Armando Salguero

The Dolphins found a winning formula against the Steelers. But can it carry over?

Miami Dolphins free safety Michael Thomas (31) reacts after stopping Pittsburgh Steelers defensive back Justin Gilbert (24) as the Miami Dolphins host the Pittsburg Steelers at Hard Rock Stadium on Sunday, October 16, 2016.
Miami Dolphins free safety Michael Thomas (31) reacts after stopping Pittsburgh Steelers defensive back Justin Gilbert (24) as the Miami Dolphins host the Pittsburg Steelers at Hard Rock Stadium on Sunday, October 16, 2016.

There was something different about this week and the Miami Dolphins seemed to know it even before they shocked the Pittsburgh Steelers (and you) (and me) with a 30-15 dismantling of what is supposed to be a Super Bowl contender.

On Saturday night when the Dolphins began their walk-thru practice, in the ballroom of the hotel they stay the night before home games, players took off their shoes and began to simulate the plays they would run the next afternoon.

And there was a thumping sound that was … audible … loud, even.

Coaches looked around at each other because players seemed to be stepping harder, believe it or not, as they went through the plays. And coaches took it to mean the team was moving more confidently.

Yes, I know. Weird.

But true.

Anyway, not long afterward, Jay Ajayi and a couple of offensive linemen were talking, and the idea of rushing for 150 yards against the Steelers came up. That's about twice what Pittsburgh's No. 5 ranked run defense had been yielding this season.

And offensive lineman Jermon Bushrod didn't think 150 rushing yards by one back was too much.

"It was just Mike [Pouncey] said something about 150 and I said, 'Let's go for 200,' " Bushrod said. "Let's go for two. He busted a [62-yarder] at the end of the game and the dude got it. I thought it was great."

That's how this upset's groundwork was laid. That's how it began.

It ended with Ajayi running past the Dolphins' sideline on his long touchdown and coach Adam Gase yelling at him, imploring the tailback as he flashed by to score rather than take a knee at the 2-yard line because, well, red zone conversion statistics are important to coaches.

So this was an improbable win. This was a joyful win, as the smiles and good cheer in the locker room testified. Those smiles and the obvious satisfaction of victory were absent during Miami's other win this season because that Cleveland game three weeks ago actually left a bitter taste in this team's palate.

That game suggested trouble was afoot. This one suggested things, too. But this was different.

This one suggested the Dolphins are a completely different team when their offensive line is intact. It suggested Tannehill is a good quarterback when he gets protection. This one suggested better days are coming.

This game marked the first time this season in which Ja'Wuan James, Bushrod, Pouncey, Laremy Tunsil and Branden Albert all started and played. Those men are supposed to make up the Dolphins' starting offensive line but they had yet to start a game together this season.

They started Sunday and the results were eye-popping. A week after a line that lacked Albert and Tunsil allowed six sacks of Tannehill by the Tennessee Titans, this line -- the real offensive line -- didn't give up a sack to the Steelers.

The offensive line playing well helped the running game and obviously helped quarterback Ryan Tannehill. "It makes a big difference when you have holes and the quarterback is not on his back," Gase said, agreeing with the obvious.

But what wasn't obvious also mattered.

Tannehill said his confidence grew during the game as he realized his spleen was not at risk in this one. He said he began to read the entire field instead of just his first receiver option. That matters.

And the defense -- under siege the past few weeks -- seemed to get stronger instead of wilting later in the game because they weren't constantly on the field.

One more thing: The onslaught from Miami's offense, led by the line charge, literally made the Steelers sick in the heat and humidity of an overcast day.

"It's big whenever you can put those long drives together (and) keep pushing the ball down the field," Tannehill said. "I think right at the end of the half, we were on the goal line after the big play to Jarvis (Landry) and I saw a couple of their linebackers puking on the field."

So this now leaves us with a question. And it leaves the Dolphins with a hope.

After this game, many players suggested this game's winning formula could serve as a launching pad. It left them believing the team can take flight.

"I think the thing that today proved to a lot of our guys, and a lot of our coaches, (was) what you possibly could be," Gase said.

The coach followed that hopeful thought with the obligatory talk of the NFL being a week-to-week league and the next game not relating to this one. But anyone who saw how the Dolphins can play has to ask whether it can be maintained.

"I think," Tannehill said, "it’s something we can build off of, for sure.”

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