The Dolphins’ 2017 season — delayed a week by Irma — began in earnest just after 5:15 p.m. Sunday. That’s when Jahleel Addae made the dumb decision to go low on DeVante Parker.
The Dolphins basically sleepwalked their way around tiny StubHub Center until that point, trailing the Chargers by a touchdown late in the first half and looking lost on offense.
Then Addae took out Parker’s legs on the sideline — a hit that Parker later said was “dirty” — and just like that, it was on.
Words were exchanged. So were shoves in the tunnel on the way to the locker room at halftime.
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“It was a lot of testosterone in the air,” said guard Jermon Bushrod.
It was primal. And for the Dolphins, it worked. They emerged from the intermission an inspired team, rallying past the Chargers, 19-17.
And it might not have happened if not for Addae’s lapse in judgment.
“I think it woke some guys up,” said Dolphins receiver Kenny Stills. “We're a very feisty, feisty group. We don't like when somebody comes at one of our guys. And that's football. I don't think it was a dirty play or anything. It woke some guys up and then we had the little scuffle in the hallway. It woke us up a little bit.”
For anyone sleeping on the Dolphins in 2017, consider Sunday your wake-up call.
The Dolphins (1-0) won the same way they did all last year: They kept it close, didn’t beat for themselves, and waited for a hero to show up at the end.
On Sunday, that hero was Cody Parkey, a young kicker who is on his second team this month.
Parkey connected on a 54-yard field goal — his fourth of the game — with 65 seconds remaining and the Dolphins survived a bit of Philip Rivers magic to beat the Chargers (0-2) in Miami’s storm-delayed opener.
Parkey’s kick was true, and yet the Dolphins had work to do. They left way too much time left for Rivers, particularly on this day.
The Dolphins’ defense was without Lawrence Timmons, who abandoned the team Saturday for murky reasons and was not available to play.
So Rivers did what he’s done for years: Attacked.
He moved the Chargers from their own 20 to the Dolphins’ 26 in a minute. He set up Younghoe Koo with a 44-yarder to win it.
All that was left was the kick. Koo’s effort hung in the air for what seemed like an eternity, and when it returned to earth, few on the field were sure if it was good or not. (Spoiler alert: he pushed it right.)
“From our angle, it kind of looked like it went in,” Dolphins receiver Jarvis Landry said. “Everybody just looked at the referee, just trying to see what was going on.”
Added Stills: “I wasn't too optimistic. Jay [Cutler] kept saying, 'He's going to miss it, he's going to miss it.' [After the kick,] Jay's running down the sidelines, 'I told you, I told you so.'”
Ah yes, Cutler. It speaks to how wild of a game this was that we’re just now discussing the Dolphins’ most important player.
Cutler performed a lot like his new team did broadly Sunday: Much better as the game went on.
Cutler, who completed 24 of 33 passes for 230 yards, a touchdown and zero turnovers, seemed to feel his way through the first two quarters. Cutler averaged just 4.4 yards per pass attempt before the half, and the Dolphins were a ghastly 1 of 6 on third downs heading into the break.
But he emerged from the locker room a changed man. Cutler in the second half was 11 of 16 for 155 yards, including a 29-yard scoring strike to Stills that was Miami’s lone touchdown.
“We are right there at the edge of blowing the doors off,” Cutler said.
Jay Ajayi might be already there. He went for 122 yards on 28 carries Sunday, proving early that his success last year was no fluke.
For the Dolphins to silence their remaining doubters, they will need to keep winning these close games, and probably some lopsided ones too.
But Sunday, Adam Gase’s bunch proved once again that they’re willing to fight to earn that respect.