The clock on the wall said the game was over nearly an hour now, but the Dolphins locker room remained full of players and media. The room filled with optimism for the first December in years to chart a path into January.
Offensive coordinator Mike Sherman, in street clothes now, went down the line of offensive linemen at their lockers and man-hugged each one. General Manager Jeff Ireland shook hands and traded smiles with receiver Mike Wallace.
Almost an hour before, Tom Brady's final pass ended in the arms of unknown Dolphin safety Michael Thomas, who still sat in uniform. He explained how he signed with the team five days ago, still didn't want to move beyond this moment.
And around a corner, joking with a couple of locker-room attendants, came the man who put the full smile of hope into this December. Ryan Tannehill out-Brady'd Tom Brady this Sunday. He led his team back from the brink and a 24-20 win.
This was the second straight game against a Super Bowl quarterback, that Tannehill led a winning, fourth-quarter drive to show he is becoming everything this franchise hoped, everything it has lacked since No. 13 left the stadium.
The previous week in Pittsburgh, Tannehill watched Ben Roethlisberger throw his Steelers to the lead before leading the Dolphins back for the win. Now he stood on the sideline with a few minutes left and watched Brady throw his Patriots into the lead, 20-17.
"He turned to us and said, 'We did it last week, no reason we can't do it this week,' '' tackle Bryant McKinnie said. "And that's the attitude we all took out on the field with us. We expected to score."
Their previous series, the one that gave the ball back to Brady for the score, hadn't gone any way Tannehill hoped. He wanted to melt some clock with seven minutes left and up, 17-13. He underthrew Wallace, who was open deep. He handed Brady back the ball after just 62 seconds.
"Not what we wanted to do,'' Wallace said.
It's not a straight incline up the mountain for a young NFL quarterback. Ask Indianapolis' Andrew Luck, who has struggled without help this year. Ask Washington's Robert Griffin III, who is struggling, period.
Tannehill's two-year journey hasn't been without questions, concerns. But as he showed again in this end, the progress through this second December suggests, more and more, the outline of a franchise quarterback.
He took over at the Dolphins' 40, thanks to New England kicking out of bounds, and promptly threw an incompletion and was sacked for a loss of six. He made up some ground on third down, passing 11 yards over the middle to Brian Hartline.
Now came the telling play. Fourth-and-five. There was 2:41 left. Coach Joe Philbin wasn't going to punt the way Brady had just sliced up his defense. A simple play to tight end Charles Clay was called.
"A guy came in my face with his hands up, so I had to throw it around him,'' said Tannehill, who completed 25 of 37 passes for 312 yards and three touchdowns.
Clay had to adjust on his catch, then ripped off a six-yard gain for the first down. Tannehill's offense felt good now.
"That was life for us,'' McKinnie said. "You can see (Tannehill) growing more. He's communicating with the receivers more, telling them what he wants them to do. And it's paying off."
Tannehill completed a couple short passes, then one for 24 yards down the sideline to Rishard Matthews. Now came the touchdown pass to Marcus Thigpen.
"I couldn't really see him at all,'' Tannehill said, as he threw behind the 6-8 McKinnie. "I trusted him, threw it out there and he made the adjustment and got in the end zone."
That was the touchdown Brady couldn't get on the game-ending drive. It's the one that caused Brady to say, after two questons, "We make some good plays and then we make plenty of s---- plays. Thank you."
And he left the news conference. That's what the Dolphins did on Sunday. They beat the Patriots and frustrated the coolest player in the league into walking away. He didn't get the scripted Brady ending. Tannehill did. And the season breathes.