On third down at the 45, the Dolphins talked about getting pressure on St. Louis quarterback Sam Bradford at any cost.
Down by three points, if the Rams picked up a nice chunk of yardage, they would have been in prime real estate for a tying field goal.
“We tried to put as much pressure on him as we could,” Olivier Vernon said. “A batted down pass, some pressure so he would throw over the receiver or into the ground. We had to do something. We knew we couldn’t let them get into field-goal range.”
Vernon took business into his own hands as the rookie out of the University Miami had his professional coming out party in the Dolphins 17-14 win. Vernon came up the middle and took down Bradford for a three-yard loss.
“It was a great feeling,” Vernon said.
The Rams decided to try and give the strong-legged Greg Zuerlein a chance at an NFL record with a 66-yard attempt, one that had the distance but was off wide left.
“I’m so happy. I feel blessed to be able to make a play for the team,” said Vernon, who ended with two sacks, four tackles and three hits on Bradford.”
Vernon almost wasn’t on the field for the Rams’ final offensive play. In the second quarter, Vernon went down after rolling his ankle on a kickoff return after the Dolphins’ first touchdown.
After missing little time, Vernon was back on the field.
“It takes a lot to keep me out of a game,” Vernon said. “I felt like I was good. I just needed a little tape, a little gum and I was good.”
Said Cameron Wake: “He was [like] Paul Pierce, with the drama. That shows the kind of competitor he is. This is a man’s game. It sounds harsh, but nobody cares about your injuries. They want you out there, making plays. ‘What are you going to do for me now?’ I’m glad he’s on my team.”
Vernon, a third round pick from UM, came up with a big sack of Bradford earlier in the game. With St. Louis up 6-0 and driving in the second, Vernon hit Bradford for a loss of eight yards on a third-and-six from the Dolphins’ 26. Vernon came off the line untouched and hit Bradford as he was still backpedaling out of a shotgun formation.
On the next play, Zuerlein missed his first field goal of the season — in what would be a string of three consecutive field goal misses in the game.
The win was sweet for Vernon and the Dolphins, who had struggled in close games earlier this season. The Dolphins lost overtime games to the Jets and Cardinals, but have now held on to take out the Bengals and Rams in successive weeks.
“Everyone is playing as one on both offense and defense. We know we can win,” said Vernon, a graduate of Miami American High.
“Everyone has doubted us throughout the year. Even me, growing up, people have been doubting the Dolphins. This is a good win for us, shows we can win in a dogfight. Those overtime games, we can finish them now. We needed to prove that to ourselves.”
Vernon planned to celebrate the victory the way he usually does after each home game: By joining his dad’s tailgate outside the stadium. “You want to play good in front of your family,” Vernon said, “represent the name. It’s good to have them all here supporting you.”
Vernon enjoyed those postgame tailgates after Hurricanes games as well — he spent three seasons playing for the University of Miami at Sun Life Stadium before deciding to leave early after an abbreviated junior season.
Vernon had 1.5 sacks in six games for Miami last year after being suspended for the first six as part of the Nevin Shapiro investigation.
“He’s one of those guys who works really hard,” teammate Koa Misi said of Vernon’s big game. “He’s a rookie we can depend on. He makes plays. He made big plays [Sunday]. He’s quick and hustles to the ball. He’s good.”