Miami Dolphins thankful ‘not to lose,’ but is this blueprint sustainable?

Dolphins free safety Reshad Jones (20), sacks Tennessee Titans quarterback Matt Cassel in the third quarter. (Bill Ingram / The Palm Beach Post)

MIAMI GARDENS — When the offensive touchdown finally came late in the afternoon, there was no celebration, no piling onto Jarvis Landry’s back. He simply walked, slowly, to a young fan in Row 1 and handed him the football.

A short time later, once the Dolphins could affirm that Landry’s touchdown was the decisive play in a 16-10 victory over the Tennessee Titans, the reaction in the offensive side of the locker room remained tempered. Landry disappeared faster than his stroll to that boy, left tackle Laremy Tunsil quietly said he didn’t wish to talk and neither did receiver DeVante Parker.

“Obviously we’re excited not to lose” was running back Jay Ajayi’s non-ringing endorsement. When someone started to ask about the Hard Rock Stadium fans booing quarterback Jay Cutler, Ajayi said, “No, no” and immediately he too headed for the players’ parking lot.

Make no mistake: The Dolphins were glad to come out of their home opener — at last, a true home game in October — with a win and a 2-2 record and the knowledge their defense can put on a remarkably suffocating performance.

But make no mistake: If this is their blueprint for the 2017 season, good luck thinking this ride, like 2016, will finish with a playoff berth.

Good luck winning games with 178 total yards or 78 passing yards or nine punts.

Good luck winning with 15 total offensive points over a three-game span.

“It’s always great to get a win in this league but we know how we’ve been playing these last three weeks,” center Mike Pouncey said. “It’s just not acceptable. We’re not going to beat any team playing like that.”

Yes, things seemed morose this time last season, when the Dolphins sprung to life with a favorable schedule and a six-game winning streak. But next Sunday, the Dolphins visit Super Bowl runners-up Atlanta as they step up in class. Besides Miami, seven other NFL teams began Sunday with a losing record. The Dolphins’ remaining schedule includes none of them.

Reshad Jones celebrates the first of his two fumble recoveries against Tennessee. (Allen Eyestone / The Palm Beach Post)

If there was reason for optimism, it came from coordinator Matt Burke’s defense, a unit that bears no resemblance to the one that ranked 29th in the league last year, including 30th against the run. The frustration shown by the Dolphins’ offensive players no doubt was shared in the locker room of the Titans, who were without starting quarterback Marcus Mariota (hamstring) and relied on Matt Cassel. The Dolphins’ defense feasted on the 35-year-old backup, sacking him six times and holding him to 119 passing yards.

Slap an exclamation point to Miami’s run defense, which was shredded by the Titans for 235 yards last season but this time held Tennessee’s sixth-ranked running attack to 69 yards.

It was such a feel-good day for the defense that linebacker Rey Maualuga, making his Dolphins debut, couldn’t help but needle Burke, who had challenged his group by recalling how he looked up at the stat board at halftime last year and saw that the Titans had more than 100 rushing yards.

“I kind of messed around with him,” Maualuga said. “Like, ‘Hey, coach, look up on the board and see what they rushed for.’ I think it was 30-something yards.” (Full disclosure: It was 31 at the half.)

It’s bizarre to remember that not that long ago, the Dolphins were supposedly entering a season with an attack and offensive-minded head coach capable of pinball-like scores and fearing the defense might concede just as quickly. Sunday’s numbers told only half the story.

The other half was how complete the contributions were. Yes, safety Reshad Jones caught eyes by scooping up a fumble when everybody else had stopped, thinking the ball was dead. Jones, who recovered two fumbles in the first quarter, ran 38 yards to the end zone on a hunch that turned into a touchdown.

But it never would have happened without linebacker Kiko Alonso separating Cassel from both the ball and his helmet. Alonso played his finest game as a Dolphin, finishing with seven tackles, a sack, a tackle for loss, a pass defensed and the forced fumble.

Andre Branch had two sacks. First-rounder Charles Harris had the first sack of his career. Rookie Davon Godchaux forced a fumble that led to a field goal. Ndamukong Suh and Lawrence Timmons and Bobby McCain and countless others delivered jarring hits. Cameron Wake had four hits on Cassel and shared a sack with Branch that came within a foot or two of being a safety.

Dolphins fans chant for Matt Moore to replace Jay Cutler. (Allen Eyestone / The Palm Beach Post)

“I think we played lights-out,” Maualuga said before amending himself: “Not ‘I think.’ ”

But that offense … Cutler went 12 of 26 for 92 yards, the 6-yard touchdown to Landry with 10:33 left, one interception and a tepid 52.1 rating. That inched him just above tight end MarQueis Gray, who was 0 for one in the Wildcat and had a 39.6 rating.

When asked about the “We want Moore!” chant in favor of Matt Moore, Pouncey turned to humor.

“I thought they were talking about yards,” Pouncey said. “More yards. Are they talking about Matt Moore?

“I mean, as soon as he starts throwing touchdowns, they’ll be cheering for Jay. That’s just how it is.

“ … It ain’t Jay Cutler, trust me. If it was Jay Cutler, Adam Gase would say that. It’s not Jay Cutler. He’s a heck of a football player. He stays composed no matter what.”

The problem, Pouncey said, is the line not giving Cutler time.

“We’ve just got to protect him,” Pouncey said. “It’s that simple. If we don’t protect him, I don’t care who’s the backup quarterback. It ain’t going to get done.”

Especially since upcoming assignments include Matt Ryan and the Falcons, Derek Carr and the Raiders, Alex Smith and the undefeated Chiefs … and two games vs. Tom Brady and the Patriots.

More — with one ‘o’ — is needed.

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