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The Dolphins won a game Sunday they desperately needed to win and they did so with their defense stepping up and their second-year quarterback stepping out. Big? This was huge. So many reasons why.
Nobody was going to call this a must win because, after all, it was only the first game of the season. But it was a must win. A must win when you consider the imposing challenge of the next four games. A must win when you think about how this team has struggled in early season games for far too long. A must win because we needed to see validation for everything this franchise has done over the past six months.
Now we have seen it. We have seen Ryan Tannehill put together a gorgeous fourth-quarter drive to ice the game, a drive that should be encased in gold. We have seen this defense dominate, force turnovers, come up with big stops and generally play as well as many of us thought it could.
Dolphins 23, Cleveland 10. Has a nice ring to it, doesn’t it? The Dog Pound barked, but didn’t bite.
Granted, there are areas that need significant work. The running game was just about non-existent, averaging less than a yard a carry. The offensive line gave up too many sacks. There were too many penalties. All of these must be addressed. And addressed quickly. But it’s so much easier to correct mistakes after a win, so much more palatable.
Where do you start? Got to be with Tannehill, clearly the best second-year quarterback on this field.
This was the performance I was waiting to see after such an encouraging preseason. The passes were hard and true. The confidence was there. The decisions were smart. You look at Tannehill, you examine his throws, and what you see is a player whose stock is undeniably on the rise. And when you throw in the fact that there was absolutely no balance to this offense, Tannehill’s performance becomes that much more impressive.
How about his touchdown throw to Brian Hartline to give the Dolphins the lead for good? A 34-yard rope. Hit Hartline in perfect stride. Showed armed strength. Showed accuracy. Showed us everything we needed to see.
But I saw throws like that last season. What I didn’t see is the type of drive Tannehill engineered in the fourth quarter. It is one thing to take the lead, but sometimes it can be even more impressive to pad the lead. That 85-yard drive was about as good as it gets. Tannehill completed 6 of 7 for 78 yards. Every throw, it seemed, was perfectly positioned. Third downs became first downs. It was a drive that showed me, more than anything, how far this quarterback has come in one season.
But we can’t just single out Tannehill because the defense was something special as well. You heard Coach Joe Philbin preach all off season about forcing more turnovers. Well, his players obviously listened. Three interceptions served as evidence. That’s after getting 10 all of last season.
Then there was Cameron Wake picking up exactly where he left off in 2012 and linebackers Dannell Ellerbe and Philip Wheeler clearly validating the offseason decision to bring in two new veteran linebackers. There was the rushing defense stuffing Trent Richardson, not an easy feat, and that Wake-led pass rush producing six sacks.
Continue to play this well on defense and the Dolphins will have a real chance every Sunday and with rookie placekicker Caleb Sturgis nailing everything he tries, well, that’s a huge advantage in close games. So many things to feel good about. So many things to build on. Yet so much work yet to be done, especially on offense.
How sweet is 1-0? Awfully sweet. This team needed a jump-start, needed something positive to justify all the hard work, needed to prove to the rest of the league and themselves that these are not yesterday’s Dolphins. And now they have it, an important road win tucked safely in their back pockets.
On to Indy.
On Tuesday, A.C. in the A.M. takes another look back and a look ahead
The opinions, analysis and/or speculation expressed by The Finsiders Blog represent those of individual writers, and unless quoted or clearly labeled as such, do not represent the opinions, policies or desires of the Miami Dolphins organization, front office, coaches and executives. Writers' views are formulated independently from any inside information and/or conversation with Dolphins officials, including the coaches and scouts, unless otherwise noted.