JACKSONVILLE -- Mike Wallace got the start. Dustin Keller stole the show.
On the night Wallace, the Dolphins’ high-priced deep threat, made his Dolphins’ preseason debut, Keller showed why he might just be Miami’s most valuable receiving threat this year.
With the Dolphins’ offense toothless on its first three possessions, Keller provided the long-awaited bite. He caught two passes for 46 yards, including a nifty 22-yard touchdown pass from Ryan Tannehill despite tight coverage.
“Coming out after a good drive, I was trying to ask to go out for one more,” Tannehill said. “We finally settled in, got into a groove.”
Tannehill would have to settle with going out with a touchdown pass. Keller ran a “through” route, he said, a play call the team hasn’t used a ton. Perhaps they should.
“I think it was just a great spot for the ball,” Keller said. “He put it at the one spot that the defender couldn’t get the ball and I could. It was an awesome play from Tannehill.”
For the record, the Dolphins beat Jacksonville 27-3 for their first preseason win since 2011.
But of far more significance: Miami’s first-string offense actually put together a drive worthy of its massive offseason hype. Tannehill directed a seven-play, 80-yard effort that took 3:38 off the clock, and he was aided by two defensive penalties.
Considering how awful Miami’s offense had looked up to that point, those were much-needed breaks. On the Dolphins’ first three possessions, they had just 25 total yards and one first down. Tannehill had been sacked once, nearly threw an interception, and completed just 2 of 5 passes for 23 yards.
In short, it looked as though nothing had changed in the past week. Dating back to last Sunday’s loss to Dallas, Miami’s starting offense had managed only three first downs and averaged a shade over 3 yards per play on its first six possessions.
That all changed when Tannehill finally discovered his new tight end. His 24-yard completion to Keller down the seam put Miami in Jacksonville territory for the first time. That was simply a prelude to the scoring strike.
Safety Chris Prosinski was in proper position, but Keller adjusted on the ball and cradled his first touchdown in a Dolphin uniform.
“We were obviously sluggish early on in offense,” coach Joe Philbin said. “No question about it. Then we were able to put a drive together. They feel a little bit better having that successful drive.”
Miami did the right things, both large and small, that it failed to do the week before. Tannehill had just two completions in the Hall of Fame Game. He had two completions over 20 yards on nine attempts Friday. (Tannehill finished 5 of 9 for 75 yards and a touchdown, good for a quarterback rating of 120.1.)
The Dolphins coughed up the ball on the opening play of the Cowboys game; they won the turnover battle Friday. And, on the most basic level, they were able to string together an effective drive and get the ball into the end zone.
All this, even without targeting Wallace once the entire night. Both Wallace (groin) and Brian Hartline (calf) missed the opener. Each played Friday, although Hartline had the only catch between them.
Wallace found space behind the Jaguars secondary on a number of occasions, but Tannehill never even looked his way.
Lamar Miller got the start at running back, gaining 6 yards on a pair of carries. Jonas Gray had a 1-yard touchdown plunge set up by a Nolan Carroll interception. Matt Moore did throw an interception for the second straight week, but also directed two scoring drives.
Caleb Sturgis pounded through field goals of 58 and 36 yards on his 24th birthday. And Gray capped the scoring with his second 1-yard touchdown run of the night.
All in all, a good night, even if was against one of the worst teams in football last year. The Jaguars ranked 30th in the NFL in total defense (380.5 ypg) -- the perfect elixir for an offense in desperate need of confidence.
And it was plenty for the Dolphins’ defense, which forced four turnovers and kept Jacksonville out of the end zone all night. Will Davis also had an interception for Miami, while Michael Clay and John Denney both fell on fumbles.