Rarely is it good news — especially lately around the Dolphins — when there’s clumps of media around the offensive line’s side of the locker room. Count Sunday as a rarity.
Dealt yet another blow, the loss for this week, at least, of center Mike Pouncey, on top of the personnel adjustments required by the time-and-energy sapping Jonathan Martin- Richie Incognito affair, the line didn’t collapse. It adapted to starting utility man Nate Garner at center and Sam Brenner, on the practice squad until Saturday, at left guard.
They allowed four sacks, too high but still their average for the season with a fully healthy line, and helped the Dolphins to 5.5 yards per rush. (Also, two of the sacks, a safety blitz and quarterback Ryan Tannehill running out of bounds on a sprint out, weren’t their fault.)
“We’ve all practiced together before, back in the preseason, even last week,” Garner said. “But there was a little more communication that happened on the field to make sure everyone was on the same page. Before the snap, in the huddle, just making sure everyone sees the point and where we’re going.”
This was the third game without Martin, who had been moved to right tackle before he left the team. This was full game No. 2 without Incognito, who injured his neck against Cincinnati and was suspended by the Dolphins in the bullying/harassment controversy. Backup lineman Will Yeatman went on injured reserve Saturday after a season-ending knee ligament injury, creating a roster spot filled when Brenner was promoted from the practice squad.
Meanwhile, Pouncey went in the hospital this week with what NFL.com reported as kidney and gall bladder issues. No Pouncey put Garner, who can play all the line positions, at center and elevated Brenner to the starting lineup.
Brenner, from the San Diego area, was so excited he couldn’t remember whether he was told Saturday night or Sunday morning.
“These guys are older so I was trying to soak up as much knowledge from him as I can,” Brenner said. “I was asking Bryant McKinnie questions, Nate Garner questions. They helped me play a big game [Sunday].”
Right guard John Jerry, the only lineman to start each game this year, said, “Brenner’s a guy, I promise you, if y’all could see him work every single day, you’d be amazed.”
In the fourth quarter, on first-and-10 from the Dolphins’ 21 with 3:16 left, Jerry made one of those plays that wins games while never showing up on any sheet of statistics.
Chargers rookie outside linebacker Tourek Williams, out of FIU and nearby Norland High School, got pushed left of Tannehill but reversed himself and was chasing Tannehill down from behind as the quarterback started running right with eyes downfield. Tannehill leads the Dolphins in fumbles, a knowledge that probably made several Dolphins fans shiver as Williams closed.
Williams was within a few strides of reprising his strip of Denver’s Peyton Manning … and along came Jerry with a full body bop that ended Williams’ pursuit. Tannehill slid inbounds after a 4-yard gain.
“One thing was sticking in my head was Coach Philbin’s always talking about, ‘You’ve got to play through the whistle, you’ve got to play through the whistle,’ ” Jerry said. “Fortunately, I was able to see the guy and try to get a piece of him.”