Michael Thomas was the toast of the football world Monday, with his remarkable story told by ESPN, Sports Illustrated and Fox Sports, just to name a few.
Thomas, as most Dolphins fans now know, was just another faceless name on an NFL practice squad last week before Miami general manager Jeff Ireland scooped him up.
Thomas didn’t take a single defensive snap in practice with the team last week, but injuries forced the safety/nickel corner into the Patriots game at the most crucial time. He responded by picking off Tom Brady and saving the game.
Thomas, who had never played in the NFL before Sunday but logged 16 crucial snaps against the Patriots, is just the latest serendipitous hero for a Dolphins team that has relied more on its depth than in any time in recent history.
It’s a credit to the job Ireland and his staff have done of identifying players overlooked by the rest of the league and plugging them into a Dolphins roster ravaged by injury.
There’s a sense within the organization the team would not be on the verge of its first playoff appearance since 2008 if Ireland hadn’t brought in the following pieces:• Sam Brenner, who started and played every down at left guard against the Patriots. Brenner was undrafted out of Utah and spent training camp with Miami before ultimately ending up on the Dolphins’ active roster. The team’s bullying scandal gave him a shot to play, and he has outperformed Nate Garner enough to earn a starting job.
• Receiver Rishard Matthews, a former seventh-round pick who is now a de facto starter. When Brandon Gibson was lost for the season with a catastrophic knee injury seven weeks ago, Matthews became the team’s slot receiver. Ever since, he has caught 31 passes for 318 yards and two touchdowns — including 5 for 64 on Sunday.
(Gibson, as an aside, said Monday that he’s “doing great” after recovering from a torn patellar tendon. He walked into the team’s Davie headquarters without a cane, a brace or a noticeable limp.)• Tight end Charles Clay, who leads the team with six touchdowns. Offensive coordinator Mike Sherman said Monday that he has considered Clay a starter all year, but there is no question that Dustin Keller’s year-ending knee injury in August had the Dolphins nervous. But Clay, a former sixth-round pick, has developed into a threat in his third season.
• Scat back Marcus Thigpen, the diminutive speedster who spent three years playing in Canada. Although Thigpen has struggled in the return game this season, he has caught seven balls in limited action from scrimmage. Thigpen’s touchdown catch Sunday was not only the first of his career, but it was also the game-winner.
• Rookie linebacker Jelani Jenkins, who logged 27 snaps Sunday — largely at the expense of Philip Wheeler. Jenkins, a fourth-round pick in last April’s draft, doesn’t have the pedigree of Wheeler, but the Dolphins might like his coverage skills more. They used him in their nickel package against Brady. Defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle on Monday pooh-poohed the idea that Jenkins will supplant Wheeler as a starter, however.
Depending on the status of Paul Soliai — who injured his ankle Sunday — A.J. Francis might become the next low-profile player to get his shot. Although it is not believed Soliai’s injury is a season-ending proposition, it was serious enough that he didn’t return after getting injured. Francis is another undrafted rookie plucked from an NFL practice squad.
“Things aren’t static,” said Dolphins coach Joe Philbin, who praised the personnel staff for discovering Thomas. “It’s not like on Sept. 3 you have your roster and it’s never changing. Coaches, personnel people, everybody has to adjust and work through the course of the season.”
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Holder Brandon Fields, meanwhile, was able to find humor in the blooper-reel play, writing on Twitter on Sunday: “Great team win today! Good thing for facemasks!”• The Dolphins and Richie Incognito on Monday agreed to extend his suspension as Ted Wells concludes his review of the team’s locker-room culture. Incognito has been suspended six games total, including the past four with pay after a racially charged voicemail he left for Jonathan Martin was made public.
• Philbin, who circulated a motivational quote from Heat president Pat Riley in the locker room before Sunday’s game, said he has met Riley once and he was “very, very impressive to meet and speak to.”