Terrell Williams had a stack of boxed lunches in his hands and a quick getaway in mind when he paused, ever so briefly, to discuss his defensive line late Sunday afternoon.
Nice game today, someone said to Williams.
“It’s about time,” he shot back before shuffling out of the Dolphins’ victorious locker room.
Most everyone in the organization would agree.
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The way the Dolphins won Sunday — an ugly 15-13 decision against the depleted Ravens — is not a template for the rest of the season. The offense was toothless, again, and scored just eight points. That will get you beat against most anyone else.
But the way the defensive line, coached by Williams, crushed the Ravens’ front was supposed to be the foundation of any Dolphins game plan this fall.
On Sunday, it finally played out as envisioned.
The Dolphins’ defensive line was the difference in the game.
Every time Miami (5-7) had to have a play, the D-line responded.
Need a goal-line stand? Jordan Phillips stuffed the quarterback short of the sticks.
Gotta get off the field? Olivier Vernon dropped Matt Schaub in the backfield.
In search of a spark? Phillips caused an interception with a deflection.
Having trouble scoring? Derrick Shelby produced points by himself with a pick-6.
All this happened Sunday — and more. And as a result, the Dolphins have a promising building block as an otherwise disappointing season enters its final quarter.
“Our defense, they played lights out,” said Dolphins coach Dan Campbell, who is now 4-4 since replacing Joe Philbin.
Added Ryan Tannehill: “The D-line was huge. Every time I looked up, it seemed like they were getting pressure on Schaub.”
The stats prove Tannehill’s point. The Dolphins had three sacks (including 2.5 by Shelby). They had five tackles for loss.
And, most impressively, they had 10 quarterback hits, including two by Ndamukong Suh.
“Every single game that we go into, defense wants to go out there and limit some scoring,” Suh said. “If teams can’t score, they can’t win games against us. [The score] could be 0-0 for all I care. We’ll have ties or wins.”
For a while, that result didn’t seem far-fetched. The offense, except for 113 rushing yards by Lamar Miller and one touchdown throw by Tannehill, was non-existent. The Dolphins had just 219 total yards and eight first downs.
And they were scoreless for most of the first half. Phillips helped change that very late in the second quarter, batting Schaub’s pass into the air; Reshad Jones came down with the ball at the Baltimore 38.
The next play, the Dolphins were in the end zone, courtesy of a 38-yard jump-ball completion from Tannehill to DeVante Parker.
Twenty seconds later, they were back there. Shelby batted up another pass from Schaub, plucked it out of the air, and rumbled to the promised land.
“We had a blitz on, pressure,” Shelby said. “I got turned free. I got my hands up. I thought I got a good tip on it, and I did, I tracked the ball, and the rest was a touchdown.”
But even after all that — plus a drive-ending tackle by Phillips at the Miami 2 in the second quarter — the Dolphins still needed their defensive front to bail them out one last time.
Miller’s only bad play came at the worst possible time. He fumbled away the ball at the Dolphins’ 41 with 4:17 left and Miami up two.
Yet the defense again responded — both on the field, and the sidelines.
Recalled linebacker Kelvin Sheppard: “You saw multiple guys, not just myself, go over. ‘Lamar, you’re good. You’re about to get the ball right back. You’re good, it’s no pressure.’”
Sheppard was right. The Ravens managed just four yards in three plays. Justin Tucker pushed a 55-yard field goal right. Baltimore wouldn’t get in Miami territory again.
“Everybody as a whole on defense, we stepped up to the plate,” Vernon said. “We did what we had to do.”
With that, even Williams would agree.