Nik Needham, undrafted rookie from UTEP, soaks up first career interception followed by game-clinching, fourth-down tackle vs. Colts.
INDIANAPOLIS — The popular theory is that Ryan Fitzpatrick and his fabulous beard have become the face of these Miami Dolphins.
The truth is that cornerback Nik Needham is just as much the face of these Dolphins.
That’s exactly the point.
Needham could walk around the local mall with a MY NAME IS tag on his chest and he’d still be as unknown as many of his teammates. Yet that explains the inexplicable today, which is that the Dolphins suddenly are on a two-game winning streak by virtue of Sunday’s 16-12 victory over the Indianapolis Colts.
Needham made two monster plays in the victory, including the one that clinched the win, tackling tight end Eric Ebron on the Miami 8-yard line with 40 seconds remaining, 2 yards shy of a first down on a fourth-and-10 play.
So that’s what Nik Needham did.
This is who Nik Needham is: Undrafted guy out of UTEP. Waived on cut-down day. Signed to the practice squad a day later. Promoted to the roster a month ago. Turned 23 a week ago Monday.
This also is who Nik Needham is: A guy who answered some of the postgame questions from reporters with “Yes, sir.” A guy who took grief from Walt Aikens and his defensive teammates by including words like “betterment” and “familiarity” in his answers.
“Tongue-twister,” he told them, appealing for them to cut him slack. “I’m trying, man. I’m trying.”
He certainly was trying in the final six minutes, after Miami had just taken a 13-12 lead on a 48-yard field goal by Jason Sanders. Needham quickly gained a great deal of familiarity in the eyes of Colts quarterback Brian Hoyer when, on Indy’s next play from scrimmage, he intercepted a pass intended for Zach Pascal at the Indy 35, setting up another 48-yard field goal by Sanders.
Being the rookie he is, after making the grab, Needham made a rookie mistake.
“It felt great, first interception,” Needham said. “I threw the ball on the ground and all the older guys were telling me I’ve got to keep it. I was just so excited I made a play in a big-time situation like that.”
Needham actually leaned on experience in the process.
“I think I did a pretty good job of covering No. 14 (Pascal), who was their top target this week,” Needham said. “I actually played him in college too, so I had a little familiarity with him, because he went to Old Dominion.”
As big as that play was, the tackle against Ebron was even bigger.
“I’m not going to lie,” Needham said. “I don’t remember it. I’m sorry.”
He was joking. Chances are, he may never forget it.
“I know we were in outside leverage coverage, so we were trying to force everything inside,” Needham said. “And then I think Eric (Rowe) got picked, so I saw Ebron open and tried to fly there and try to stop him from getting the first down and it ended up working.”
Needham knew he didn’t have much room to spare.
“That’s why I was trying my hardest to get there,” Needham said. “For a quick second I thought he might have got it. But I was like, ‘No way.’ I saw his knee go down.”
With all that business taken care of, there was only one task left: find his interception ball for the betterment of his trophy case.
“That’s what I’m trying to find out,” Needham said. “I threw it. Bobby McCain grabbed it for me, so I’m trying to find it. Yes, sir.”
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