With his team down 17-0 to the Falcons at the start of the second half this past Sunday, Dolphins coach Adam Gase made one of the best and perhaps most important calls of his young coaching career.
At a time when the score suggested that throwing the ball might be the best way to quickly cut into the Falcons lead and gain a little momentum, Gase opted to take the more methodical approach and pound the rock.
It was a gutsy call, but it was the right one for sure.
Though it had net them nothing in terms of points up until then, the running game had already proved to be the Dolphins most effective offensive weapon, churning out 76 yards on 13 carries.
That was 12 more yards than the Dolphins had gained through the air and Gase had a feeling that if he just stuck with the running game and in particular with Jay Ajayi, the offense would start rolling.
He was right. Of course, he was right. If we’ve learned anything about the Dolphins the past two years it’s that they are at their best when they ride the powerful legs of their Pro Bowl running back.
That was the case during their rally to the playoffs last year and it proved to be the case yet again during their rally to a 20-17 statement victory on the road in Atlanta this past Sunday.
Though Ajayi ran eight times for just 17 yards in the third quarter, the mere fact he was running the ball consistently opened up opportunities in the passing game that Cutler was able to take advantage of.
With Ajayi helping to create winnable situations for the Dolphins receivers, Cutler finished off Miami’s first two second-half drives by throwing touchdown passes of 11 yards to Kenny Stills and 7 yards to Jarvis Landry.
Those two scores got the Dolphins back in the game and Gase wisely stuck with the run-first approach the rest of the way, certain that Ajayi would eventually break off a big gainer that broke the Falcons back.
Ajayi, of course, did Gase one better. With the game tied 17-17 with 7 minutes left on the clock, he ran for 18 yards on two straight carries to get the Dolphins back into scoring range at the Falcons 30.
Six plays (four of which were runs) later, Cody Parkey kicked what proved to be the game-winning 38-yard field goal. The Dolphins defense did the rest, but Ajayi’s role in the victory cannot be overestimated.
Ajay had his busiest day of the year this past Sunday, taking the field for 48 plays and running the ball on 26 of them, gaining 130 yards. No, he didn’t score a touchdown, but he helped to create a couple.
He also helped to create the two field goals that tied and eventually won the game, proving yet again that he is by far and without question the most important piece in the Dolphins offense.
Much as they did in the early going last year, when they started out 1-4, the Dolphins had been suffering from a bit of an identity crisis the first few games this year.
They began to rediscover that run-first identity in the second half of their victory at Tennessee two weeks ago and they played to it again when it would have been easy to abandon it against the Falcons.
The result this time was four scores in four possessions and a victory that suggests that if they retain their offensive identity, this just might prove to be a special season for the Dolphins after all.
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