You search for a secret, a reason why these young Dolphins can put together a game like the one they played on Sunday against the Eagles, how they can do it with a roster cobbled together with undrafted rookies and so many others fighting for their football livelihoods.
And the more you search, the more it becomes obvious that the answer isn't really complicated at all. In fact, it couldn't be much more simple.
While on some teams you just don't know what you're going to get from week to week, this team is different. This team plays hard every game, doesn't quit, battles through adversity and seems to relish and embrace the underdog mentality.
I understand those are bunch of clichés. I understand you're likely to hear those same words coming from locker rooms all over the league. But when you look at this Dolphins' roster, when you evaluate the injuries, the trades and the non-stop comings and goings, there's really no other way to explain it. I have seen many teams over the years simply go through the motions during the course of a losing season. Not this team. Not on this watch.
"This team fights," said wide receiver DeVante Parker. "When we're down, we're going to fight. We're going to fight regardless, no matter what the score is. That's how we are."
Down 28-0 in Cleveland two weeks ago? They closed it to 28-17. Down 28-14 early in the third quarter last Sunday? They scored 23 straight points. This ability to remain competitive week in and week out following some blowout losses in September is undoubtedly a reflection of this coaching staff, starting with Coach Brian Flores on down.
I know this season is so much about locating building blocks for the future. I get it. I endorse it. But let's not forget it's also about a new coaching staff implementing new ideas, a coaching staff that needs to be judged and scrutinized just like their players.
Well, now three-fourths into the season, it is abundantly clear of the impact this coaching staff has had on these players. They have been the constant, even keeled at every turn, always stressing today and tomorrow more than yesterday and never wavering very far from the bottom line message: Let's find a way to get better.
Yes, we've learned a lot about these players over the past few months. But what I have learned most has nothing to do with the players, but more with a coaching staff, and in particular a head coach in Flores, who has done an impressive job getting this team ready to play — and play consistently hard — every week.
With that, some additional morsels of perspective are in order after a very satisfying win over the Eagles:
- The passing game remains the strength of this team and it will have so much to do with what happens over the final four games of the season beginning Sunday on the road against the Jets. Ryan Fitzpatrick continues to play at a high level and you can certainly make a case he's been the MVP of this team.
- If not Fitzpatrick then DeVante Parker, who had a career game against the Eagles and for the season is averaging 16.1 yards on 53 receptions, including six for touchdowns. Parker has emerged as the feel good story of the season, a player who got a second chance with this new coaching staff and has clearly made the most of it. His performance against the Eagles was off-the-charts impressive.
- Then there is tight end Mike Gesicki who has found a new level in the last two games, scoring touchdowns in each and making some Parker-like acrobatic catches. If this second-year player has indeed turned the proverbial corner, think what it means to this offense both this season and moving forward.
- No, the running game still isn't close to where it needs to be. But we did see some promising signs Sunday from undrafted rookie Patrick Laird, who scored on a 4-yard run, caught a two-point conversion and finished with four catches out of the backfield for 43 yards. With the status of Kalen Ballage uncertain because of a leg injury sustained against the Eagles, Laird could become the starter, completing an improbable rise from near the bottom of the depth chart.
- Special Teams Coordinator Danny Crossman deserves plenty of credit for the trick play that couldn't have worked any better, a fake field goal that resulted in a touchdown pass from punter Matt Haack to placekicker Jason Sanders. Somewhere in the deep crevice of his mind, Crossman came up with that play, worked on it repeatedly in practice and never stopped believing it would succeed. Fake punts. Onside kicks. Long kickoff returns. And now this. Crossman, in his first year after a long stint with the Bills, clearly has injected a large dose of creativity into his special teams.
- A story within the story: Safety Eric Rowe did a masterful job containing tight end Zach Ertz Sunday, holding the Eagles leading receiver to just 3 catches for 24 yards. All of this against his former team. Rowe has been one of the real finds this season and has been rewarded with a contract extension. It is well-deserved.
- As the season progresses, we're seeing Albert Wilson utilized more and more in a variety of ways. On Sunday he took a handoff in The Wildcat formation and turned it into a 28-yard gain, the longest run of the season for the Dolphins. Wilson had an injury scare a week ago against Cleveland but seems to have gotten passed that. His versatility could prove huge down the stretch.
- And now we turn our thoughts to Sunday's game and a chance for a two-game sweep against the Jets, so unlikely just a few months ago but now even the prospect of it shows you how far this team has progressed.