Something’s different. You saw it Sunday because something significant happened.
It simply feels as though the Miami Dolphins have turned the corner on the 2017 season after Sunday’s satisfying 20-17 win over Atlanta. It feels as though this team is finding itself in much the same manner they did in 2016 and the timing is similar.
Last year it came after the fifth game. We saw a different team after that fifth game. I believe 2017’s turning point came in the fifth game. The difference is this year, Adam Gase’s team didn’t simply stink the first five weeks like it did last year.
Last year the team stunk early and their record showed how foul things were at 1-4.
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This year the team stunk early but it still managed at 2-2 record and now sits at 3-2.
And so in the last 16 regular season games these Dolphins have played, they’ve posted a 12-4 record. And while there’s no guarantee this team will string together victory after victory like the ‘16 team did to dig out of its early hole, I kind of got that vibe being around the team Sunday.
That victory over Atlanta is meaningful. It was a huge game. A huge win.
It was palpable how meaningful this was.
It was big because the Dolphins beat the defending NFC champions. On the road. And they did it after spotting the Falcons a 17-0 halftime lead.
“It was a great win for us,” running back Jay Ajayi said. “With how we have been playing, it was great for us just to finish a game no matter what the obstacles are. We were down early. This week we really put it on ourselves to stay together and not get frustrated no matter what we do as an offense or whether we put points on the board. We didn’t want our emotions to get us out of the game. I think this week offensively we were really able to lock in as well and keep our emotions in check. That was big for us, and we were able to create big plays down the stretch. The defense did the rest.”
The emotion thing is interesting. Last week Ajayi pouted on the sideline. Receiver Jarvis Landry manifested as well. It was so acute that coach Adam Gase met with both players during the week to make sure they remembered to maintain their professional wits about them during the game.
Well, interesting that Landry caught a touchdown pass and Ajayi rushed for 130 yards.
And this even after both players and the rest of the offense seemed lost in the first half during which they were shut out.
Despite this, the Dolphins overcame the Falcons and the deficit. The Falcons, by the way, seem to lack a killer instinct. We saw it in the Super Bowl. We saw it Sunday.
The Dolphins, meanwhile, refuse to give up. They should have given up on Sunday because there was no recent clue this game was going to be won. In fact to find such a comeback in team history one has to dig deep into team history.
*Miami’s 17-point comeback was the teams largest since a 21-point comeback vs. Buffalo on Dec. 4, 2005.
*The 17-point come-from-behind victory was Miami’s largest comeback on the road since an 18-point comeback at the N.Y. Jets on Nov. 27, 1994, also known as the “Fake Spike” game.
This comeback required individual players to perform at their best
Kicker Cody Parkey made his second game-winning kick this season, drilling a 38-yard field goal with 2:30 remaining. He also made a 49-yard kick to tie the score with 8:34 to go.
It marked the first time in Parkey’s career that he has made a game-tying and game-winning kick in the fourth quarter in the same game.
Quarterback Jay Cutler, supposedly on the brink of being benched (my readers know better), had a tough first half. But he recovered in the second half.
Cutler completed 11 of 19 passes (57.9 pct.) for 87 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions for a 104.5 quarterback rating during the second half on Sunday. It was the 23rd fourth-quarter or overtime comeback victory in his career and 14th on the road.
This was the first time in Cutler’s 144-game NFL career that he brought a team back to win from a deficit as large as 17 points.
The Dolphins are getting really good defense. They got good defense in a victory last week, too, but I was a little skeptical of that because they did it against a backup quarterback. On Sunday they did it against a Pro Bowl quarterback.
What did the defense do?
The Dolphins held Atlanta’s high-powered offense scoreless in the second half of the comeback victory. The last time the Falcons were held scoreless in a half was 23 games ago (including playoffs) on Jan. 3, 2016 in the second half vs. New Orleans.
Miami is one of just two teams in the NFL (Buffalo is the other) to not allow more than 20 points in a game this season.
The Dolphins limited the Falcons to just 106 net yards in the second half. It was Atlanta’s lowest second-half yardage output since Oct. 26, 2014 when they had 80 yards in the second half vs. Detroit. That covers a span of 47 games. Atlanta’s 339 net offensive yards was a season low and their fewest since Dec. 11, 2016 at the L.A. Rams, a span of 10 games.
“It feels good,” said defensive end Cameron Wake. “It is hard to rank them. Anytime you fight your way out of a hole and come out successful, especially against a good team, it definitely is going to be one that makes you feel good for a little while.”
When the Dolphins left the locker room after beating Tennessee last week, something didn’t feel right. That’s easy to explain because there were a lot of things wrong about that game and how the Dolphins mustered the win.
When the Dolphins left the locker room Sunday, it was different. Jermon Bushrod was kidding around as he left. Ajayi was content after his outing. Even Cutler seemed to have some pep during his presser.
“Yeah, offensively in the second half, we got it going,” Cutler said. “The defense and those guys are playing their tails off, and we have to match their effort, intensity, and focus. If we do that as a whole team, we’re going to win.”
This was significant. It feels like this team has turned a corner.
And no one will say that. No one will predict it.
But that’s how it feels to me.
Follow Armando Salguero on Twitter: @ArmandoSalguero