DAVIE, Fla. — The game’s final stat sheet displayed numbers any receiver would like to claim — 11 receptions, 120 yards, 2 TDs.
That’s the kind of performance expected from a highly paid, free-agent signee.
The thing was, those stats for the Miami Dolphins on Monday night were produced by Rishard Matthews, not Mike Wallace.
Playing as the slot receiver due to a season-ending injury to Brandon Gibson, Matthews was one of the few bright spots in the Dolphins’ 22-19 loss at Tampa Bay.
He and Tannehill especially excelled on a two-minute drive at the end of the first half, with Matthews catching all six balls thrown his way for 51 yards. That drive ended with Matthews’ 6-yard TD catch.
“It’s a lot quicker — the defense doesn’t have time to really get set,” Matthews said of the hurry-up approach. “You know what’s going on, so you have time to get set and get it going.
“As a receiver, it’s easier to run a route when you’re catching the guy off guard.”
Matthews is in his second-year from Nevada, where he caught passes from San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick. Now, he’s hooking up with Tannehill.
“I came in here the same time as Ryan,” Matthews said. “He’s been targeting me since I’ve been here, I just wasn’t playing on Sundays. I’m just glad I can go out there and make plays for him.”
Miami’s second-year quarterback said there’s a lot to like about Matthews.
“He brings a lot to the table,” Tannehill said. “He’s a physical recover, catches the ball really well. He’s able to go up and have great ball skills when it’s not a great throw. And I think that’s what separates him from some guys.”
Before Gibson got hurt at New England on Oct. 27, Matthews was backing up at both the slot and outside receiver positions. Now, he starts in the slot with Wallace and Brian Hartline at the outside spots.
“It differs a lot,” Matthews said off the slot. “When you’re the outside receiver, you just have to read if it’s Cover 2 or man, and run your route off of that. Inside, you have to read the coverages on the run, or if a guy shoots in blitz, you have to quicken up your route.
“You have to be a smarter, more technical receiver.”
On a night Matthews emerged — earning a postgame congratulatory text from Gibson — Wallace had 4 catches for 15 yards. Miami’s biggest grab in free agency was not seen in the locker room during Wednesday’s post-practice media availability.
The former Pittsburgh Steelers star, who signed with Miami in the spring, was wide open on a downfield sideline pattern on Monday night, but the Tannehill’s throw forced the receiver out of bounds. Wallace then threw down the ball in frustration.
Tannehill said the only thing that can help build a better rapport with Wallace is time and repetitions.
“I just think it’s a matter of keep playing,” Tannehill said. “He ran a great route the other day in the game game, had Darrelle Revis 10 yards behind him, I made a bad throw. I was moving to the right and it tailed to the right on me.
“Sometimes it’s me, sometimes it’s on him. We just gotta get it together and be on the same page.”
Wallace, Matthews, Hartline and backup Marlon Moore now comprise Miami’s receiving unit, small in numbers by NFL standards.
“At times, there can be some stress on it because guys do get tired and add depth to special teams,” Hartline said. “It can be difficult at times.”
Little seemed difficult for Matthews against the Bucs, though the final stat line did not erase the ultimate goal.
“To me, the biggest thing was we didn’t get the win,” Matthews said. “That’s why everybody comes to work.”