After road wins, Dolphins relish shot at Falcons at home

DAVIE, Fla. — At least until the Heat begin regular-season play in 1 1/2 months, the Dolphins have a spotlight on them. And the way they’ve started out, the Dolphins might still be relevant in Miami even after the first basketball is thrown up.

For just the third time in team history, the Dolphins are 2-0 with both wins having come on the road. Momentum for the team looks good heading into Sunday’s home opener against the Atlanta Falcons.

“I’m excited for our home opener,” said cornerback Brett Grimes, who will face the team he played for during his first six NFL seasons. “I really believe that the energy in the stadium will be good. It’s been two road games, two good games. It gives the fans something to be excited about.”

The Dolphins, who have endured four straight losing seasons and made the playoffs just once since the start of the 2002 season, gained much-needed excitement during an offseason in which they signed a number of key free agents. It’s continuing.

Maybe the 23-10 win at mediocre Cleveland in the opener didn’t impress a lot of folks. But Sunday’s 24-20 win at Indianapolis sure did. Linebacker Philip Wheeler found that out while watching television.

“They said we were the best team in the division,” Wheeler said. “They said that on one of the channels.”

Did Wheeler believe it?

“I think we can be, and that’s what we’re shooing for,” he said.

It will be seen Oct. 27, when New England plays host to Miami, what the Patriots might think about that. But so far the Dolphins have looked much better than the Patriots, who are 2-0 but struggled to beat lesser AFC East foes Buffalo and the New York Jets.

To realize how impressive it is by recent Miami standards to be 2-0 on the road, consider the Dolphins only won two road games all season in both 2011 and 2012. Miami won its first two overall road games just once in the previous nine years.

“It’s not easy to win on the road in the National Football League,” said second-year Miami coach Joe Philbin, who now has a 4-6 road mark.

Even though the game is at home, it won’t be easy to beat the Falcons. They made it to the NFC Championship Game last season.

Considering how the Dolphins are playing, it sets up a scenario for a crowd Sunday better than one might have originally expected. Miami drew a paltry 54,245 to last year’s home opener against the Oakland Raiders.

“We’ve played well on the road, and it is huge,” Grimes said. “And we got two road wins to start the season, which is a big deal, and we’ve showed a lot of promise.”

Sunday’s win featured Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill, the No. 8 pick in the 2012 draft, outshining Colts quarterback Andrew Luck, who went No. 1 in that draft. It featured Miami’s defense stepping up when needed.

That included Grimes intercepting Luck in the end zone midway through the fourth quarter when the Dolphins were clinging to a 24-20 lead. It ended Luck’s streak of having not thrown an interception in 165 straight passes, which had been the NFL’s longest.

“Any time you get a win you feel good,” said Wheeler, who had 12 tackles Sunday, including a sack. “When it’s on the road, it’s more sweet. … I think the sky is the limit for us as long as we stay focused and work hard every day.”

They would need to reach the sky for the Dolphins to overtake the two-time champion Heat in Miami when it comes to popularity. But if the Dolphins can continue the momentum they have now, they won’t have to worry about being generally ignored after the Heat begin regular-season play.


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