“Where’s the ball? I need that!”
It didn’t matter where you were in the Dolphins’ victorious, yet subdued locker room Sunday, Louis Delmas’ words rang out. And a half-hour after the Dolphins 27-13 throttling of the Jaguars, Delmas was still looking for the rock.
Much earlier, his 81-yard interception return for a touchdown gave the Dolphins a lead they would never relinquish.
Seeing that interceptions are rare for defensive backs – and touchdowns even rarer – the gregarious Delmas wanted a souvenir for his trouble: the errant football thrown to him by Blake Bortles.
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In truth, the entire Dolphins offense should present each of their defensive counterparts a game ball after Sunday’s effort.
Miami’s offense couldn’t outscore the Jaguars on Sunday. Fortunately for the Dolphins – now 4-3 and winners of two in a row for the first time – their defense did.
Delmas and corner Brent Grimes each had pick-6s to provide enough firepower to beat Jacksonville all by themselves.
Good thing, too. After three weeks of precision and efficiency, the Dolphins were clunky when they had the football. They didn’t pick up a first down until late in the first half. They were outgained by 51 yards. And just one of their four red-zone trips resulted in a touchdown.
“We weren’t playing well,” acknowledged Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill, who was 16 of 29, 196 yards with a touchdown and a pick.
“Unacceptable,” was a word Tannehill also used.
But if you’re going to have an off day, have it against the Jaguars, losers for the seventh time in eight games. Jacksonville was downright charitable Sunday.
The Jaguars turned the ball over three times. They had a field goal blocked by Olivier Vernon. And despite 26 snaps in Dolphins territory in the first half, they went into the break down 10-3.
While Jacksonville squandered their chances, the Dolphins’ defense made its own opportunities.
Bortles entered the game as the league’s most interception-prone quarterback and Miami defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle showed no mercy. He sent blitzes. He brought just four. He called man-coverage. And on Delmas’ pick, he allowed for help.
The play that turned around the game started – as expected – with pressure. Bortles feigned play-action and rolled to his left. Vernon was immediately in his face – “I don’t think he wanted any parts of the tackle,” the Dolphins defensive end later said.
So Bortles forced the pass to tight end Nic Jacobs. Delmas read it perfectly, made the play – and ran untouched to pay dirt.
“Dead tired,” Delmas said with a chuckle. That’s about all that Delmas could remember about just the second touchdown of his pro career. “I had my eyes closed. I ended up in the end zone.”
He wasn’t done making plays. Delmas later recovered a Bortles fumble that Jelani Jenkins forced inside the Dolphins’ 25.
And yet, the game remained very much in doubt early in the second half. The Jaguars had the ball at their own 7, down just a touchdown, when the Dolphins’ secondary essentially sealed it.
Cecil Shorts III tested Grimes on a first-down double-move. Grimes wasn’t fooled by the move or Bortles’ pump-fake, leaping in front of the receiver, intercepting the pass and having a clear path to yet another defensive score for the Dolphins. It was just the fifth time in the team’s 49-year history that the Dolphins had two interceptions for scores in the same game.
“We are not happy with how we played,” Grimes later said. “I mean we are happy because we won and made a lot of plays. We obviously have things to work on and do things better and that’s what we’re going to do next week.”
They better. Thirteen points on offense won’t get it done this coming Sunday against the Chargers – or against anybody else they’ll face in the next month. The Dolphins’ next four opponents – San Diego, Detroit, Buffalo and Denver – are a combined 22-9.
This daunting stretch will go a long way in determining the fate of a season now brimming with possibilities.
Said corner Cortland Finnegan: “If you keep stacking wins on wins, you find yourself at the end of the year in a good spot.”