Mi­ami be­lieves its cul­ture has changed

Come­back vic­to­ries show that team now thinks it can win

Baltimore Sun - - RAVENS & NFL - By Omar Kelly

DAVIE, FLA. — Mem­bers of the Mi­ami Dol­phins point to dif­fer­ent mo­ments when they re­al­ized the cul­ture change within the team.

“The feel­ing started a long time ago,” de­fen­sive end Cameron Wake said af­ter Mi­ami’s 31-24 come­from-be­hind vic­tory in San Diego on Nov. 13.

That win over the Charg­ers was the game in which right tackle Ja’Wuan James re­al­ized his team had fi­nally be­come a re­silient one. “It was the play when Ja­keem [Grant] dropped the punt against San Diego, and the first thing [de­fen­sive tackle] Jor­dan Phillips said was, ‘This is [a sit­u­a­tion] the de­fense loves to be in. We get to stop them and look good,’ ” James re­called.

Most years, that blunder would be the “That’s so Dol­phins” mo­ment, the one where the game slips through the team’s hands.

But Tony Lip­pett in­ter­cepted a pass in the end zone, stop­ping San Diego’s threat. Then By­ron Maxwell’s in­ter­cep­tion ended another, and line­backer Kiko Alonso fol­lowed with a game-seal­ing pick-six.

“In the past some­thing would hap­pen like that and I’d think, ‘Damn, game over!’ ” James said. “When I saw Kiko get that in­ter­cep­tion, I re­al­ized we­re­ally do have some­thing spe­cial.”

Quar­ter­back Ryan Tan­nehill says the play­ers now be­lieve in one another.

“There has been a few games [this sea­son] we’ve been down 10-plus points and on the side­lines you can’t tell we’re down. There is a sense of ur­gency, but no panic. No stress,” Tan­nehill said. “This team Dol­phins de­fen­sive end Cameron Wake cel­e­brates af­ter sack­ing 49ers quar­ter­back Colin Kaeper­nick in the sec­ond half of Sun­day’s game. Mi­ami won, 31-24. finds a way to win, and that’s what you want.”

If you ask run­ning back Damien Wil­liams, the Dol­phins’ 14-10 come­back win over the Los An­ge­les Rams pro­vided all the ev­i­dence he needed to con­clude that the cul­ture had fi­nally changed.

“We were down the whole game. Flags weren’t go­ing our way and ev­ery­thing was go­ing down­hill, but you could never tell,” Wil­liams said. “I loved the guys I was play­ing with my first and sec­ond year, but in those sit­u­a­tions guys would quit.

“I’m usu­ally the guy run­ning up on peo­ple and cheer­ing them on to lift their con­fi­dence. I’m al­ways go­ing to be that guy, but that game I didn’t have to say noth­ing,” Wil­liams con­tin­ued. “You could feel it. It felt like we weren’t los­ing even though we were.”

The Dol­phins went on to score two touch­downs in the game’s fi­nal five min­utes to seal their come­from-be­hind win.

“Guys are buy­ing in, mak­ing sure we trust in one another,” said Wake, who since join­ing the Dol­phins in 2009 has never been part of a win­ning sea­son. “They keep fight­ing. No panic. They keep go­ing af­ter it, and guys kept play­ing for the full 60 min­utes.”

Of­fen­sive tackle Bran­den Al­bert, a Glen Burnie alum­nus whose unit trig­gered Mi­ami’s resur­gence when the Dol­phins es­tab­lished a phys­i­cal rush­ing at­tack, gives all the credit to first-year coach Adam Gase, be­cause he “treats us like men.”

“He lis­tens to us,” said Al­bert, a ninth-year vet­eran. “A lot of coaches think they’re smarter than the play­ers. But we’re the ones that’s out there.”

Gase isn’t let­ting the in­mates run the asy­lum, how­ever. He’s a straight shooter who has been firm: He left run­ning back Jay Ajayi home for the sea­son opener for hav­ing a poor at­ti­tude af­ter fail­ing to win the start­ing job.

When he re­leased of­fen­sive line­men Billy Turner, Dal­las Thomas and Jamil Dou­glas be­cause of their strug­gles in losses to Cincin­nati and Ten­nessee, it served as a warn­ing to the en­tire team that their jobs weren’t guar­an­teed.

And if high-priced new­com­ers such as Maxwell and Mario Wil­liams could get benched, any­one could.

Gase has also let the play­ers be them­selves. He en­cour­ages them to show their per­son­al­ity, and that’s most ev­i­dent in the way he treats Jarvis Landry, an emo­tional re­ceiver who plays with an edge.

Gase calls Landry Mi­ami’s tone­set­ter be­cause the en­tire team feeds off his re­lent­less ef­fort and fiery per­son­al­ity.

“Gase came in, and he’s try­ing to es­tab­lish a cul­ture here, a win­ning cul­ture. When you go into games not hop­ing to win, but ex­pect­ing to win, it breeds another type of con­fi­dence through the guys that take the field,” Landry said. “We’re def­i­nitely ex­tremely con­fi­dent and mo­ti­vated right now.”

WIL­FREDO LEE/AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

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