Special teams giveth. Special teams taketh away.
That clearly summarizes Sunday’s game between the Miami Dolphins and the New York Jets. When the clock ticked down to zero, the Dolphins had a 27-23 victory.
Successful teams can score, and win, many different ways. In addition to generating scoring drives, the good teams take advantage of turnovers and opportunities. Both teams did this, but it was Miami who had the last chance and the last laugh.
With Miami ahead 20-16 and 6:01 remaining in the game, punter Matt Darr dropped the snap, giving the Jets possession inside the Miami 20. New York took advantage when Ryan Fitzpatrick hit Jalin Marshall with an 18-yard scoring strike.
The Dolphins’ special teams had giveth.
On the ensuing kickoff, Kenyan Drake was stopped on the Miami 22, but the Jets were offside. The Dolphins took advantage of the mulligan. Kenyan Drake took the re-kick at the four and scampered 96 yards for a touchdown that put Miami back on top, 27-23.
“Coach just said we had to make them pay,” said Drake. “I didn’t get touched until I got near the kicker and I couldn’t let him tackle me.”
The Dolphins’ special teams taketh away.
Miami’s defense forced a punt on the Jets’ next possession. New York would not see the ball again and the Dolphins had their third straight victory.
It is remarkable to look at how far this team has come in less than a month. On October 9, they were an offensive mess and were humbled by the Tennessee Titans at home, 30-17.
They rushed for 51 yards in that game, led by Jay Ajayi with 42. This was one week after a similarly miserable performance in Cincinnati.
Whatever happened after the Tennessee game should be patented and bottled. Ajayi followed with two consecutive 200-yard rushing games, both ending in wins.
On Sunday, Ajayi was facing a very good run defense, but somehow managed to score on an impressive run and totaled 111 rushing yards. That would have been unimaginable four weeks ago.
“I’m never going to go away from him,” said Dolphins’ Coach Adam Gase. “His job is to keep hammering it.”
It is becoming clear why Gase and his offensive mind was brought to Miami as head coach. Offensive coordinator Clyde Christensen and Offensive Line Coach Chris Foerster, among others, deserve some credit for the turnaround.
Quarterback Ryan Tannehill is showing more confidence with the balanced offense. He threw for 149 yards and a touchdown with no interceptions and was sacked only once on Sunday.
With the running game now an equal partner, he did what he had to do. The defense also chalked up two interceptions.
With their record now 4-4, they can now legitimately enter the conversation about playoffs. They are only half way through the schedule and some tough games remain, but they are clearly a team on the rise.
Next Sunday they play the first of two consecutive games on the west coast when they face the San Diego Chargers. A date with the Los Angeles Rams awaits in two weeks.