The Miami Dolphins Welcome the Adam Gase Era

Miami Dolphin faithful sense a brighter future heading into this offseason after reaching the playoffs in 2016. Rookie coach Adam Gase brought intensity and a completely different mindset to a team that seemed destined for perpetual mediocrity. An improbable playoff run after a 1-4 start was exacerbated by a rash of injuries and yet this Miami team marched on, showcasing Gase’s ability to inspire players.  The “next-man-up” cliché carried Miami in contrast to previous squads that wilted when injuries sideline multiple starters.

Pro bowl players Reshad Jones and Mike Pouncey spent most of the season watching from the sidelines on Injured Reserve. Starting safety Isa Abdul-Quddus, tight end Jordan Cameron and outside linebacker Koa Misi, joined the pro bowlers on IR. Starting CBs, Xavien Howard and Byron Maxwell, LB Jelani Jenkins, DT Earl Mitchell missed much of the season nursing injuries. Starting OL Branden Albert and Laremy Tunsil missed multiple games and Arian Foster simply quit. In other seasons, under different leadership, this team would have folded.

Adam Gase set the tone early by leaving Jay Ajayi in Miami while the team traveled to Seattle for an opening season loss. Gase had named Arian Foster the starter, Ajayi was unhappy and felt he deserved the job. The Dolphins lost to Seattle by a mere two points and Foster rushed for only 36 yards. Ajayi had let his teammates down by making his personal ambition of starting more important than his commitment to the team. The Dolphins may have lost the game, but the message was clear, no player was larger than the sum of the whole. The teaching moment paid off as Ajayi went on to have three 200+ yard games and ran hard the entire season.

A 30-17 week five home debacle to the Tennessee Titans found the 1-4 Dolphins staring down another losing season. Branden Albert (virus) and Laremy Tunsil (ankle) did not suit up and the Titans sacked quarterback Ryan Tannehill six times, repeatedly planting him on his backside. Needing to send the message loud and clear, Adam Gase made what seemed like a rash decision. Gase cut offensive lineman Dallas Thomas, Billy Turner and Jamil Douglas along with RB Isaiah Pead.

Gase did not care about draft status or contract value, he was simply tired of players who did not have the sense of urgency to prepare themselves to play football at the highest level. The image of Dallas Thomas being pushed into the backfield and pancaked, while Tannehill ran for his life was etched so lucidly into Gase’s mind that he simply had enough. He knew not cutting these players would send the message that being unprepared and unaccountable was acceptable. It was not and Adam Gase decided he would rather coach committed journeymen than undisciplined, uninspired draft picks.

Some of the players in the stunned locker room looked on with trepidation. Gase opened the door for the players with the proper mindset to step up and begin leading his team. Their coach was one hundred percent committed to his craft and he expected the same commitment from his players. If they were not in it to win it, he would escort them out the door to place where common folk work their entire lives for less money than the yearly NFL minimum salary. Complacency does not happen overnight and resorting to drastic measures is sometimes what it takes to instill change. At that point, Gase was unsure he would win another game the entire season, but he was certain his players knew what was expected of them.

On October 16th, the mighty Pittsburg Steelers traveled to sunny Miami expecting to encounter a terrible 1-4 team that barely defeated the hapless Cleveland Browns. The Dolphins appeared from the outside as a team in complete disarray after cutting players five weeks into the season. Arian Foster had missed the previous three games after injuring his groin and hamstring in Miami's Week 2 loss at New England. Foster was set returned in Week 6, but this time Jay Ajayi would not be denied. The Steelers could not have prepared for the buzz-saw spinning in Miami.

With Branden Albert and Laremy Tunsil healthy, Mike Pouncey was finally in command of the entire starting offensive line. Leading 8-3 in the first quarter, perhaps the Steelers peeked ahead to the New England Patriots. The expected cruise to an easy victory was derailed by an all-out ground assault from the Miami Dolphins. 204 Jay Ajayi yards left no doubt in Adam Gase’s mind that Arian Foster would not return to the starting lineup. The Dolphins buried the Steelers 30-15, Arian Foster retired and Miami’s rise to the NFL playoffs had begun.

Over the next five weeks the Dolphins repeatedly found ways to win close football games. The Dolphins beat the Bills when Ajayi again eclipsed the 200 yard mark and the Dolphin offense scored 22 points in the final 15:18 winning 28-25. Following the bye week Miami defeated the Jets 27-23 when Kenyan Drake scored untouched on a 96-yard kickoff return to seal the victory. The comforts of home paid dividends for the Dolphins who slept in their own beds for five straight weeks including the bye. A 1-4 record prior to the Pittsburgh game was now suddenly 4-4 and Miami was peaking its head above water for the first time since 2008.

