Dolphins quarterback Matt Moore fights off nerves in first start replacing the injured Ryan Tannehill
In the span of seven days, Matt Moore saw the rebirth of his career to help beat Arizona, watched the birth of his baby boy, then grew to the stuff of Miami Dolphins legend and lore in beating the New York Jets.
And how was your week?
Moore probably finished his Christmas shopping, too. I imagine he also rescued a puppy from drowning, invented a cure for something, fed the homeless, came up with a plan to solve race relations and raised money by ringing the Salvation Army kettle bell in between saving a football season and giving the gift of a happy holiday to Dolfans everywhere.
This man started his first NFL game in five years Saturday night in East Rutherford, New Jersey, after they'd plowed the snow off the field. It was in prime time against Miami's most-bitter rival, in a game the Fins realistically had to win to keep playoff hopes breathing. So much could have gone wrong for a quarterback covered in rust.
“Yeah, there were some nerves,” he had to admit, afterward. “I'd be lying if I said there were no nerves. But once we got going all the negative stuff, if you will, wore off.”
The 34-13 trouncing of the Jets was convincing. And Matt Moore was emphatic: an efficient 12-for-18 for 236 yards and four touchdown passes — the most by any Dolphins arm vs. the Jets since Dan Marino in 1994. Moore's QB rating was a fat 126.2.
“His command was just great,” crowed coach Adam Gase.
They're still trying to figure out exactly how serious Ryan Tannehill's knee injury is, but, after Saturday night, it doesn't seem quite as serious with Moore showing himself as a starter-quality quarterback in backup's clothes.
“No worries,” his performance said. “I got this.”
The Jets game-planned to limit Jay Ajayi's running and force the game into Moore's hands. It half-worked: Ajayi was held to 51 tough yards on 19 carries. The other part? That didn't work out so well. Moore's strikes included a 66-yard pass play to Jarvis Landry, 52 yards to Kenny Stills and a pair of scoring throws to tight end Dion Sims.
Landry and Ajayi both topped 1,000 yards for the season last night, only the second time in franchise history the club has had a runner and catcher both go 1K the same year.
And sack man Cam Wake, continuing to amaze at age 34 after Achilles surgery, should be in the comeback player of the year hunt. (Wake and Ndamukong Suh were dominant Saturday night).
After so much of the franchise's recent past has been such an unrelenting letdown, what a present to carry into Christmas Week!
It's been a long while since the Dolphins were this good, now 9-5 and vitally in the AFC playoff hunt. This season and team have been a lesson in don't-quit, considering the record once was 1-4 and Gase's rookie year as coach was all but being written off.
Now Gase is catapulting up the coach of the year charts. And here's a little feather for that case: Whatever he's doing or saying at halftime in the way of adjustments is working. Miami's plus-58 points differential in the second half is second best in the entire NFL.
Saturday's victory assured the Dolphins their first winning season since 2008, which also was the last playoff year.
Coming from the gutter of 1-4, this season already feels like a success — although reaching the playoffs will certify that feeling, make it palpable, and real.
Miami jumped to the No. 6 playoff seed after the Broncos lost to the Patriots, and Denver’s closing schedule (Chiefs and Raiders) puts the Dolphins in the driver’s seat to make the playoffs. Miami would be all but certain to make the playoffs by winning out to end 11-5 and has a better-than-even shot by finishing 10-6.
The climb from here, though, gets steeper for Moore and Miami.
The Jets are pretty bad. The Bills, up next, are better, and it's a late December in Buffalo. The Patriots are better still, a lot, but the regular season finale is in Miami — and it could be a must-win to make the postseason, Matt Moore vs. Tom Brady.
Hey, nobody said this legend and lore stuff was easy.