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Now that’s what we’ve been looking for.
On one sun-splashed afternoon so much seemed right again for the Miami Dolphins. In fact, all it really took to get them going was seven seconds.
Two touchdowns, one by the offense and one by the defense, coming in rapid fire sequence, exactly those seven seconds apart, was enough to end a five-game losing streak and set the tone for an oh-so-satisfying 35-9 victory over the Denver Broncos.
Go ahead and exhale now. It’s been far too long since these Dolphins have had a bounce in their step and a smile on their faces. No, it wasn’t a perfect performance, or even close to it, against a team that has now lost eight in a row. But this was never about who the Dolphins were playing; it was always about how they were playing. And what we saw Sunday were the pieces coming together all at once like they have at no other time this season.
So much to build on. So many step-up performances. It was like a giant anvil being lifted off the collective shoulders of these players and coaches.
The offense got a couple of touchdown passes from Jay Cutler and a career game from running back Kenyan Drake. The defense got two interceptions from second-year cornerback Xavien Howard, including a Pick 6, and held the Broncos offense without a touchdown. The special teams added a blocked punt, a safety — one of two, a team record — and a successful onside kick.
Why the Dolphins even led at halftime for only the second time this season, finally giving the defense a chance to tee off on an opposing quarterback.
And did we mention that Jason Taylor got his Hall of Fame ring in a special halftime ceremony?
All in all, it was a very satisfying afternoon.
“The guys have been working hard to find a way to win one game,” said coach Adam Gase. “They did a great job getting this one.”
Seven seconds. That’s all they needed to take control. Must have felt like seventh heaven.
• With 9:39 left in the second quarter, Cutler finds tight end Julius Thomas on a back shoulder throw in the end zone to finish off a nine play, 75-yard drive and give the Dolphins a 9-3 lead following a safety earlier in the game. Two former Broncos teaming up. Must have been special.
• With 9:32 left in the second quarter, Howard stepped in front of a Trevor Siemian sideline pass and returned the interception 30 yards for the score, the first interception by a starting cornerback this season. That made it 16-3 and the Broncos would never seriously challenge that lead the rest of the game.
Even negatives were followed by positives. Example: Cutler throws a third quarter Pick Six, Drake soon after comes right back with a 42-yard scoring run. It was nice, wasn’t it, to finally have more answers than questions?
Perhaps the biggest answer came from Drake, who finished with career highs of 120 yards on 23 carries. It is so important that the Dolphins find some balance for this offense and what we saw Sunday from Drake was a big step in that direction. He was decisive in his cuts and sure-handed with the ball, so crucial to his overall game after losing a pair of fumbles in recent starts.
“When he gets in the open field,” Gase said of Drake, “he’s tough to bring down.”
But it wasn’t just Drake. Cutler was efficient, the offensive line did a decent job giving him time and Stills came up with a big fourth quarter touchdown catch as the Dolphins scored their most points in the two seasons under Gase.
“We have playmakers,” said Cutler, “we just have to keep getting them the ball.”
Then there was the defense forcing three turnovers, registering three sacks and holding the Broncos to just 270 yards and one of 13 on third downs. “When we’re able to turn those four pass rushers loose,” said Gase, “it makes a big difference.”
Or as Ndamukong Suh put it, “this is the way we like to play.”
Offense. Defense. Special teams. All showing up together. All producing. Now we know what it looks like. It looks like a 35-9 victory over the Broncos.
Next comes a rematch with the Patriots a week from tonight. But there’s plenty of time to focus on that one. Let’s let this victory resonate for a few days. Been too long since we’ve had that chance.