MIAMI GARDENS—Let them have this one.
Let the Dolphins live in fantasyland for one day out of this otherwise exhausting season. For one afternoon at Hard Rock Stadium, the sky was a perfect shade of bright blue with tufts of clouds here and there, and the Dolphins bullied Denver 35-9 to end a five-game losing streak.
It’s the first easy win of the year for Miami, which captured its other four victories by a grand total of 14 points. It’s been a dour 42 days since the last time this team beat anybody, so ignore for a moment that it came against the atrocious Broncos and a quarterback named Trevor Siemian or something like that.
Also ignore, please, that New England comes next.
Let them have their fun.
“It’s like I was saying before the game, ‘Let’s have one of those wins where it feels like a party on the sideline in the fourth quarter,’” said tight end Julius Thomas, who had his own special celebration in the end zone after a second-quarter touchdown. “They’re great for the team morale, just for how much work we put in.
“It’s a grind, you know. This isn’t an easy profession, so when you’re able to have a big win, a comfortable win where you’re not constantly thinking, ‘Man, every possession is coming down to the wire,’ like some of our wins earlier this year, it’s just encouraging. We’ll enjoy it.”
The men who took the field for Miami have been running the same plays in the same beating sun and listening to the same coaches since May. They’ve watched 12 teammates fall to season-ending injuries, including starters Ryan Tannehill, Raekwon McMillan and Ja’Wuan James.
Most recently, they lost their last five games by whopping margin of 95 points. They needed a break like this.
“It’s been a minute,” safety Reshad Jones said when asked to recall the last time he saw this team so happy. “It felt good, man. Everybody was excited. Everybody complemented each other today.”
The Dolphins (5-7) weren’t great, but it was clear early on Denver was a team they could harass.
Siemian, for starters, seemed to lack a basic handle on the parameters of the field and the tenants of how the game is played. It was as though he ripped open Monopoly for the first time and tried to play checkers with the pieces. He threw three interceptions, lingered dangerously in the end zone and had a passer rating of 15 before a late surge to 30.5.
The Dolphins, who have struggled to register points of any kind this year, flooded the scoreboard with them against hapless Denver (3-9). They safeties on defense and special teams, threw for a touchdown, ran for a touchdown, got a pick-six and tacked on a 37-yard field goal by Pro Bowl candidate Cody Parkey to round it out at a season-high 35 points.
The lead was comfortable enough for Adam Gase to pull Jay Cutler late in the game and to call for a surprising onsides kick with 10:27 left and Miami up 33-9.
What was that, by the way? Surely Gase wasn’t taking a shot at Broncos coach Vance Joseph, his former co-worker who is still a personal friend. There might have been some lingering hostility toward Denver management, which cleaned out the coaching staff when Gase was the offensive coordinator there in 2014, but Gase wasn’t inclined to elaborate on his reasoning for the call.
“Just playing 60 minutes,” he said. “We’re not going to slow down. I don’t care what the score is.”
Cutler wasn’t very good, but he didn’t need to be. He was fine, about what he’s been all season. At least his 18-for-31 passing, 235 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions added up to a better performance than Siemian. It was just the third time this season Cutler posted a better passer rating than his counterpart.
The question for the Dolphins is whether what happened this afternoon actually means anything in their quest to pull off a stunning final month. The only thing the Denver win guarantees is that they won’t finish 4-12.
If they storm to 9-7 with four straight wins, even that might not be enough to make the playoffs. But a good homestretch would make a big difference for the guys who have spent all season sore and frustrated.
“We work hard week-in and week-out, and I wouldn’t say it hasn’t been paying off, but it hasn’t ended the way we wanted it to,” receiver Jarvis Landry said. “For us to come out today and do it like we did it, it means a lot.”
There’s something to be said for finishing with a winning record, whether that gets Miami to the postseason or not, and today’s game reestablished that the Dolphins can at least beat the bad teams.
By the time they square off with Buffalo and Kansas City, those teams might not look much better than the Broncos. New England still looks decisively out of the Dolphins’ weight class, but even that game doesn’t feel as hopeless as it did a week ago.
“I think a lot of people don’t understand how much confidence plays into professional sports,” Thomas said. “It’s much more than Xs and Os. Sometimes it’s believing in what you can do. Sometimes big wins help you get that confidence back. Hopefully this is able to do that for us.”
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