailed for the final 53 minutes but nearly forced overtime.
“We have a lot of people banged up, but we’re all fighting,” said backup quarterback Seneca Wallace, who started his fourth game in a row. “We came up a little short.”
Koren Robinson dropped a pass in the end zone in the third quarter but caught a 3-yard touchdown pass from Wallace with 2:57 left to make the score 21-19.
On the 2-point conversion try, Seattle was pushed back to the 8 because of a false start, and Yeremiah Bell batted away Wallace’s pass at the goal line.
Seattle recovered a fumble inside the Miami 30 on the next series, but officials reviewed the play and ruled Pennington was down before the ball came loose. The Dolphins then punted, and Seattle advanced to the Miami 49 before Wallace’s pass glanced off the hands of John Carlson on fourth-and-10 with 18 seconds left.
“Hey, nobody said this was going to be easy,” Miami coach Tony Sparano said. “Not in this league.”
The Seahawks’ first touchdown came on Jordan Babineaux’s 35-yard interception return, after the Dolphins used trickery to score touchdowns on their first two possessions for a 14-0 lead.
A 90-yard drive ended when Brown took a handoff and flipped the ball back to Pennington, who hit a well-covered Ginn in the end zone.
“Chad put it in a great spot,” Ginn said. “I just threw my hands out there. It was right in the breadbasket.”
The Dolphins gave the Wildcat a fresh twist to strike again. Brown took a direct snap and handed to Williams running straight ahead, where he found a gaping hole to score untouched.
For the day, the Wildcat netted 82 yards in seven plays. The funky formation has produced eight touchdowns this season.
“Our offense is versatile,” Williams said. “We just try to take what other teams are giving us. If they’re not giving us much, we have to create.”
A mistake by Pennington let the Seahawks back into the game. When he threw under pressure, Babineaux stepped in front of the intended receiver for an interception — only Seattle’s fourth this season — and sprinted to the end zone.
But the Seahawks never overcame the early deficit.
“It’s a little bit like Groundhog Day for us,” coach Mike Holmgren said. “The team showed great fortitude after falling behind 14-0 early, and looking pretty bad doing it. … Too little, too late.”