Colts quarterback Andrew Luck, who leads the NFL with eight game-winning drives dating back to the start of last season, drove the Indianapolis offense deep into Dolphins territory late in the fourth quarter.
The result almost felt predetermined.
Luck was on the verge of doing what he does best — winning games in the clutch — and the Dolphins, a franchise which has been entrenched in mediocrity for over a decade, were about to give up a late score and potentially begin their annual fade to obscurity.
It’s just what Luck does. It’s just what the Dolphins do.
But to break the mold, to redefine who the Dolphins are and what they can be, winning a game they weren’t supposed to win, getting a stop they weren’t supposed to make, was in order. And sure enough, a defense that was beat up all day by Luck, rose to the occasion when they needed a stand the most.
And they did so not once, but twice.
Brent Grimes came down with an interception in the end zone with 8:29 remaining and Philip Wheeler sacked Luck on a fourth-down attempt with under two minutes to play in Miami’s 24-21 win over the Indianapolis Colts.
The Dolphins’ defense was without starting cornerback Dimitri Patterson, which contributed to Luck knifing through the secondary for 321 passing yards, but they weren’t without their resilience.
Miami’s defense didn’t dominate in Indy like they did in Cleveland, but it did look the part of a unit that simply knows what it takes to win. A unit that gets better the bigger the moment. And that’s what it takes to play in and win meaningful games in this league.
That’s what it takes to be special.
Offensively, quarterback Ryan Tannehill gave Miami more reasons than ever to believe he’s the answer to the franchise’s long-standing quarterback woes, outplaying the signal caller who was selected first overall in the 2012 draft. Tannehill’s 319 passing yards on Sunday was the second-highest total of his career and his 107.4 quarterback rating ranks as his third-most efficient outing.
Given the Dolphins’ history at the position in the post-Dan Marino epoch, Sunday was the sort of game in which their quarterback should have succumb to the pressure of competing with a legitimate elite passer. But Tannehill, like the Dolphins as a whole, showed why preconceived notions are quickly proving irrelevant for this year’s team.
And that goes for the way this current roster has been constructed in addition to the shortcomings of the past.
Whether it’s been Redskins owner Dan Snyder dishing out millions annually in free agency or the Eagles building a supposed “dream team” two offseasons ago, the consensus has become that being aggressive on the open market is no way to assemble a team. Well, the Dolphins spent over $200 million on new contracts over the offseason and those investments have paid off thus far.
Sunday’s win over the Colts was, in a way, validation for general manager Jeff Ireland’s work in the spring.
Wide receiver Mike Wallace, who signed a $60 million deal at the onset of free agency, became the explosive playmaker the Dolphins paid for and was a yard away from a two-touchdown performance. Cornerback Brent Grimes, who agreed to a one-year stay in late March, produced a crucial takeaway in the fourth quarter, displaying the ball skills Miami’s secondary has been void of for years. And the Dolphins’ new linebacker duo, Dannell Ellerbe and Philip Wheeler, who Ireland invested over $60 million in, combined for 26 tackles and a sack.
This new-look roster, which boasts 11 different starters from 2012 — either new additions or returning players at a new position — has seemingly came together more effortlessly than anyone could have expected.
A lack of cohesiveness and a brutal opening schedule were said to doom the Dolphins. Joe Philbin’s team still must come away from the next three games — vs. the Falcons, at the Saints and vs. the Ravens — maintaining affirmation and momentum, but to show so much promise early on has been impressive.
The Dolphins should only improve as they become more accustomed to playing with one another. And if they can continue to win in the process of building rapport, they’ll be in position to maximize their potential on the grandest of stages.
Work remains to be done in Miami. The next three games might prove to be the most difficult of the entire season and could derail a hot start.
But after two weeks, the Dolphins’ rebranded look appears to be mirrored by a rebranded product of football. A product that should change the perception of a franchise that has been stricken with six losing seasons since 2006.
A product that should reintroduce the Miami Dolphins to relevancy, maybe even a division title.