The five week home stand was rudely awakened with the Dolphins heading to the West Coast for consecutive weeks against the Chargers and the Rams. The Chargers seemed to be cruising until the defense intercepted four Philip Rivers’ passes in the fourth quarter. The take away barrage turned into victory when Kiko Alonso jumped in front of Tyrell Williams and outraced the Chargers 60 yards to the end zone with 1:01 left to give the Dolphins a wild 31-24 win. A late acrobatic TD pass from Tannehill to Parker gave Miami a 14-10 victory over the Los Angeles Rams.

The 6-4 Dolphins returned home riding a 5-game winning streak. The defense slumped into cruise control leading 31-14 in the fourth quarter against the 49ers and nearly allowed San Francisco to tie the game. Ndamukong Suh and Kiko Alonso ended the contest by stopping the much maligned Colin Kaepernick at the 2 yard-line as time expired. Winners of 6 straight games, owning a 7-4 record the Dolphins had won with a devastating ground game, they won with a kickoff return, they won with an interception return, they won on a beautiful sideline throw and catch and they won on a last ditch defensive stand. This Miami team was making huge plays to win the close games that had eluded them in past seasons.

The 2016 Miami Dolphins were indeed in good hands with rookie coach Adam Gase, but they had faced 5 consecutive opponents that would not be playing in the NFL post season. With the Baltimore Ravens looming, Miami was going to face its first real test since Pittsburgh in the beginning of their miraculous rise. Needless to say, the Dolphins didn’t show up that day, the Ravens punked Miami 38-6. Multiple injuries began to take their toll and with the Arizona Cardinals coming to town, it looked like Miami’s improbably run was about to end. At this point a two game skid would leave the Dolphins outside the NFL playoff picture.

The rain in Miami did not stop the entire game slowing the desert dwelling Cardinals’ offense to a crawl, while Ryan Tannehill threw three TDs in perhaps his best performance of the season. That all changed on one devastating late and low hit when quarterback Ryan Tannehill was lost for the season to a knee injury. The injury swapped the momentum and an easy Dolphin victory was suddenly in jeopardy as Matt Moore entered the game after watching for what seemed like forever. Moore showed the true grit this team had displayed all season and marched Miami to a last second field goal and a 26-23 Dolphins win.

With 8 wins under their belt, and a losing season behind them, even with a back-up QB, the Dolphins promptly hammered the rival Jets 34-13. 34 more points the following week in Buffalo proved too much for the Bills in a 34-31 Miami win. In consecutive weeks the Dolphins had swept the rival Jets and Bills leading to the firing of Rex Ryan in Buffalo. Casting away Ryan and his brother was perhaps one of the more satisfying consequences of the entire season. Miami had grand illusions in the final week against the powerhouse Patriots, but it was not to be. The Dolphins limped out of Hard Rock Stadium on the wrong end of a lopsided 35-14 defeat.

An improbable 10-6 record and playing in the post season for the first time in eight years greeted the Miami faithful to begin 2017. With revenge on their mind a healthy Pittsburgh team trounced the ailing Miami Dolphins 30-12 ending an implausible season in the first round of the playoffs. The final two weeks against the two of the best teams in the NFL showed the fledgling Dolphins how far they have to travel to reach Steven Ross’s goal of winning a Super Bowl.

Articles will be written about how Miami can take a step closer to being a perennial NFL contender. Pundits will point out all the deficiencies of this team, but here and now, the Miami Dolphins have far surpassed expectations. Adam Gase is no longer a rookie, he showed a mental savvy and calmness that far exceeds his age and experience. Watching this coach on the sidelines during games is a case study on maintaining composure at the height of chaos. Gase’s demeanor was so steady it could not help but rub off on his players. Even the infuriatingly lopsided officiating had little effect on the coach. He knew, any outburst by him would lead to further flag tossing.

The season is over, there will be no Lombardi Trophy aborning the case 45 years after Don Shula hoisted the last one. The truth is, during the regular season Miami was actually outscored 380 to 363 points. There are many reasons to think this season was more of an anomaly than a stepping stone. The axiom, “you are what your record says you are,” is a moniker that goes both ways, because winning is the object of the game. Statistics may, in the long run, show the sustenance behind sustained success and yet winners find way to win.

Today we celebrate winning, we celebrate a successful season, we celebrate the immergence of a new coach and new era in Miami Dolphin history. Whether it takes coach Gase 3 or 5 more years to reach the pinnacle of his profession, we can smile at the prospect that the 20 year search for a successor to Don Shula has ended.  In the cyclical nature of history, we are witnessing the beginning of a new dynasty in Miami.

Welcome Adam Gase, we look forward to being part of your legacy.