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How the Dolphins learned to embrace adversity and start winning again

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For nearly a decade, we’ve seen the Dolphins fold when they hit a speed bump. Under head coach Adam Gase, Miami has found success fighting through adversity.

NFL: Miami Dolphins at New York Jets Dennis Schneidler-USA TODAY Sports

Last week ...

Miami Dolphins starting quarterback Ryan Tannehill was lost due to a knee injury ... Backup Matt Moore prepared for his first NFL start in five years ... Before that, Moore celebrated a newborn son, Wyatt ... After that, receiver Jarvis Landry’s grandmother, Carolyn Clayton, died ... Landry on last Friday flew to Louisiana for the funeral and on to New York later that night to join his teammates.

Then, on Saturday night, the Dolphins trounced the Jets, 34-13.

"Kind of a typical week for us," Dolphins general manager Mike Tannenbaum said. "A lot going on. Each week is its own season."

No complaints, Tannenbaum insists. It’s what you sign up for in this game, in this league, he says.

Miami had become used to adversity being a prelude to failure. After all, the Dolphins did not generate a winning record or a sniff of the playoffs in any of their last seven seasons. And four months ago when they started 1-4 under new head coach Adam Gase, it looked bleak. Once again, they looked broken.

But then the Dolphins won six straight. They have won eight of their last nine.

Miami (9-5) heads to the Buffalo Bills on Saturday as resilient a team with as resilient a season that the NFL offers. Beat Buffalo then win at home against New England and they vault into the playoffs. That is Miami’s direct route. That is how they can turn adversity into joy.

Powerful defensive end Cameron Wake served the ingredients for where Miami is and where it can go when he told me this in mid-August after a preseason game:

"We have to start sustaining something. It’s time for us to set our feet, regroup, and start making wining plays, not just one person, not just one game, but everyone and everywhere."

That is exactly what Miami is doing.


Gase, 38, has his fingerprints all over it.

Miami hired him for his offensive expertise but did not realize how well he relates to players, how good he is at developing players, how his practices would be full of competition and meaningful work and, most importantly, how he artfully changes mindsets.

Gase walked through the door telling the Dolphins that adversity will knock at the door. And when it does, let it in and say, "Yes, we’re right here."

This reminds me of the approach of Oakland head coach Jack Del Rio, whose Raiders are also conducting a revival, and New York Giants head coach Ben McAdoo, whose team is, too. A common message of adversity welcome. Challenges routine. No flinching.

The right players are vital to pull it off. Miami has 25 new players this season and 13 of them are free agents.

"Get players who love to play football, who want to be coached and who give you energy — that’s a template we believe in," Tannenbaum said.

Miami led the Jets 13-10 at halftime then scorched them 21-3 in the second half. That has become a Dolphins strength: They have outscored opponents in the second half 194-136. Their 16 interceptions earned are second-most in the league. They are plus-5 in turnover differential (plus-11 in their last nine games). Linebacker Kiko Alonso leads in tackles (103) and Wake leads in sacks (10.5).

Losses to Seattle, New England, Tennessee, and a 32-point flogging suffered at Baltimore make some people think the Dolphins are frauds.

Win in Buffalo? Miami has not done that since 2011.

"Hey man, everybody’s got something to say,” rookie offensive guard Laremy Tunsil said.


Alonso said he took one look into Matt Moore’s eyes on Saturday night and just knew Moore was ready. Moore threw only 18 passes but four of them were for touchdowns.

Gase said he is still learning Moore’s nuances. Buffalo is concerned about Moore’s penchant for taking deep passing shots. That is the nature of his game, a testament to his competitiveness.

Dolphins tight end Dion Sims caught two Moore touchdown passes against the Jets. He described Moore as "a guy of heart, a tough guy." Tunsil said Moore is a "pick-me-up type of leader." Alonso said Moore is a quarterback "our defense feeds off of; he makes the games exciting."

Tannehill is more mobile; Moore likes to stand firm and chuck it.

Dolphins dynamic receiver Jarvis Landry welcomes that.

"You don’t ever like to lose your starting quarterback and we hope that Ryan can get healthy and get back during this season," Landry said, whose third-quarter, 66-yard scoring catch produced Miami’s final points against the Jets. "Matt was paying attention in every practice. Even when Ryan was taking the reps in practice, Matt would duplicate it with an imaginary ball in his hands. He has a commanding voice in the huddle. He knows how to prepare every day."

So do the Dolphins. They look inspired.

None more than Landry. Giants receiver Odell Beckham, Jr., was his teammate at LSU. Beckham on last Friday night picked up Landry at Miami’s team hotel. They drove. They talked about his heavy heart, his grandmother. They talked about greatness.

"Odell has hit this league on another level," Landry said, even though Landry has more catches (276) in NFL history than any player in his first three seasons. "We share a desire for greatness. I do not want to be just another jersey number for the Dolphins. Not just another player for the Dolphins. I don’t have a chip on my shoulder. I just have a love for the game and a hunger to be great in it. I want to catch 20 balls a game if I could. Or do whatever it takes for the Miami Dolphins to be great."

He reflects Miami’s template.