Reggie Bush came to Miami for a chance to be the man.
When his team needed him most Sunday, Bush was the man of the hour.
With Sunday’s home opener against Oakland very much in doubt, Bush took over, snapping off second-half touchdown runs of 23 and 65 yards to carry the Dolphins to a 35-13 victory.
Bush’s heroics not only broke the game open, they shattered Oakland’s will when the game was there for the taking.
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“Slowly but surely, we started to break their spirit a little bit,” said Bush, who heard chants of “REG-GIE! REG-GIE!” as he left the field. “Those types of plays are huge momentum [shifts] for us.”
And with a rookie quarterback still learning the game, they are exactly what’s needed to jump-start an offense that before Sunday was anemic, at best.
On a day in which they honored the perfect 1972 team, the Dolphins went old-school, grounding and pounding the Raiders into submission before an announced crowd of 54,245. In all, the Dolphins churned out 263 yards and four touchdowns on the ground, controlling the ball for nearly 35 of the game’s 60 minutes.
Ryan Tannehill showed marked improvement over his three-interception debut, putting together an efficient, 18-of-30 passing day for 200 yards and had touchdowns both on the ground and through the air. Brian Hartline had a career day, catching nine passes for 111 yards.
Yet that all paled in comparison to Bush’s remarkable afternoon.
Bush ran through the allegedly stout Raiders front seven for 172 yards on 26 carries, getting stronger as the game went on. It was his seventh career 100-yard game, and the second-biggest rushing output since turning pro.
Bush finished with 197 all-purpose yards — or 44 percent of his team’s total output — on 29 touches.
Anyone doubt he can handle the pounding of an every-down back now?
“First downs are tough to come by; points are tough to come by,” said Joe Philbin, a winner Sunday for the first time as an NFL head coach. “When you can get somebody to stick the ball in the end zone from a distance, [it] makes everybody’s life easier.”
Particularly when little else is going right. The Dolphins trailed 10-7 midway though the third quarter, and the offense had stalled, going three-and-out on four consecutive possessions (not including a kneel-down to end the first half). The Dolphins faced third-and-1 from the Oakland 23, and risked wasting great field position.
Breaking the rules
The call was for an inside run by Bush, but the tailback broke football’s cardinal rule when he saw nowhere to go: He bounced a short-yardage carry to the outside.
Good thing he did. Once he turned upfield, Bush made a series of gasp-inducing moves to break at least four tackles en route to the end zone.
After an Oakland punt, Bush needed just three offensive plays to return there. Offensive coordinator Mike Sherman called an outside zone blocking play to the left side — a staple of the Dolphins’ offense — and the offensive line picked up a strong-side linebacker blitz to spring Bush free. Jorvorskie Lane then made a seal-off block on the second level, and from there, it was a footrace.
“‘Don’t get caught,’” Bush said, when asked what flashed through his mind. “When you get a breakaway, there’s a difference between when you’re by yourself and when … somebody’s on you. It’s a lot harder, tougher, and you get worn out.”
Lucky for Bush, Lamar Miller was more than willing to give him a breather. Miller ran for 65 yards a touchdown on 10 carries in his pro debut, helping the Dolphins average 6.1 yards per rush.
Tannehill got Miami on the board first with a two-yard dive on the game’s initial drive, then later connected with Anthony Fasano on a 14-yard touchdown pass, the first of the young quarterback’s career.
That was more than enough for the defense, which hung tough after a trying first half. Carson Palmer threw for 373 yards on 24 of 48 passing, but couldn’t get Oakland in the end zone after the first quarter.
The Dolphins made one last stop late in regulation, allowing the team to run out the clock, and securing an emotional victory for Philbin — his first of any sort since the accidental death of his son Michael in January. Philbin’s players doused him with the customary Gatorade bath as the clock expired.
“I had my entire family here today; my mom and dad and my five siblings,” Philbin said, his voice cracking. “It’s good. I’m very blessed.”
With a running back like Reggie Bush, it’s hard not to feel that way.