DAVIE, Fla. (AP) — DAVIE, Fla. (AP) — The NFL punch line punched back, and the former laughingstock’s doing the laughing.
The Miami Dolphins shook the label as the league’s worst team, at least for now. Instead, they’re in a four-way tie for the lead in the AFC East.
On Monday, the Dolphins basked in the unfamiliar glow of winning.
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“It means an awful lot to everybody who walks in the building every day,” first-year coach Joe Philbin said. “That’s when it’s fun: when everybody feels they have a little stake in it and reap the rewards.”
Yet to be determined is whether Sunday’s 35-13 win over Oakland represents an anomaly or a turnaround. But it elevates the mood around a team desperate for something to celebrate.
A turbulent training camp included the failed Chad Johnson experiment, the much-maligned trade of Vontae Davis and a winless preseason. After the Dolphins endured a drubbing at Houston in their opener, they sank to last in the NFL in the AP Pro 32 rankings, and one web site speculated about their chances of going 0-16.
Philbin acknowledged the first victory for a new staff provides validation the coaches might know what they’re doing.
“Hopefully there’s some evidence behind some of the things we’ve been talking about,” he said.
Philbin, who received a sideline dousing and a game ball for his first victory as a head coach, said he wanted to maintain an even keel as the Dolphins prepare to face the rival New York Jets (1-1) on Sunday.
But for a change, there was plenty to gloat about. The Dolphins outrushed Oakland 263-23. They ran 73 plays without a turnover. Reggie Bush rushed for 172 yards and two scores. Rookie Ryan Tannehill had a passer rating of 91.0. And Miami allowed the Raiders to convert only one of 12 third downs.
“You know how you are as coaches,” Philbin said with a chuckle. “The Raiders are one for 12, and we thought with that one, in our minds we didn’t play it correctly and maybe could have pitched a shutout on third down.”
The stadium was only two-thirds full, a reflection of fan apathy after three consecutive losing seasons and some especially poor performances at home. But by the third quarter the crowd was chanting “Reg-gie! Reg-gie!,” and there were big cheers at the finish as Miami won a home opener for the first time since 2005.
“We wanted to come out and set the stage,” defensive end Cameron Wake said. “This is our home. We wanted to get the ball rolling.”
Attempts at home repairs go beyond what’s happening on the field. Responding to feedback from disgruntled fans, management quietly dispensed with VIP “orange carpet” entrances before games and celebrity videos during them. The team’s corny but popular banjo-drive fight song, played infrequently in recent seasons, was restored to a prominent role.
Bush cued the song with touchdown runs of 23 and 65 yards. The first score came after he bounced outside, which wasn’t the way the play was designed.
Phibin’s reaction as he watched it unfold?
“No. No. No. Yes!” the coach said.
Bush broke four tackles for that score then was untouched until he neared the goal line on his longer TD dash.
“When Reggie runs the ball, it’s always a show,” teammate Sean Smith said.
Tannehill contributed to the highlight reel by throwing his first touchdown pass as a pro, a 14-yarder to Anthony Fasano, who caused momentary panic when he tossed the souvenir away in his jubilation.
“Somebody tracked it down,” Tannehill said. “I’ll find somewhere for it.”
The rookie led the Dolphins to 28 points in the second half.
“The thing I like about him at this stage of his development,” Philbin said, “is that he has had some tough stretches in both games, and he battled back in the second half of both games and showed some resiliency and didn’t pout and say, `Oh my God, I’ve made four bad throws, let’s make seven bad throws.'”
The Dolphins showed resiliency by rebounding from a 20-point loss in the opener for a 22-point victory. That’s improvement, and Philbin wants to see more.
“We want to be a team that gets better as the year goes along,” he said. “We’ve made a couple of strides, but we’ve got a million miles to go.”