PHILADELPHIA—Jay Cutler’s had some good weapons in his career, but the Dolphins’ group of skill players have wowed him in his first three weeks with the team.
One of Cutler’s few errors in Thursday’s game against the Eagles was an underthrow to Kenny Stills down the middle of the field (it was redeemed by a pass interference call on Philadelphia corner Ronald Darby), and he admitted he’s still adjusting to playing with a receiver that fast.
“Whenever they get green grass, they’re gone,” Cutler said. “We were kind of in a short field, and I got moved out a little bit to the left and just touched late to him. Probably when I watch it on film, I’m going to want to drive a little more and pull him across the field. We were lucky to get the pass interference there.”
Cutler hit Julius Thomas for a touchdown from the one-yard line after that. In the first quarter, he connected with Thomas, Stills, Jarvis Landry and DeVante Parker.
Parker seems to be his favorite so far, reminding him of other big wideouts he’s had like Alshon Jeffery and Brandon Marshall. He had a 72-yard completion to Parker down the right sideline in which he “just kind of threw it out there” for him to make a play in coverage. He said he recognized that ability the first day he practiced with him.
“You watch him run, you watch him move, you watch his ability with the ball in the air, and you kind of know what you’ve got pretty quickly,” Cutler said.
Adam Gase said Cutler’s got the green light to throw into coverage, and he’s especially likely to do so with Parker.
“He’s always had that big guy, usually at every stop he’s been to,” Gase said. “Brandon Marshall or Alshon Jeffery, and he had Greg Olsen. I mean, there are certain guys that he knows are big targets that can go up there and get it. Some of the times when it’s between the numbers, he’ll see a big enough hole to where him and the receiver are on the same page.”
The week in Philadelphia gave Cutler his best opportunity yet to speed up his acclimation to the team since the joint practices Monday and Tuesday had a lot of game simulation and he played extended time Thursday.
During that run, he got Thomas and Landry more involved than they’d been and developed a better feel for Stills.
“They’re really good players,” Cutler said. “They’re going to get open. They’re going to create opportunities for themselves. It’s my job to get them the ball.”
The 9-5 Dolphins are a winning team again, assured of a winning season by the math of the games remaining and the push of a 34-13 win over the New York Jets.
That’s as noteworthy as anything that’s happened to the franchise since Bill Parcells arrived in 2008 to spark a brief postseason revolution, and Miami may not be done yet.
“We’ve got a great coach,” left tackle Branden Albert said, offering Adam Gase as the prime binding agent in this run from 1-4 to legitimate wild-card contention. “Our coach relates to us and I think that’s the biggest thing.”
Gase has been great in his first season running an NFL team, there’s no doubt, but just as importantly these Dolphins, the new ones and the holdovers, aren’t relating the 2016 season to anything that has come before.
For instance, when the bumbling New York Jets jumped to a 7-0 lead Saturday night behind kid quarterback Bryce Petty and were headed for a second touchdown, the magnetic draw of so many deflating Decembers was strong. Even worse, Ryan Tannehill was on crutches this time, and the man playing quarterback for the Dolphins, Matt Moore, hadn’t started a game in five years.
One of the team’s great veterans chose that scary moment to deliver a Wake-up call.
With a sack and a forced fumble, Cameron Wake stopped the Jets and started an avalanche of great moments for the Dolphins. A little later he dropped into zone coverage and collected the first interception of his NFL career. Before you knew it, everybody was getting in on the act, with touchdowns coming on home-run passes, crafty little goal-line plays and even a blocked punt.
Did Wake beat the Jets 34-13 all by himself? Of course not, but he did as much as anyone to prove that the Jets aren’t in Miami’s class anymore, and the AFC’s sure playoff bets aren’t that far out front.
“I think when you have a player of his (Wake’s) ability that has played as long as he has, he has that knack for timing,” Gase said. “It just seems like he knows when there are those moments in a game where something could swing a game and he makes it happen.
“It was interesting. I was watching him catch balls in warm-ups and thinking to myself, ‘Why is he doing that?’ All of a sudden I look up and he picks one off, so maybe he knew something that I didn’t.”
It’s been like that for a while now. Guys are doing things they’ve never done, and there’s no wave of stupefying surprise. Moore threw four touchdown passes Saturday for the first time in his career. Dion Sims had two touchdown catches, another first. Walt Aikens blocked a punt and scooped it for a score, a lot like he did last week against Arizona on a blocked conversion kick.
“That was kind of the mantra of the week,” Wake said. “You don’t know which play it’s going to be. Just make it when it comes.
“Obviously I’m not back in coverage very often, so that (interception) was a new one for me. But the ball was there and I had to go back to my linebacker days (at Penn State). I put my hands on it.”
And who among us is strong enough to take something away from Wake, the star still in search of his first postseason game?
The Buffalo Bills will try on Christmas Eve, looking to be a spoiler for a Miami team that last made the playoff in 2008 and last won a postseason game in 2000. After that the New England Patriots come to Miami on New Year’s Day. Rough stuff.
The Dolphins, however, are starting to scare other people, too. One good example of that is Jets star Brandon Marshall, the best receiver on a previous Miami team, making just one catch for 16 yards Saturday night. That was with Byron Maxwell, the cornerback Marshall claims is always holding, on the sidelines with an injury. Rookie Xavien Howard stepped in and did just fine.
Tony Lippett had a couple of interceptions, too. He was supposed to be the weak link in the Miami secondary when the season began, but no more.
“This is an amazing feeling to be in the position that we are in,” said Jarvis Landry, who contributed a 66-yard touchdown catch to the onslaught. “We are basically in control of our destiny.”
We won’t go there, not having the Nobel Prize in mathematics that is needed to decipher all the tiebreakers. Let’s just say that all these wins, stacked tall from from Oct. 16 to Christmas week, are actually starting to count for something.
Gase gets the most credit, as Albert said.
At 1-4, he looked like a rookie head coach. At 9-5, tossing challenge flags at all the right moments and winding Moore up for his first start in five years, Gase looks like he was born to be a head coach in this league.
Tannehill on crutches, it turns out, is not a case of game over.
Think instead of bonus games being added to the schedule, bonus opportunities to plan a party around a Dolphins weekend, to discover a gear other than neutral and reverse.
“I haven’t been around a team like this,” Moore said. “Guys understand that they are truly on a team.”
They’re changing right before our eyes, winning with or without big rushing days from Jay Ajayi. Winning with or without Tannehill, the only quarterback the franchise has known 2012.
Winning because they finally are good enough to do it, and stubborn enough to accept nothing less.
Miami means business this time, no matter who is in the lineup, no matter what the tiebreakers say.
It’s refreshing, especially for a guy like Wake, who is 34 and, in the miraculous vein of this Miami turnaround, seemingly getting younger every day.
MIAMI GARDENS–Byron Maxwell heard it all week from Brandon Marshall, a man he’d faced just once in his career prior to this afternoon, and Marshall immediately restarted the conversation when they lined up against each other on the first play of the game.