And now the Dolphins are relevant.
No, they haven’t arrived as a playoff team already punching its postseason ticket. It’s too early in the season to claim that status, and perhaps some of you are old enough to remember 2010 when Dolphins also started the season 2-0 with two road victories before finishing 7-9.
But Sunday’s win here against a good team and a good quarterback sends Dolphins fans a message that the group general manager Jeff Ireland put together and coach Joe Philbin is developing has begun to show signs that good days are ahead.
Perhaps more good days than this franchise has enjoyed in a while.
Call this 24-20 victory over the Colts a milestone. It shows how far the Dolphins have come since last season — when they lost to these very Colts. It suggests these Dolphins have more winning formulas they can use than recent Miami teams that had to run the ball well and play great defense to squeeze out games.
And, most important, this win shows when the field is replete with playmakers, and the Colts have quite a few of their own, the Dolphins can compete because they have their fair share, too.
The Dolphins have a growing list of playmakers on offense and defense — perhaps more than they have had since the years when they would routinely go to the playoffs — and several of those stepped to the center stage in this game.
All of them made big plays.
“That’s what it takes to win in this league, making plays,” Grimes said. “It’s only two games in and it’s a long season. But if we keep it up, we’ll be happy with what we do by year’s end.”
Grimes got beat on 47-yard completion from Colts quarterback Andrew Luck to former FIU star receiver T.Y. Hilton in the first half. That play happened even though Grimes had great position and was thinking he was about to collect an interception.
But when he failed, Grimes went back to the sideline and promised coaches if Luck tried him again, he would make up for it with an interception. And when Luck unwisely went after Grimes again in the second half, throwing a pass to Reggie Wayne that Grimes again covered well, the Dolphins cornerback answered the challenge.
He intercepted the pass to end a Colts drive. He won.
He made a play.
Remember a year ago in a similar situation Luck threw an ill-advised pass that former cornerback Sean Smith caught and then dropped? Given a second chance, Luck went on to lead a scoring drive and all Smith could discuss in the locker room afterward was how he didn’t make the play.
This time it was Luck who was left to bitterly lament that moment and others. Luck, who had authored eight comeback victories in 17 previous NFL starts, including a late victory over Miami last year, was in position to add to his growing legend again.
But this season, rather than play victim to a playmaker, the Dolphins got big plays of their own. On offense, they answered with Tannehill, who actually outdueled his counterpart.
On defense, the Dolphins sent pressure from all sides and angles and positions. And on one of those blitzes, running back Donald Brown couldn’t block Wheeler, and the Miami linebacker collected a sack on the game clinching fourth-down play.
Wheeler was brought in along with Dannell Ellerbe to cover closer, run faster and blitz better than Karlos Dansby and Kevin Burnett did a year ago. Both were brought in to make plays.
“It’s always a good position when I’m standing up and the quarterback is on the ground,” Wheeler said. “So I was happy.”
The Dolphins are thrilled to have receivers (plural) who can compete with those like the Colts have. Last year, Brian Hartline was seemingly the lone playmaker in a desert of 15-, 16-, 17-play touchdown drives.
Miami’s three touchdown drives against Indy went six plays, three plays, and six plays.
Now the Dolphins can connect on big plays in the passing game. Think of it, Charles Clay caught a 67-yard pass, Hartline had a 24-yard catch and Wallace caught a 34-yarder. Wallace also caught an otherwise innocuous bubble screen and in a blink he turned it into an 18-yard touchdown play.
And there’s potential for more because Wallace and Tannehill are admittedly not fully comfortable with each other just yet.
“Him and me are getting on the same page,” Wallace said. “Him and [fellow newcomer Brandon Gibson] are already on the same page. Now, we’re getting on the same page as well.”
A year ago the Dolphins lost two games in overtime and another one in regulation by three points. They claimed they were close to winning games, close to making plays because, well, they were.
But they were never good enough to actually make those plays. They weren’t good enough to win those tight games.
This team has more talent.
It doesn’t win on every play but it doesn’t consistently fall just short, either. It wins on its share of plays because there are playmakers throughout the lineup. That means close games that became losses a year ago might be wins this year.
And that absolutely makes the Dolphins relevant again.