Hang in there and “bow up” when you must.
That covers the day for the Dolphins defense, the group that kept the game available for Ryan Tannehill and the offense, whether you’re talking big picture or small.
Looking overall, you can find ways the day could have started worse for the Dolphins defense. Just not many of them.
Not only did Atlanta take the opening kickoff and conduct the kind of drive — 14 plays, 80 yards, 8:48 off the clock — that gives offensive football coaches rave waves, but the Dolphins lost Pro Bowl defensive end Cameron Wake to injury.
That put them down three starters, nose guard Paul Soliai and cornerback Dmitri Patterson injured and inactive.
Later, the Dolphins lost linebacker Koa Misi. Linebacker Dannell Ellerbe went down for a bit. They didn’t force a Falcons punt until the third quarter. The Falcons ran for 146 yards. Atlanta wide receiver Julio Jones caught nine passes for 115 yards from Matt Ryan, who had a sackless day in the pocket.
But in the fourth quarter, with Atlanta up 23-20, the defense forced a 35-yard field-goal attempt that Atlanta’s Matt Bryant blew to the right. Then, they closed out the game with Jimmy Wilson’s interception of a pass Ryan floated under pressure from rookie Dion Jordan.
“I just hoped Julio [Jones] wasn’t behind me because I didn’t want to get [Randy] Mossed,” Wilson said. “I had an opportunity for a pick, I saw out of the corner of my eye, I thought I saw a red jersey and I was like ‘Oh, man.’ I had to make sure I stayed strong with my hands and make sure the guy doesn’t take it from behind me.”
In the smaller picture, the Dolphins got pounded but wouldn’t fall, and then rose up mightily in the red zone. Atlanta’s five red-zone trips produced two touchdowns, two field goals and the aforementioned Bryant miss.
That’s 20 points out of a possible 35.
“That’s what we do. We bow up,” Dolphins safety Reshad Jones said. “All the time. Last year, we were the No. 1 red zone defense in the league. When they get down there, we know we’ve got to bow up and make some plays.”
Perhaps the biggest stop of the first half came on third-and-1 at the 2-yard line in the second quarter with Atlanta up 10-7 inside of three minutes left in the half.
Atlanta running back Jason Snelling went left searching for holes that had been there before and would be again. Yet this time, he found rookie defensive end Jordan.
“He tried to bounce it and I was able to come off a block and hold him up just enough for the cavalry to come,” Jordan said. “It was a big play. We held them to a field goal.”
Dolphins linebacker Philip Wheeler said, “I feel like we shouldn’t have let them down there in the first place. We’ve got a lot of pride on this defense. It was like “we’re not going to let them score. We made mistakes to let them get down here, but let’s bow up, let’s get stronger.”