This is how it felt when the Dolphins won their first regular-season home opener since 2005:
Dolphins owner Stephen Ross emerged from the team locker room wearing a big smile and joking with reporters. He stopped to answer questions, which he’s sometimes avoids because those questions have usually been about who is on the hot seat.
“It’s the first home opener since I’ve been around that we’ve won so it’s a thrilling thing,” Ross said. “I think we’re really on to something. I’m excited about it.”
He was not alone.
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In the room behind him, coach Joe Philbin collected his first Dolphins game ball awarded by players who hadn’t won a game for him in five previous tries. And now the coach known for his calm demeanor and thinking man’s approach was in the middle of a player huddle, bouncing up and down, chanting along with them as everyone celebrates this victory.
Rallying the troops
“He’s done a phenomenal job,” guard Richie Incognito said of Philbin. “We have a lot of new faces and after that Houston game last week, he showed there’s no need for panic. He gave one of the best postgame speeches I’ve ever heard. He rallied the troops. We rallied around him.”
That speech last week implored Dolphins players not to panic. It was a message that all is not lost when only the first game of the year has been lost.
“He’s consistent and broke it down for us,” Incognito said. “No need to panic. No need to finger point. We’re a lot better than that. For 25 minutes last we showed what we could do today.”
This day ended with the Dolphins dismantling Oakland 35-13. It ended with Reggie Bush being serenaded with “Reggie, Reggie, Reggie” cheers in the stands and again just outside the locker room where a loud gathering of fans waited for the running back to sprint by them 10 minutes after the game.
Bush carried 26 times and broke perhaps half that many tackles in gaining 172 yards. Four of those broken tackles and 23 of those yards came on touchdown that put Miami up for good.
For all that work, Bush is going to be very sore on Monday as are the offensive linemen that helped plow the Raiders aside 43 times for 263 rushing yards.
But no one complained.
“There’s nothing better than the locker room after a win,” Jake Long said. “With the [0-4] preseason, we haven’t had a win in a long time. The guys were just excited. Everybody’s happy. We’re not sore. It’s a great feeling.”
The Dolphins haven’t had this kind of day in a long time. Yes, there have been victories at home. The team finished last season with a home win.
But the timing of this one makes it different. This one, in the home opener, gives hope that this season will not be a burden to watch as the last few years have been.
Suddenly, the Dolphins can command some respect because they’re able to win at home. Suddenly, fans that turned their gaze away from this team in disappointment, can take a second glance because the organization got this one right.
And boy, did they.
On offense, on defense, and coaching the Dolphins got the better of the Raiders.
Rookie quarterback Ryan Tannehill outplayed veteran Oakland quarterback Carson Palmer. No, the rookie didn’t throw for more yards but he made fewer mistakes, kept his composure better in crisis.
“He was awesome, it was unbelievable,” receiver Brian Hartline said. “People will downplay the way he played. But the way he commanded the offense, the way he wanted certain looks and got them, it was awesome. I’ve been waiting on that for a while.”
The Dolphins defense had dubious moments defending the pass because there were too many open receivers early in the game to keep a 7-0 lead safe. But the secondary tightened even as starting cornerback Richard Marshall left the game with a back injury in the third quarter.
And the run defense did excellent work the entire game, limiting Oakland to 1.6 yards per rush.
“We played a very good run [defense] today,” Oakland coach Dennis Allen said.
The Raiders also played a team that corrected the mistakes of last week. Where there were four batted passes that led to two interceptions last week, coaches made sure there was no tipped passes this game. Where the Dolphins didn’t find Hartline until late in last week’s game, this week he was Tannehill’s favorite target with 12 passes thrown his way, nine of those completions for 111 yards.
The Dolphins also got things right in giving their fans what they wanted.
Fight song returns
Fans have complained for years that the old banjo-strumming fight song needed to return and the Fins Up stuff needed to disappear. That happened Sunday.
Fans have cringed at the idea that Miami has an orange carpet for celebrity minority owners. That was gone Sunday.
But mostly fans have complained that their team has not played well enough to win in their house. And that’s been the chief reason they haven’t bought tickets and haven’t bought in.
That might change after Sunday.
“We said that the song would be played after every touchdown when we’re winning and we were winning after every touchdown today,” Ross said. “I want to be hearing it all the time.
“Winning solves any problem you might have. Of course this is the best way to sell tickets. It’s great for everybody.”