CARSON, Calif. — All those still without power in South Florida weren’t alone Sunday. Scores of Dolphins players also couldn’t watch the deciding moment, fearful that the week loaded with more body blows than most teams could absorb was about to deliver the knockout punch.
Forgotten in those seconds, perhaps, was that a Dolphins team that so many remain convinced wasn’t that good in 2016 is again finding ways to beat the odds in 2017. A 44-yard field goal try that NFL kickers ought to make instead sailed wide right, allowing the Dolphins to pull out a 19-17 victory over the Los Angeles Chargers and put an exclamation point on one of the weirdest weeks in team history.
Want something else weird? They’re in sole possession of first place in the AFC East.
“When the kick went wide right, that was almost a moment like, ‘This is for you,’ ” receiver Jarvis Landry said of fans in South Florida who weren’t as fortunate as the players to scurry out of the region ahead of Hurricane Irma.
It was for the fans, but also for players who endured a week of practice in a strange city (Oxnard, Calif.) and woke up on a sunny Sunday morning knowing they’d be the last NFL team to start its season. Except even then, clouds were looming overhead, this time in the form of a starting linebacker, Lawrence Timmons, who mysteriously left the team.
There’s more, because these are the Dolphins. There was a dreary first half in which one of their star receivers was nearly bent in half, triggering a skirmish in the tunnel both teams use to enter their locker rooms at halftime.
Like FPL flipping the switch bringing power back into one’s home, the tunnel incident may have provided the spark the Dolphins needed, because they scored on all four of their significant second-half possessions and showed that under Adam Gase, they continue to be players who don’t go away quietly.
“Adversity shows character and here we are,” defensive end Cameron Wake said. “We could have cried about this, cried about that. I don’t think that’s the way we’re built. It’s another one of those things that ‘in spite of,’ we’re still going to try our best to find a way to win.”
Of course, things not going your way in a football game can’t compare to the adversity some in Florida are enduring, a reality not lost on receiver Kenny Stills when he was asked if his team had been through the ringer.
“Honestly, no,” said Stills, whose team wore “One Florida” decals in support of the state’s residents. “There’s people that are going through a lot more than we are. So we’ve been constantly thinking about them and just doing our job.”
They did it in a number of ways that speak well for the future. Jay Ajayi, running as angrily as he did last season, carried 28 times for 122 yards. The receiving trio lived up to its billing, with Landry making 13 catches for 78 yards, Stills scoring Miami’s lone touchdown on a 29-yard reception and DeVante Parker adding four catches for 85 yards.
Most significantly, Parker absorbed a wicked shot by safety Jahleel Addae just before halftime that some teammates found excessive (no penalty was called). Dolphins players confronted the Chargers on the way into the locker room.
“I think it woke some guys up, yes,” Stills said. “We’re a very feisty group and we don’t like it when somebody comes after one of our guys and that’s football. I don’t think it was a dirty play or anything.”
Landry: “You never want to see a guy get really hit low. He apologized for it, but at the heat of the moment, we want to protect all of our guys.”
Maybe Parker didn’t need protection. After a quiet first half, he had three catches for 74 yards in the second.
That doesn’t even include quarterback Jay Cutler, who made an efficient Dolphins debut, completing 24-of-33 passes for 230 yards and a 101.8 quarterback rating. It was just enough to counter Philip Rivers (31-of-39 for 331 and a 110.6 rating).
Every victory needs a hero and the Dolphins got one in newly signed kicker Cody Parkey of Jupiter, who was perfect on four tries, including the winning 54-yarder with 1:05 remaining. Dramatic? Yes, but keep in mind Parkey had never missed from 50-plus yards on five career tries in the NFL.
That should have been it, but again, these are the Dolphins. They allowed the Chargers to take possession on their 20 and complete passes of 13, 17, 10 and 9 yards, sandwiched around an illegal use of hands penalty by the Dolphins. That set up Younghoe Koo for a 44-yard try to win it after having earlier missed from 43. Nine seconds remained in the scramble in part because the Dolphins used a defensive timeout just before the kick that stood a chance of helping either team.
“From my angle, it kind of looked like it went in, so everybody just kind of looked at the referee, trying to see what was going on,” Landry said. “I’ll probably say that was the best signal we’ve gotten in a long time.”
Guard Jermon Bushrod said he wasn’t sure if the ball went through, so he was asking teammates. Mike Hull, a linebacker who helped pick up the slack for Timmons, was on the field-goal-block team and gave mixed signals himself.
‘This game is a little bit bigger than football.’ – Dolphins guard Jermon Bushrod
“As the ball was kicked I turned around and I knew it wasn’t going in right away,” Hull said, but then added, “It was going right. It was close. It was real close. I honestly thought it was going to hit the upright.”
Inarguable was a statement by Ajayi putting the week in perspective.
“Everything was just out of order,” he said, knowing that when the team’s cross-country flight back home was over, he still had to figure out a way to get back to his car, which he’d parked at a garage in the scramble out of South Florida.
“I’ll probably get an Uber,” he said. “Hopefully all my power is on and I can be comfortable in my home because that would suck if there’s no AC.”
Maybe there’s AC, maybe not. But at least, when another kind of heat was on, the Dolphins offered some fresh air.
“There’s probably a lot of people especially in South Florida and other parts of the west coast of Florida who probably needed a little happiness in their life right now,” Bushrod said. “ … This game is a little bit bigger than football.”