Admit it: You doubted Mike Pouncey would ever be the same.
Fans doubted. The media doubted. Even Pouncey, at one point, doubted.
Pouncey missed all but five games of the 2016 season with avascular necrosis in his hip, the name for when bone tissue dies because of a lack of blood supply.
“I was told my career was over at one point,” Pouncey said.
Pouncey not only returned to football in 2017, but on Sunday, he will reach a once-unthinkable goal: Staying healthy and playing all 16 games. He has not been able to do that since 2012 because of a series of hip injuries, one more serious than the last.
He has had surgeries. He has had stem cell therapy. And he has had a lot of time away from football to think.
And to stew over those who counted him out.
That edge was apparent Friday, when in the Dolphins locker room, he called out those in the media who thought (and wrote) that he would never be the same again.
Surrounded by more than a half-dozen reporters, Pouncey was asked how many doubters he had.
“One, two, three, four, five, six, seven,” he said, pointing at the scribes down the line.
On Sunday, Pouncey gets the last laugh because he has done more than stay healthy. He has played well.
“I had my best year. Ask the coaches. They'll tell you the same thing.”
Pouncey was right.
“Especially down the stretch, he’s been probably our most consistent guy and he’s probably played his best ball in the back half of the season,” Dolphins coach Adam Gase said. “We’ve done some things to make sure that he feels good on Sunday, which I know is frustrating for him to watch. He’s not a big fan of watching practice. He’s right in the mix, even when he’s not practicing.
“Our whole goal was to make sure that we had him for Sunday,” Gase continued. “Especially in these last two games when we needed him to play well and we needed guys to play well, he was one of the few guys that really stepped up and did what he was supposed to do.”
He will again in Sunday’s season finale. Pouncey’s milestone is one of the few bright spots in an otherwise bleak Dolphins season.
Another: Jarvis Landry has an excellent chance to both lead the league in catches and break his own franchise record for receptions in the season (he’s seven shy of that mark, which is 110).
“I’m just grateful for the opportunity to play with these guys,” Landry said. “The coaches have given me the opportunity to make plays and letting all of my hard work show up for itself. That’s shown in the number column. It’s always good to have a chance to write history and then re-write your own history. That’s always a good feeling.”
History will not be kind to this Dolphins season. But some time between 7 p.m. and 8 p.m. Sunday, it will be over.
The New Year is truly a new year for the Dolphins. Players will clean out their lockers, and then say their goodbyes — some, for good.
But Pouncey can expect to be back next year, even with an $8 million salary cap number. Gase loves him, and if he believed in him last offseason, when things looked bleak, there’s no reason to assume he won’t again in 2018.
But first, one more game.
“It means everything,” Pouncey said. “All the hard work, it'll prove it paid off. All the doubters, the people that doubted me, it's middle finger to them.”