AC in the AM: Now That’s The Way To Start

Considering what this team has had to overcome, considering the injuries, a devastating hurricane and 10 days relocated on the West Coast after the opener was delayed, what we saw on Sunday afternoon was something to truly savor.

We saw a team rise up and simply refuse to lose. We saw the Miami Dolphins show exactly who they are, making all the key plays when they had to, coming back time after time, putting together a fourth quarter surge that propelled them to a riveting 19-17 victory over the Los Angeles Chargers.

Yes, for those only interested in the bottom line, this game came down to the Dolphins making a field goal and the Chargers missing one, both in the final seconds of the fourth quarter. But you can’t frame what happened on Sunday afternoon with just two kicks, certainly not if you’re looking through the lens of the Dolphins.

This game was about resiliency and overcoming and making the type of early season statement that is impossible to ignore. This was about somehow finding a way. This was about an entire football team coming together.

When’s the last time 1-0 felt so good? I truthfully can’t remember, especially when you consider how badly our hurricane-ravaged communities needed something exactly like this. Needed a reason to move on, a reason to smile. The Dolphins certainly gave them that.

Where do you start? So many enticing options.

• With Jay Cutler playing so brilliantly in his first game as Dolphins quarterback? I expected him to play well, didn’t expect him to play this well. Cutler looked so confident, so in control, so right for this offense. His accuracy was right on, especially in a wild second half that saw one important drive after another. Sure, we still have a lot to learn about Jay Cutler. But for opening acts, what we saw against the Chargers was plenty good enough.

• With South Florida bred placekicker Cody Parkey nailing that game-winning 54-yarder, his fourth of the game, with just 1:11 left? How special is this story? Parkey grew in Jupiter, Florida with a Dolphins logo on his wall and received Dolphins scoring updates on his cell phone even when he was kicking for the Browns. All he did a week after being claimed off waivers was convert all four of his field goal attempts including the one he’ll never forget, the longest game-winning field goal in team history. Guess you could say claiming him was a smart move.

• With the sure hands and the big plays from a trio of receivers that might be collectively as gifted as any this team has had since Dan Marino was in his prime? We went into this season thinking that Jarvis Landry, DeVante Parker and Kenny Stills could be something special, certainly with Parker looking like a different player in his third season. What we saw on Sunday was the best of all of them: Landry so sure-handed, pulling down 13 catches; Parker so athletic with those strong hands literally ripping the ball from the defender and Stills flashing that speed on a 29-yard touchdown play. It’s going to be fun watching this group evolve.

• With all those tough runs by Jay Ajayi, clearly picking up where he left off last season, finishing with 122 yards on 28 carries against a Chargers defense that hadn’t given up a 100-yard plus rushing performance in its past 17 games? Make no mistake about it: this offense still starts with Ajayi. He set the tone against the Chargers, opening things up for Cutler and the passing game.

• Or maybe we should start with a defense that held a potent Chargers offense to just 17 points, a defense that dressed only four healthy linebackers and a defense that held on in that wild fourth quarter, making just enough plays to force that 44-yard field goal as time expired? The secondary struggled some against Philip Rivers as did the pass rush, but Rivers has been doing that to defenses for a lot of years, his accuracy and quick release still among the best. A real positive, though, was a rushing defense that held the Chargers to just 44 yards on 14 carries, clearly a step forward after last season’s struggles.

See, it’s difficult to know where to start because this game wasn’t about one player or one moment as much as it was about a collective effort by a team so anxious to get going, so driven by those who have endured the power outages and flooded streets they left behind and so determined to learn from the slow start of a season ago.

It was only one chapter in what will now be 16 straight weeks of football, but it was so vital for this team and these players to create a level of confidence they can feed off and the type of performance they can build on. Both were accomplished against the Chargers.

Having said all of that, it’s hard not to focus on Cutler because he is so important in the large scheme of things. You have a quarterback, you always a chance. We really didn’t know what to expect after he came out of retirement, joining this team after training camp had already begun, trying to learn new names and new faces and how skill sets were different. That he responded with this type of performance is so impressive, his 24 completions in 33 attempts even better when you consider it didn’t include a single turnover.

Now Cutler can move on. And so can the Dolphins. There is another road game next Sunday at the Jets and a different set of challenges. But nobody will soon forget what happened Sunday against the Chargers, a victory so important for so many different reasons.