DAVIE, Fla. — It might not be the best formula for winning in the NFL. But the last time the Miami Dolphins had a rushing game this putrid, they also were victorious.
It was 2006. Miami had 13 carries for a team record-low seven yards, but still somehow beat Minnesota 24-20.
The Dolphins last Sunday carried 23 times for 20 yards, the third-lowest total in team history. Yet they were able to top Cleveland 23-10.
“You never know,” Dolphins coach Joe Philbin said when asked if thought his team ever could have won a game with such a low rushing total. “Every game is a little bit unique and a little different. But I wouldn’t have thought that we would have 20 yards rushing on 23 carries.”
Philbin knows that needs to change in a hurry if the Dolphins plan to continue winning. On Sunday, when they travel to Indianapolis, they will face a much better team.
“That’s a one-time thing,” running back Daniel Thomas said of the low rushing total against the Browns. “I think we’ll never have a game like that where we rush for 20 yards again.”
Thomas, the backup, gained 14 yards on eight carries. That was a banner outing compared to what first-stringer Lamar Miller put up.
Making his first career start, the second-year man carried 10 times for a measly three yards. He actually gained eight yards on his first two carries before totaling a disastrous minus-five on his final eight totes.
“I just got to continue to work hard,” said Miller, who admitted he was “surprised” when he looked at the post-game stat sheet and saw his lame running stats. “We went over the film and made some corrections.”
Miller better step up soon or his starting job could be in jeopardy. Then again, it’s not as if Thomas tore it up himself.
The Dolphins over the previous two seasons had Reggie Bush rush for 2,072 yards. But, even though Bush wanted to re-sign last spring as a free agent, Miami showed little interest in retaining him and he ended up in Detroit.
So what happened last Sunday three hours northwest of Cleveland? While the Dolphins were having their brutal day on the ground, Bush carried 21 times for 90 yards and caught four passes for 101 yards, including a 77-yard TD grab, in the Lions’ 34-24 home win over Minnesota.
Miami was able to defeat the Browns thanks to quarterback Ryan Tannehill, who completed 24 of 38 passes for 272 yards. But everybody knows Tannehill needs plenty more from the running game if the Dolphins are to continue to win.
“I think the run game is a big part of our offense that we’ll lean on throughout the whole year,” Tannehill said.
The Browns stacked the box and seemed determined to stop Miami’s rushing attack. That did open it up for more for the pass.
Still, there was no excuse for how bad the Dolphins were on the ground. Their 10 yards in the fourth quarter actually looked good compared to having gained 10 in the first three quarters combined.
“Just a rough day,” Thomas said. “We know we’re better than that.”
But how much better? Miller rushed for 250 yards on 51 carries as a rookie for a 4.9 average but he’s still largely unproven. Thomas gained 906 yards in his first two seasons, but had just a 3.5 average per carry.
There also are questions about Miami’s offensive line. While much was made about the free-agent departure of four-time Pro Bowl left tackle Jake Long hampering the protection of Tannehill, Long also was solid in the running game.
Jonathan Martin has moved from right to left tackle to replace Long. Free-agent signee Tyson Clabo has moved in as the starting right tackle, and he struggled Sunday with the running game.
“It’s frustrating. We couldn’t really get it going. … We made a lot of mistakes on the offensive line and some other guys made mistakes,” Martin said of the opener. “We really need to get back to the basics and really improve on it.”
The Dolphins must make sure they’re not lulled into a false sense of security just because they won their opener. Then again, they’ve shown resiliency before. It’s hard to believe they once actually won a game with seven yards rushing.