Miami Dolphins

Big plays have been Dolphins’ savior this season

Kenyan Drake’s long touchdown run was one of four Dolphins plays of 40 or more yards against the Bills.
Kenyan Drake’s long touchdown run was one of four Dolphins plays of 40 or more yards against the Bills. adiaz@miamiherald.com

The best sign that something special is happening in Miami?

Even Dolphins offensive coordinator Clyde Christensen can’t explain their success.

Yes, the Dolphins’ defensive stats are historically bad.

But a team can overcome that if its offense is otherworldly.

That hasn’t been the case here.

The Dolphins rank 31st in first downs (236), 29th in third-down conversions (35.2 percent), 22nd in yards (336.3) and 16th in scoring (23.3).

And yet they’re 10-5.

“It’s interesting to look at our numbers,” Christensen said Thursday. “You really don’t see an explanation.”

Christensen added: “I don’t know how we do it. We just keep throwing blows, seeing what’s happening. That’s kind of been our deal. It hasn’t been the conventional way. It hasn’t been the way any of us have been used to.”

Here’s an explanation as good as any: No team has had more offensive big plays than Miami this season.

The Dolphins’ 20 plays of 40 or more yards are tied with Atlanta for the most in football.

They have 15 40-plus pass plays, good for third. They have five 40-plus run plays, which is tied for first.

Kenny Stills, Miami Dolphins WR, had a big catch in the fourth quarter for a touchdown but also didn't win the competition with a Buffalo Bill's defender for a long pass to him in the third quarter.

“This is as explosive an offense as we’ve seen all year,” Patriots coach Bill Belichick said this week.

And like everything else about this remarkable Dolphins season, they’ve done it by committee. Here’s the list of Dolphins with plays of at least 40 yards this season: Jarvis Landry, Jay Ajayi, Kenyan Drake, DeVante Parker, Kenny Stills, Damien Williams, MarQueis Gray and the retired Arian Foster.

“Every game takes on a little bit of a life of its own,” Dolphins coach Adam Gase said. “When explosive plays are available, you try to take them.”

Last Saturday’s overtime win over the Bills was a microcosm of the Dolphins’ season. There’s no way they would have won without these four plays:

Parker took a short pass and broke loose for a 56-yard touchdown. Drake reversed course on a run, found daylight and raced 45 yards. Williams turned a swing pass into a 44-yard completion. And Ajayi in overtime ran through the Bills for 57 yards, setting up Andrew Franks’ game-winning field goal.

The home runs have become so routine, 320-pound guard Jermon Bushrod no longer runs down the field to celebrate with his teammates.

Jay Ajayi, Miami Dolphins running back, is excited about their win over the New York Jets and is OK with not having his third consecutive 200 yard running game.

“Early on the season, yeah, I did,” Bushrod said. “After a while, I’ll see Kenny on the sidelines. If he catches a 50-, 60-yard pass, ‘I’ll see you on the sidelines. I appreciate you, but I’ll see you on the sidelines.’ 

No Dolphin has more catches of 20 or more yards than Landry, which disproves the idea that he’s simply a possession receiver. And Landry has done it several ways. He’s caught a short screen and “all of a sudden breaks six tackles and runs for another 20 yards,” as Christensen said. And he’s run away from defenders, like he did on his 66-yard touchdown reception against the Jets.

Now, there are limits. Matt Moore learned that Saturday in Buffalo, where he forced a deep pass in the end zone to Stills late in the first half. The Bills picked him off and nearly won the game because of it.

“We don’t want to do that ever again,” Christensen said with laugh, but as serious as he could be. “That was a bad interception. That took three [points] off the board. ... Matt knew it as soon as it left his hands.”

The Dolphins have largely avoided those types of turnovers while going 9-1 over their past 10 games. They were a garish minus-7 after the Titans game; they’ve been plus-11 ever since.

Is that a sustainable way to win — on big plays and turnovers?

“You can count on them in the sense that it keeps happening, week after week after week,” Christensen said. “I don’t have an explanation for them, but I do count on them because that’s the way we play.”

▪ Members of the South Florida media named safety Michael Thomas the Dolphins’ 2016 Good Guy, presented to the player “best exhibiting professionalism and courtesy in assisting the media.”

▪ The University of Michigan practiced at the Dolphins’ training facility Thursday ahead of Friday’s Orange Bowl.

▪ Gray, a tight end, announced he has signed a two-year extension.

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