DAVIE, Fla. (AP) — Ex-Pittsburgh Steelers receiver Mike Wallace watched his former team on TV this week and described the experience as weird, in part because they lost.
That didn’t happen much when Wallace played for them. Now Pittsburgh’s 0-2, while Wallace’s surprising Miami Dolphins are 2-0.
He’s not gloating about the Steelers’ poor start, however.
“I still wish those guys the best,” Wallace said. “Nobody can really stay on top forever, and if anybody can get through this, I know those guys can. But I’m not there; I’m here. And that’s all that really matters.”
While Wallace’s absence is only part of Pittsburgh’s problem, he’s a big reason for the Dolphins’ success. He served mostly as a decoy in the first game, opening up other options for quarterback Ryan Tannehill, then matched his career high with nine catches for 115 yards and a touchdown in last week’s win at Indianapolis.
“We were going to find a way to get him involved at some point,” Tannehill said. “When you have a playmaker like that, you want to give him the ball.”
Thanks in large part to the addition of Wallace, the Dolphins might have enough offensive punch Sunday to keep up with the Matt Ryan and the Atlanta Falcons. Wallace, Brian Hartline and tight end Charles Clay each have at least 10 receptions for at least 130 yards, and Miami has showed considerable quick-strike capability, something lacking in recent seasons. At Indy, the Dolphins’ touchdowns came on drives of six, three and six plays.
In recent years, the Dolphins’ recipe for victory was ball control and stout defense. That didn’t work very well — they’ve endured four consecutive losing seasons.
It has been four years since Miami’s offense had a higher NFL ranking than the defense.
“We don’t want our defense to be the best on the team,” Wallace said. “We want this to be an offensive team. And if the defense has the same mentality, we can be a great team. I don’t want to be on a team where the defense is carrying us. That’s not what I came here for.”
Such determination is reflected in his work habits. Coach Joe Philbin praised Wallace for practicing better recently than when he first came to Miami.
“I like the way he’s practicing, and he’s a good guy in the locker room, so it has been good,” Philbin said.
Wallace, who averaged eight touchdowns a year in his four seasons with Pittsburgh, scored his first Dolphins TD last week on an 18-yard catch and run. He also had a 34-yard reception that put the ball at the 1, setting up Miami’s final score.
“He’s a better route runner than I think he gets credit for a lot of times,” Tannehill said. “Coming in, everyone was just saying he’s a deep threat. Of course he brings that to the table — he has tremendous speed and he’s able to get downfield for us — but he has improved a lot in his route running just since he has been here. We are comfortable with him running any route in the playbook, so he is not just a deep threat. He’s an all-around receiver.”
With a win this week, the Dolphins would be 3-0 for the first time since 2002. They were widely discounted as playoff contenders before the season, in part because they’ve reached the postseason only once in the past 12 years.
“We still have a long way to go,” said Wallace, who became accustomed to playing for a perennial contender in Pittsburgh. “If we win this game, I guess people will start to notice us. But at the same time, I don’t care. I know my teammates don’t care.
“When you win, everybody is going to pay attention, so we just have to keep doing what we’re doing.”