Overcoming adversity, Dolphins rejoin playoff race
DAVIE, Fla. (AP) — The Miami Dolphins’ season suddenly seems headed in the right direction, their backup center leading the way.
Jake Brendel replaced injured Pro Bowl center Mike Pouncey and played the entire second half as the Dolphins rallied from a 17-point deficit to win at Atlanta. With the 20-17 win the Dolphins are 3-2, and only three AFC teams have a better record.
They’ve played in Miami just once. They’ve played well just once — on Sunday. But they’ve silenced a simmering quarterback controversy, at least for now, and showed the resilience that typified last year’s playoff team under first-year coach Adam Gase.
“We have a lot of great personalities on this team that has helped build that culture of challenging and fighting adversity head on,” running back Jay Ajayi said.
Add Brendel to the mix. The former undrafted free agent played one snap last year, but he was pressed into duty when Pouncey suffered a head injury in the first half, and Miami’s offense improbably came to life.
After totaling three touchdowns in the first 18 quarters of the season, the unit mounted four consecutive second-half scoring drives for the team’s biggest comeback victory on the road since 1994.
Did Brendel play that well?
“He did good,” Gase said Monday. “That’s what this game is about. You’ve got to go next man up, and we expect that guy to play well.”
With Pouncey in the concussion protocol, Brendel will likely make his first career start Sunday when the Dolphins play host to the New York Jets (3-3). The Dolphins lost at the Jets 20-6 in Game 2, but believe they’re a better team now.
For starters, Jay Cutler is beginning to look more comfortable. He threw two touchdowns passes at Atlanta, and fans who last week called for his benching will likely hold their jeers Sunday — for a couple of series, at least.
The offense was aided by stout defense that turned in its best performance yet Sunday by shutting out the potent Falcons in the second half. The Dolphins and Buffalo Bills are the only teams yet to allow more than 20 points in a game.
“Impressive to watch,” Gase said. “Fun to watch.”
The defense has helped to compensate for an offense that, even after Sunday’s second-half breakout, ranks last in the NFL in points per game, and yards per game and per play.
“The way the defense is playing, if we get it going offensively we will be OK,” Cutler said.
Expectations this year were modest, especially after quarterback Ryan Tannehill was sidelined for the season by a training camp knee injury. Then Miami’s opener was postponed because of Hurricane Irma, linebacker Lawrence Timmons briefly went AWOL, and offensive line coach Chris Foerster resigned after a video surfaced showing him snorting wide powder.
But it’s dangerous to dismiss the Dolphins. They’re 12-4 in their past 16 regular-season games, and since Week 3 last season, they’ve won a franchise record 11 consecutive games decided by seven points or less.
“Who cares what people say about us?” defensive end Cameron Wake said. “We believe in us, we are going to go out there and fight regardless of the situation, back against the wall or not. I think that is just how we are built.”
For more NFL coverage: http://www.pro32.ap.org and http://www.twitter.com/AP_NFL
Follow Steven Wine on Twitter: http://twitter.com/Steve_Wine.