6 wins on the bounce for the Miami Dolphins, whoever saw this coming?
38-year old head coach Adam Gase certainly has Hard Rock Stadium rocking now, transforming the maligned franchise into a solid football team that churns out victories as a matter of course.
So remarkable has the turn around been, there are football folks in Florida who are already talking about Gase for MVP honours (in the coaching ranks at least).
While they could end up missing the playoffs and end back up at square one, Dolphins owner Stephen Ross appears to have hit the mark with Gase.
The rookie coach developed his craft play-calling for the Denver Broncos before a short stint in the Chicago Bears operation, slowly growing his reputation as one of the sharper minds coming through the ranks.
Yet it would be a chance meeting with the organisation that coach Chip Kelly left behind that would propel his journey further, seeing how the former Philadelphia Eagles and current 49ers strategist prepared his squad.
Oregon State was the platform, taking cues from the College outfit as they sought every measure possible to get an edge over the opposition.
As reported by Palm Beach Post, there was method to Gase’s madness.
“(Kelly’s) always been a guy that I’ve looked at and admired from afar,” began the rookie coach.
“So, we tried to take a few ideas in that aspect of, ‘How do you take care of players?’ How do you get guys fresh enough for the game, but still practice hard?’ and things like that.”
Even small adjustments like monitoring hydration and sleep, taking those extra precautions off the field to enhance performance, opened the eyes of Gase.
Yet these measures were something Gen Y players were clearly open to and the coach knew it was a case of adapting with the trend or die.
“That’s the hardest thing in this league now is we do have a lot of young guys,” explained Gase. “The game has changed over time, and there’s a little bit of … It’s a different style with the iPads and phones and all these things. The way guys go about their business nowadays, it’s completely different than at least what I remember when I first got in the league.”
Having to compete against the giants of the AFC East via the New England Patriots, a stubborn Buffalo Bills and a New York Jets side that has far more talent than it’s 3-8 record would suggest, the Dolphins have quite the challenge on their hands to make playoff football.
Sitting 1-4 to begin the campaign, Fins Up lost 12-10 in heartbreaking fashion away to the Seattle Seahawks, were overturned 31-24 at New England, overcame the Browns at home 30-24 to snatch a W at the death, before being done by the Bengals and Tennessee Titans on the bounce.
Whispers grew into chatter, chatter grew into talk, talk turned to gossip and the pressure cooker was right in Gase’s lap. The Dolphins did not have delusions of grandeur in 2016, but they sure as hell wanted to be more competitive than this.
Then came the 30-15 home win against Ben Roethlisberger and the Pittsburgh Steelers on home soil. Miami suffocated the AFC North outfit by enjoying 36:30 of the ball to the Steelers 23:30 – possession all of a sudden became nine-tenths of the law.
QB Ryan Tannehill (252 yds at 24/32) and Jay Ajayi (204 yds rushing with 2 TDs) would be the spark that ignited the fuse, utilising Jarvis Landry and Gray in the backfield to convert 3rd downs to 1sts.
24 first downs to 15 gave Miami momentum, shutting down the Steelers weapons Le’Veon Bell (53 yds rush and 55 yds receive) and Darrius Heyward-Bey (60 yds rush) with a defence that kept it’s composure.
The Dolphins were onto something.
Then came a Week 8 tie against divisional rivals the Buffalo Bills, a side that were 4-3 to Miami’s 3-4. These are the clutch games that make or break seasons.
The nail-biting 28-25 victory came off the back of a stellar 4th quarter, outscoring the Bills 14-8.
Once more bossing possession 37:02 to 22:58, Jay Ajayi earned more rushing yards (214) than his quarterback threw (204) for the contest, using his pace and agility to carve Buffalo open on way to helping for 26 first downs, 15 of which by way of rushing.
Giant defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh, on huge dollars as a franchise player, was only effective for one tackle while Kiko Alonso (5) and Tony Lippett (4) did the dirty work.
Fast forward to the New York Jets clash and all of a sudden some momentum was building for the Dolphins.
Just edging them out on possession and first downs, this 27-23 arm wrestle W came way of keeping Fitzpatrick nullified in the 2nd and 3rd quarters, keeping the Jets to a solitary field goal.
The defensive line held strong courtesy of Alonso, Paysinger, Suh and Wake, ensuring they held out in the clutch plays to leave the Jets with only 1/5 in red zone positions.
An away trip to Qualcomm was on the cards in California, coming up against a sporadic and unpredictable San Diego Chargers outfit that can produce anything, particularly at home.
That 31-24 win saw Philip Rivers (326 yds) outperform Tannehill (240 yds) with Chargers linebacker Korey Toomer making an incredible 10 tackles.
In fact, there is no statistic that explains this victory – from penalties to fumbles, first downs, net yards, third down efficiencies, only a score of 4 touchdowns to 3 edged it.
There is always something to the numbers that tell a story, then there are outliers. This was one of those days.
The following 14-10 victory at Los Angeles was a typical Rams contest, a tight back-and-forth where the punts were many and the field was congested.
Tannehill’s 172 yds edged out Jared Goff for 134 yds, but they took the key moments of converting 2/2 in the red zone.
Again, not pretty but incredibly effective.
Today’s subsequent 31-24 take down of the 1-10 San Francisco 49ers reunited Gase with his peer in Chip Kelly.
Colin Kaepernick’s return to form saw the QB throw for 3 TDs, yet it was San Fran’s 7 penalties to 4 that killed the 9ers when it counted most.
There is no magic formula to Gase’s philosophy or tactics for Miami – they look a happy and motivated outfit, they are capable of keeping hold of the ball, they convert key plays and they shut out their opposition.
With 6 wins on the trot sitting 2nd behind the Patriots at 7-4, the Dolphins head to Baltimore next week.
They could be completely outplayed but as they have shown us time and again, when has that stopped them before?