EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- These Miami Dolphins never blow out an opponent and that’s why coach Adam Gase was privately telling confidants and friends last week he’d be thrilled to get out of Metropolis with a win, no matter how close or ugly.
Except this one wasn’t close.
And it was, in fact, a thing of beauty.
This one was supposed to be about a team that is chasing a playoff berth dispatching a team whose season ended about a month ago. This was supposed to be about a team that seemed to be getting healthier with the return of Kiko Alonso and Jelani Jenkins beating down a team playing with its eighth offensive line combination of the year and three backups starting at center and the two tackle spots.
This game was supposed to display what happens when one backup quarterback, in this case Miami’s Matt Moore, is experienced and capable while the other backup, New York’s Bryce Petty, is inexperienced and simply learning to play in the NFL.
And, amazingly, this game delivered. It was all of those wonderful things for the Dolphins -- just as scripted.
Just as the Dolphins wanted and needed it to be.
This is where I tell you games like this have too many times gone the wrong way for the Dolphins.
They snooze too long or they get careless with the football or they simply lack the instinct to step on an inferior opponent’s throat. In the past the Dolphins may have been just as talented as today but something didn’t fit. Something wasn’t right. They didn’t play as a team.
You know I’m right.
Not this night.
Not these Dolphins.
This 34-13 whipping was satisfying and confidence-building and exactly what a team that just lost its starting quarterback a week ago needed.
About that quarterback situation: Starter Ryan Tannehill, speaking publicly for the first time since his injury, in the locker room denied an NBC and NFL Network report that he has a completely torn MCL is correct. Although there is zero certainty Tannehill can play again even if the Dolphins get in the playoffs, he remains hopeful that can happen.
Me? I think the next time you’ll see Tannehill play will be the 2017 season.
And if that is true, this team belongs to Matt Moore for the duration of 2016. If that is true, this team seems to be in good hands based on what we saw Saturday night.
Moore, who hadn’t started a game since 2011, played as if he’s the second-best starting QB in the AFC East only behind New England’s Tom Brady. He connected deep with Kenny Stills for a TD. He hit Jarvis Landry in stride on a short slant that Landry turned into a 66-yard race to the end zone. He found tight end Dion Sims twice for red zone TD passes -- which I love.
Moore threw four touchdowns and what was most impressive about that showing is he completed only 12 passes the whole game while attempting only 18. Talk about efficiency.
“I thought his command was great,” Gase said. “We took some shots and he hit them. He missed a couple that I know he wanted back but he kept his head, kept plugging along.”
Moore’s 52-yard bomb to Stills was his prettiest throw of the evening. And before this begins to sound like a gushing endorsement of Moore’s longterm viability, please note that he underthrew a couple of passes where Miami receivers were behind Jets defenders.
So, no, Moore’s arm isn’t quite as strong as Tannehill’s and maybe isn’t as strong as we saw way back in 2011 when he last started a game for the Dolphins. But despite this, the results are so far compelling.
“There were some nerves,” Moore admitted afterward. “I would be lying if I said ther were no nerves. Maybe it showed a little early. We started slow and got of got into a little groove there in the middle part of the game. Once we got going, I think all that negative stuff, if you will, kind of wore off.”
The Stills pass obviously came once Moore, a streak passer, got hot. Stills, by the way, has three receiving touchdowns of 50 yards or more this season. That’s tied with Odell Beckham Jr. for most in the NFL from that long range. All seven of his TDs have came from 20 yards or more yards and that is second in the NFL behind only Antonio Brown.
This blowout score would suggest the Dolphins got all their heroics from the offense. But that suggestion would be wrong.
Walt Aikens blocked a punt. Walt Aikens scooped up the loose football. Walt Aikens carried the football 11 yards for a touchdown. So the special teams helped.
Cameron Wake caused a turnover with a strip sack and then intercepted a pass and that was the first time a Dolphins defender caused a fumble and intercepted a pass in one game since 2006 when Jason Taylor did it.
Wake was the most active Dolphins defender this game. His play kept the Dolphins in the game early. And later he knocked Petty out of the game in the fourth quarter, which was probably good for the young QB because Wake had already collected three hits on him and seemed intent on going for the full handful of bruisings.
“It was just a game where a lot of guys were making a lot of plays literally all over the field,” Wake said. “So it was special teams, offense, defense. We knew what kind of game it was going to be coming in. I think the guys prepared and we got the win.”
Tony Lippett also deserves mention. He intercepted two passes on a night when cornerback mate Byron Maxwell had to leave the game in the first half with an ankle injury. So Lippett and Xavien Howard, playing for the first time in two months, worked most of the evening against New York receiver Brandon Marshall.
Did you hear about the great game Marshall had? Neither did I.
I did see Lippett collect two interceptions.
All this was indicative of a team knocking out an overmatched opponent. And it was. That is true.
But it’s also true the Dolphins started slow. They gave up a TD on New York’s first possession. They missed the extra point on their own first touchdown. So it was, I’ll say it, what Dolphins fans fearing the worst might have thought they were going to get the entire evening.
Not this night.
“This is an amazing feeling to be in the position that we are in,” Landry said. “We are basically in control of our destiny. I can’t remember in past years, how many Dolphins teams were above .500 at this point in the year. So for us to be where we are, it’s a testament to the hard work we put in.”
This was a whipping that not even coach Adam Gase would have predicted. This was the whipping that the Dolphins were supposed to administer but in past years failed to complete. This time call this an assignment completed.