In Dolphins seasons like this one, years more likely to end in mediocrity than in the NFL playoffs, a fan must look for and appreciate small moments, indications of hope and better days. One of those came Sunday, and it wasn’t just that Miami won for only the fifth time in 12 games.
It was that DeVante Parker, ceremonially if a bit tardily, finally showed the promise the Dolphins imagined when they made him a No. 1 draft pick in April.
The future arrived in one instant that expressed so much that is missing from this offense. A big play. A touchdown. Excitement
The long pass from Ryan Tannehill looked too high, but then Parker climbed the air, stretched his 6-3 frame and long arms and plucked the football at its apex in the end zone for a 38-yard touchdown to bust a scoreless game open and lead Miami’s 15-13 victory over the Baltimore Ravens.
“Tannehill threw it up at a high point, and I went up and got it,” Parker described it simply. “That’s what I do best.”
Parker’s speed, size and athleticism all played out in those few seconds. Defensive back Lardarius Webb, five inches shorter, never had a chance. It was like watching a mere mortal watching Spider-Man ascend a wall.
This was Parker’s second professional touchdown catch. It was his first Dolphins start. His mother, aunt, grandmother and grandfather sat in a row cheering him among the crowd of 64,519 — all wearing matching aqua No. 11 Parker jerseys.
He had played sporadically, and barely, before this, nursing a foot injury that still nagged him following surgery. Even when healthy, issues with his technique, such as route running, hampered his progress.
Some had begun to wonder if Miami had overestimated by making him the draft’s 14th overall pick out of Louisville. Or if he was damaged goods.
“Just coming back from injury it took me a little while to get back to myself,” he said.
Parker wasn’t the only Dolphins rookie properly introducing himself in his first career start Sunday. Second-round defensive tackle Jordan Phillips tipped the pass that Reshad Jones intercepted and had a huge fourth-down tackle on a goal-line stand.
“It’s a man’s game. Just don’t get pushed back,” Phillips said of that play. “It was a good feeling. I wanted to celebrate, but I was too tired.”
In Parker’s case, Sunday’s three catches for 63 yards and that touchdown amounted to a verification of sorts that Miami might have its game-breaker, after all, someone to pair with second-year possession receiver Jarvis Landry to give Miami potentially its best youngest receiving tandem since the Marks Brothers — Clayton and Duper — were blooming down here in the early to mid-’80s.
This offense, moribund for so long, needs that.
Sunday’s grind-it-out win was more about the running game and a recommitment to it, with Lamar Miller doing the heavy lifting in Miami’s 26 carries for 137 yards. Tannehill was pretty awful. Aside from that one 38-yard TD, he completed only eight of his other 18 passes for a measly 48 yards.
The Dolphins need balance to score enough to win big, though, and that will require somebody like Parker providing the dose of electricity that allows Tannehill to maximize his potential.
This was the 10th time in 12 games Miami has scored 20 points or fewer.
On Sunday, the offense managed only that one TD by Parker, with the defense chipping in a score on Derrick Shelby’s interception return.
“Who are we kidding? Fifteen points is not enough to win many games,” Tannehill admitted afterward.
Anemic offense is a big reason why Miami fired Joe Philbin and promoted Dan Campbell, and a direct reason the club this past week fired offensive coordinator Bill Lazor and promoted Zac Taylor.
Coaches always are satisfied with wins. So it figured that Campbell said of beating Baltimore: “Any time you win with defense and running, I don’t have a problem with that.”
Still, watching this offense plod along Sunday was like looking for signs of life in a cadaver.
That’s why dynamic players like Parker and plays like that one sky-climbing grab on Sunday are so needed around here.
Miami’s commitment to the run is fine and welcome. Balance is good. But the NFL remains an air-first league. If you’re spending almost $100 million on a contract extension for Tannehill, well, handing off to Miller is OK. But 38-yard strikes to Parker are better.
HIGH OCTANE MISSING
High octane is what Miami’s offense hasn’t truly been probably since Dan Marino’s prime was ebbing in the early ’90s. The club last hit the 400-point plateau (a 25-points-per-game average) in 1986.
The Fins need some of that high octane to get up out of this no-playoffs rut and start winning consistently. You can’t rely just on the strong defense Miami exhibited on Sunday — defense helped by the fact Ravens quarterback Matt Schaub is so bad.
In this league, there are plenty of weeks you need to outscore the other team in a shootout. And that’s when the weapons available in your game plan had better include quick-score ability with long strikes to players like Parker.
It was only one play Sunday, when the rookie climbed the air for that touchdown.
In an instant it showed all of his promise, though; it showed what might be.
And that is where hope comes from in seasons like this one.