On an evening rife with subplots, Rishard Matthews delivered a dose of sublime.
Nestled amid the sound bites of Dolphins owner Stephen Ross on his team’s internal problems and the tears of new Bucs Ring of Honor inductee Warren Sapp, Matthews segued from Miami’s No. 3 receiver to Ryan Tannehill’s No. 1 target when attention actually shifted to Monday night’s contest.
Counterbalancing an invisible Dolphins run game, the second-year slot receiver from Nevada posted career highs in the first half in catches (eight), yards (77) and touchdowns (two).
His second half wasn’t shabby either.
For the game, Matthews finished with 11 receptions for 120 yards and two touchdowns.
“He played well,” Dolphins coach Joe Philbin said. “He was very productive. We’ve said many times, he’s a competitive guy. He likes to practice, he likes to go out there, and he played well.”
Thrust into duty when Brandon Gibson tore his patella tendon at New England on Oct. 27, the Dolphins’ seventh-round draft pick in 2012 had made mere cameos in Miami’s two prior games.
On Monday, he jump-started an offense that, for its first four possessions, had been as grim as Ross’ 73-year-old visage during his pregame news conference.
“I’ve been practicing a lot, and in our offense, the [slot] a big part of the offense as well,” said Matthews, targeted 14 times. “With Brandon going down, I needed to step up. Me and Ryan have been together two years, so I don’t think he had a problem targeting me.”
The Tannehill-Matthews tandem was just getting warmed up. On first down at the Bucs’ 28, Tannehill found him on the left side for 4 yards, then again in the same vicinity for 11 yards on second down.
Two plays later, Matthews was quarantined over the middle when Tannehill found him from 6 yards for the receiver’s inaugural NFL touchdown. Matthews’ totals on the drive: six catches, 51 yards, one TD.
It cut Miami’s deficit to 15-7.
“It was a check [on the TD pass],” Matthews said. “We knew what the guys were doing. Ryan checked the play, and Brian [Hartline] had a good block on the outside. He sealed the guy, and I was able to run in.”
If nothing else on a bleak west Tampa evening, Matthews asserted himself as a reliable set of hands for a team that suddenly could use all it can muster.
A 24-year-old native Southern Californian, Matthews totaled 2,243 receiving yards and 13 TDs in two seasons at Nevada. With Mike Wallace growing less visible by the week, his Monday night breakout couldn’t have been more timely.
This morning, Ross’ club still has significant issues in the clubhouse.
For at least the time being, it has none in the slot.