Miami Dolphins receiver Jarvis Landry wears a particular piece of jewelry in the postgame locker room. For the previous five weeks in a row, the message on that gold necklace had been ironic, mocking. Sunday — finally — it was the truth again.
Hanging from that chain is a single word encrusted in small diamonds. The word is JOY.
You felt it after this game. You saw it in the smiles. You heard it in the high din of excitement. The sense of relief was a living thing.
Safety Reshad Jones, asked about how different this room felt, smiled and nodded.
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“Yes,” he said. “It’s been a minute.”
It feels closer to forever since Miami last won and even longer since the Fins last dominated anybody like they did in Sunday’s 35-9 home hammering of the Denver Broncos.
Disclaimers are required, yes. The opponent was dreadful. And the season, with the record now 5-7, still is going closer to nowhere than to the playoffs.
That didn’t matter. For a minute Sunday, for a change, the Dolphins seemed pretty good. Won easily. And fans got to feel what they haven’t felt in a long while: good. The victory didn’t change much. It was makeup hiding ugly. But when your team had lost five games in a row, you don’t parse a win too critically any more than a starving man handed baloney demands steak. You savor it.
After early-season wins eked out by margins of two, six, three and three points chased by that parade of losses, Sunday was Mardi Gras for Miami because the Dolphins were what they haven’t been all season: dominant. It had been 41 games, since early in the 2015 season, since Miami last won by a margin greater than Sunday’s 26 points.
The sideline became a party.
“Contagious emotion,” sackman Cam Wake called it.
Heck, the Dolphins actually made a late quarterback change Sunday not because Jay Cutler was being booed off the field but because the rout had the victory fully in hand.
It is true that this might have said less about the Dolphins than it said about the depth of Denver’s dreadfulness as the Broncos buffooned their way to an eighth consecutive defeat. There are so many words that can describe the criminal absurdity of there being no room in the NFL for Colin Kaepernick, and here are more: Trevor Siemian. Never has Cutler looked better than when dueling Siemian.
It also is true that reality figures to return fast for Miami, as the regular-season schedule closes tough starting with a visit by the nemesis Patriots next Monday night.
Denver is so bad that one hesitates to attach any epiphanies to what happened Sunday. It does not mean Miami suddenly has discovered an offense or that the grand solution is Kenyan Drake because he rushed for 120 yards. Do not tease yourself to think 9-7 and the playoffs now are suddenly in play — not unless Miami can sneak the Broncos onto their schedule the next four weeks, too.
Nevertheless, Sunday actually happened. It was not a mirage. The Miami Dolphins were really good for one afternoon and were in control all over the field and from start to finish and everybody was happy.
This team, this franchise, these fans — all needed this.
“These guys have been working hard trying to find a way to win, grinding through five straight losses,” said coach Adam Gase.
They deserved a day like this, is what he was saying.
“Finally played up to our standards,” as tight end Julius Thomas put it. “We’ve been playing below.”
The game was graffiti more than fine art. There were a combined six turnovers, 16 punts and 16 penalties. These were two bad teams. But only one stayed that way at The Rock, where the crowd numbered 65,092 believers and masochists. Both teams had been collecting a quarry full of rock-bottoms; one crawled up and out Sunday.
For the first time all season the Dolphins played complementary football, with offense, defense and special teams all contributing timely impact. All the moving parts finally were meshing.
“When we get a lead, it helps us defensively,” as Gase said, as an example. “We were able to turn the four pass rushers loose.”
Miami even scored two safeties (one on D, one by special teams), a franchise first and the NFL’s first double safety game since 2011.
The defense especially stood out, with three interceptions including two — one returned for a pick-6 touchdown — by Xavien Howard. Miami’s D allowed only 16.6 points the first five games of the season but 29.4 the six games since, before Sunday. This was the team’s best defensive showing in two months.
Howard ran his first interception back 30 yards into the end zone, untouched.
“Green grass ahead of me is all I see,” he described it.
All of Sunday was like that for a Dolphins team that needed that feeling again.