Armando Salguero

Dolphins were good on Sunday. Why it matters for 2018.

Miami Dolphins Kenny Stills (10) catches a circus pass in the first quarter as they play the Denver Broncos at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens, Florida, Dec. 3, 2017.
Miami Dolphins Kenny Stills (10) catches a circus pass in the first quarter as they play the Denver Broncos at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens, Florida, Dec. 3, 2017.

This game mattered. Can we agree to that right from the top?

I know you want to argue about that. I know you have mostly abandoned hope for the 2017 Miami Dolphins and what you mostly care about now is free agency next spring — and the 2018 draft. You care about who is getting cut to improve salary-cap room next season.

But this Miami Dolphins 35-9 victory over the Denver Broncos mattered because it addressed issues right now and could have repercussions that will ripple into next season.

And perhaps seasons to come.

Let’s start with the fact the Dolphins got a great game out of the entire team. That’s big because, well, it’s the first time it happened this season.

The offense rolled, with great performances by Kenyan Drake (120 rushing yards) and Kenny Stills (98 receiving yards, including a touchdown) and solid protection from an offensive line that yielded seven sacks the week before. I hardly know what to do with myself writing about three offensive touchdowns.

The defense? It was, for one afternoon, dominant.

There was the interception by Xavien Howard. And the other interception Howard returned for a touchdown. And the other interception by T.J. McDonald. Then the Dolphins got three sacks from Andre Branch, Jordan Phillips and Bobby McCain.

Matt Burke’s unit was as billed on Sunday.

So this was as complete a whipping as the Dolphins have administered in quite a while.

And did I mention the blocked punt by Terrence Fede?

“I know those guys have been working hard to try to find a way to win one game,” coach Adam Gase said. “They did a great job all week long, they grinded through five losses and found a way today.”

And that’s what leads to the big question that has 2018 importance: Why couldn’t the Dolphins play like this more often? Why couldn’t they deliver performances closer to this one before Week 13 of the NFL season?

We need an answer because if the Dolphins can tell us why it took so long to get revved up to play like this this season, perhaps next season they can get it going way, way earlier.

And so what’s the answer? Why did it take so long to see this?

“That’s more frustrating than not being able to do things in the first place,” defensive end Cameron Wake said. “If you can never stop the run you tell yourself, ‘Hey, we can’t stop the run. We can never do it. Let’s figure out a way to win despite that.’ But obviously we’ve shown that some days we can stop the run and pass rush. That is frustrating.

“At the same time, knowing the ability is there is encouraging. The potential is the rewarding part and if we continue to do it, we can put together a string of games together with that kind of mentality, then who knows?”

So learning the lesson this year might help for next year.

This is also important: The Dolphins got very good signs for the future from Sunday’s game.

Jordan Phillips played very well in a game he needed to show up big because rookie Davon Godchaux missed the game with a knee injury. Phillips had that sack, a couple of quarterback hits atop that and deflected a pass that resulted in Howard’s second interception.

That’s huge because, like it or not, Phillips is going to be on the team next year. And the Dolphins need to see players who are the future play like that future is bright.

And Phillips has lately been playing the best football of his three-year career. Just ask him.

“One hundred percent, yeah,” he said. “Everything’s really coming together for me. Just try to keep it going.”

The same applies to Howard and McDonald, both of whom are going to be part of the Miami secondary next year. Those guys, along with Cordrea Tankersley and Bobby McCain have, to be good or the plan for 2018 becomes more difficult.

If this secondary, remade last offseason, needs more attention next season, that’s a setback. But on Sunday that didn’t seem to be the case.

Kenyan Drake, who had never in his life carried the ball as many times as he did Sunday, played so well the Dolphins now might rethink the urgency of their 2018 running back need.

The fact Jesse Davis impressed Mark Schlereth so much the FOX game analyst talked about him at length during the broadcast matters because suddenly the Dolphins might be able to get away with adding two instead of three offensive linemen next season.

These guys are putting their résumés on tape, and that helped the team in this game. But it also laid groundwork for the future.

That’s important for 2018.

Follow Armando Salguero on Twitter: @ArmandoSalguero

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