Miami believes its culture has changed
Comeback victories show that team now thinks it can win
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.”