The guy the Dolphins paid the long green to bring the long ball is starting to crank out long plays. The consistent guy already wearing aqua continues to do what he’s done. Seventh-round picks project to be “just a guy,” yet one emerged as a receiver trusted to come up with big plays.
Mike Wallace, Brian Hartline and Rishard Matthews don’t have a nickname. A pedestrian-sounding one, such as “Guys Getting it Done,” might fit. Especially the last several weeks, that’s what they’ve been.
Sunday, they accounted for 16 of Ryan Tannehill’s 25 completions and were the intended receivers on 26 of his 37 throws. Wallace caught six for 105 yards and a touchdown. Hartline’s five catches gained 70 yards. Matthews got 64 on his five catches.
The rainbow bombs from Tannehill to Wallace envisioned by fans and media when the Dolphins signed Wallace haven’t materialized en masse. But Wallace still adds combustibility to the offense.
Take his three second-quarter catches. The first, a 16-yarder, gave the Dolphins room to operate on the first play of a drive that started on their own 6. The second, a 22-yarder, goosed a drive that ended a blown field goal attempt.
The third, the 39-yard touchdown, saw Wallace catch a medium pass over the middle, break away from New England cornerback Marquice Cole and outrace the secondary into the end zone.
“Just coming out of the huddle, Ryan told me he was going to look at me first on my route,” Wallace said. “A new player had just come into the game [cornerback Kyle Arrington had left the game the previous play], so they may have been a little confused. Everyone around here has been breaking tackles, so I had to keep it going.”
But it should be said Wallace didn’t bring combustibility to the offense. Hartline led the Dolphins in yards per catch (minimum 10 catches) each of his first four seasons playing with quarterbacks who weren’t expert at getting the ball downfield.
Barring injury, Hartline will have his second consecutive 1,000-yard receiving season. He’s only three receptions from a career high in that category. He’ll likely end with his lowest yards per catch — he’s at 12.8, 1.5 yards per catch under 2010’s 14.3 — but it’s still possible he could lead Dolphins receivers in yards per catch (minimum 10 catches).
In the third, his three-catch quarter — 19, 17 and 15 yards — goosed the Dolphins two scoring drives.
“It really comes down to opportunities. I think guys are getting a lot more opportunities,” Hartline said. “I don’t know if it’s how the games are playing out, but I feel like, more than a majority of the time, we’re staying more invested in our play calling and we’re throwing the ball down the field a little more.
“In turn, we’re making some big plays. I attribute it to opportunities. Guys have always been there, have always worked hard, but the opportunities have increased.”
In Matthews last eight games, he’s had 31 catches for 318 yards.
He seems to pop up with the occasional big play, such as the 24-yarder up the left sideline that put the Dolphins on the New England 14 in the fourth quarter before Marcus Thigpen’s game-winning touchdown.
It was remarkably similar to the 24-yarder Matthews caught in the second quarter on third-and-10 that kept the drive to Wallace’s score alive (and kept the ball from New England, which had a 10-0 lead and a minute on the clock before halftime).
“Our receivers … we’re proud of what we’re doing,” Hartline said. “We have a good group of guys. So, all I can really say is the opportunities have gone up and the guys are making plays for the team.”