The season can’t start soon enough for the Dolphins.
Too bad they have three more weeks for injuries to potentially ruin what appears to be a really good thing.
The Dolphins are two games into the preseason, and what they have gotten from the starting offense and defense is dominance. They did it again Saturday, playing into the second quarter of the Dolphins’ 31-30 preseason loss against the Panthers.
But injuries to two starters and a key backup Saturday marred what was otherwise a feel-good week away from home.
We’ll get to that soon enough. But first, let’s revisit why there’s such optimism in Dolphins camp.
On offense Saturday: Ryan Tannehill completed 12 of 15 passes for 102 yards and a touchdown; his preseason passer rating is now a ridiculous 126.9. Running back Damien Williams became the first Dolphins player in two decades to have a receiving and rushing touchdown in the same preseason game.
“Our first-team offense really moved the ball well,” coach Joe Philbin said with typical understatement; his side outgained its opposition 116-8 in the first quarter.
Said Tannehill: “When you score two out of three drives, you feel like you’re moving ball well. ... The guys competed well, moved the ball well, we were able to score, and ultimately, that’s what you’re in there to do.”
As for the defense: In four series, the starters recorded two three-and-outs, forced a turnover and had a jaw-dropping goal-line stand — turning away the Panthers four times from the inside the 3-yard line.
Ndamukong Suh was again as good as advertised; his pressure on Cam Newton on fourth-and-goal forced Newton to scramble instead of throw to the end zone (Newton’s run came up a yard short of the goal line).
And Jamar Taylor had the best play of his promising preseason, stepping in front of Greg Olsen and picking off Newton early in the second quarter.
But then Taylor got injured, and his evening became a symbol of the Dolphins’ outlook for the year: Tons of potential that can be undone by a cruel twist of fate.
Taylor, who seemed to have a hold on the starting cornerback job opposite Brent Grimes, strained his quadriceps while in coverage a series after his interception. He was visibly frustrated, slamming his helmet to the ground and later holding his face while trainers checked him out.
The Dolphins listed Taylor as questionable to return, but he never did.
Taylor is scheduled for further tests Sunday, but the vibe in the locker room postgame was optimistic. If the injury is serious, the Dolphins’ starting secondary will have suffered its second body blow in four days. Safety Louis Delmas is out for the season with a torn ACL.
Adding to the pain: Bobby McCain, a promising rookie corner, injured his ankle on the opening kickoff of the second half and did not return.
Neither did starting left tackle Jason Fox after leaving the game with concussion symptoms.
It’s an unavoidable fact of football, and one that the Dolphins couldn’t overcome last year.
The key for Miami this year: Keeping their star players upright. They can survive Delmas getting hurt. Tannehill or Suh? An entirely different story.
Tannehill is in complete control in Year Two with Bill Lazor’s system; the Dolphins’ offense has scored touchdowns on three of his five series this preseason.
And he should have had a fourth. Philbin challenged a Williams goal-line run that not only wasn’t a touchdown, but actually resulted in a turnover. Officials determined Williams fumbled out of bounds, the worst possible result when Philbin threw the challenge flag.
The gaffe put the starting defense on its heels for the first time all game. The Panthers moved from their 20 to the Dolphins’ 2, where they had first-and-goal. The next four plays: four runs for a total of 1 yard.
“It felt good, it felt good,” defensive end Cameron Wake said. “We came out here, we had a big job, they got the ball down there and, as a group, we just said, ‘Hey, look, we’re going to treat this like a real game. You can’t let them in no matter what.’ All of the guys stood up and we turned them away.”