Miami Dolphins receiver DeVante Parker wore a Donald Duck T-shirt as players returned to their Davie headquarters Monday following their season-opening victory in Los Angeles. Donald looked angry, though. He was scowling, ready for a fight.
Parker didn’t look any happier.
A day later, he still was angry at what he called a dirty tackle by Chargers safety Jahleel Addae — a low hit while Parker was midair that flung him out of bounds, denying him a 20-yard catch.
“Push me out or something, don’t hit me low,” Parker said. “He tried to take me out.”
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Addae said he meant no harm, and was not penalized. I’m not sure he deserved to be. After scrutinizing the play several times, it is clear Parker was hit from behind, below the waist but above the right knee. The thing is, at full speed, that hit same hit just a bit lower might have ended Parker’s season half a game into it.
Parker’s anger was palpable. Teammate Jarvis Landry physically restrained him from attacking Addae. Two plays later came halftime, with players from both teams leaving the field via a shared tunnel. Pushing and shoving erupted, the residue of that hit on Parker.
“We want t make sure we protect our guys,” Landry said. “Make sure everybody knows we got their back.”
I find funny the story line that that hit lit a fire under the Dolphins, leading to the 19-17 win. Had L.A. made a very makeable 44-yard field in the closing seconds, that same story line would have been buried under the disappointment of a 20-19 loss.
In any case, what is clear coming out of the game is that Parker is worth protecting. He is something special. At 6-3 and 209 pounds, and at age 24, he has a chance to be Miami’s next big sports star.
You saw why in the third quarter when Parker sprinted in single coverage against . Chargers cornerback Casey Hayward. Jay Cutler’s pass was slightly underthrown. It might have been intercepted. But Parker found that invisible step stool of his and climbed above Hayward for a 31-yard catch — one of his four on the day for a team-best 85 yards.
Parker teased Hayward after the play.
“Thought you had it, huh?” he told him.
Said Landry of his teammate, “that’s being a monster.”
Forgive Parker perhaps overreacting to that low hit and being overprotective of his health. His first two NFL seasons were beset by hamstring and foot injuries. In a way, it feels like he’s a rookie again, just getting started.
“I have the mind-set now I just want to go out there and kill everything,” he said. “Dominate. I can be more aggressive now. When I was injured all year I didn’t have that chance. Now I’m healthy. I’m at my best.”
Largely because of that, this could be the Dolphins’ most dynamic offense in years. That seems strange to say after a game in which Miami scored a modest 19 points (with four field goals) and was ultimately lucky to win.
But Cutler looked really good: 24 of 33 for 230 yards, a TD and no turnovers. (”He was a baller,” said center Mike Pouncey). Jay Ajayi busted 122 rushing yards on 28 carries. And Parker looked, for real, like the first-round draft pick he was.
Oh, and that’s not even mentioning Kenny Stills catching Miami’s only TD pass, and Landry grabbing 13 receptions for 78 yards.
So many distractions have surrounded this team. Ryan Tannehill’s season-ending injury and Cutler’s late, emergency arrival. The season opener postponed by Hurricane Irma. Linebacker Lawrence Timmons going AWOL in L.A. the day before the opener. And, on the field, questions about the defense and whether it would be improved have dominated attention.
What shone through on Sunday, though, is the great potential of this Dolphins offense, and DeVante Parker as the most improved element of it.