Kalen Ballage’s 75-yard touchdown run against the Minnesota Vikings on Sunday might have come as a surprise to many, but not to Head Coach Adam Gase.
The fourth-round pick from Arizona State came into the game Sunday with eight career rushing attempts with a long of 8 yards, but then he produced the second-longest run by a rookie in Dolphins history.
“We watch it every day in practice,” Gase said. “That long run he had, that’s how he runs every day. That’s how he finishes every day. There’s a reason why he’s able to do that and was confident to just gas it and run by everybody because every day in practice we watch the same thing. When he gets a carry with the offense, he finishes in the end zone. It’s a good trait to have.”
Because of the way he was running, Ballage got the bulk of the work in the running game after veteran Frank Gore left in the first quarter with an ankle injury.
Ballage ended up with 12 carries for 123 yards, both career highs.
“It was good to be out there,” Ballage said. “I have been waiting for an opportunity for a long time. I have been playing behind some really talented running backs, but it was nice to be out there.
“I want to continue doing what I have been doing. I stay prepared and practice hard. When these opportunities present themselves, I am ready to play.”
X factor: Cornerback Xavien Howard’s status remains uncertain for the rest of the season after he missed a second consecutive game because of a knee injury. Gase reiterated his stance Monday that the only consideration when it comes to Howard will be his readiness to play. “We’ll see how it goes this week,” Gase said. “No matter where we’re at, when it comes to postseason play, which right now I know we’re outside looking in. we’re going to do what’s best for him and make sure he’s in a good position to where he feels good about his lateral movement, his straight-line speed, all those things to where he can play at the level he needs to play at. I’m not going to throw him out there just to say he’s playing this week.”
Gase’s message: The loss Sunday no doubt hurt the Dolphins’ playoff chances, but Gase said he’s not going to start worrying about the playoff picture. “We’ve got to worry about getting ready for this week,” he said. “That’s our focus, always is, always will be. We take it one week at a time. The different part right now is the next two weeks is we can handle our business, but that doesn’t mean anything. You’ve got other teams that can affect our season, good or bad. None of it matters if we don’t handle the next two games and figure out a way to win.”
Unhappy return: The Dolphins got themselves back in the game after falling behind 21-0 in the first quarter, but the game seemed to turn after a 70-yard punt return by Marcus Sherels set up a Minnesota field goal that began a run of 24 consecutive points for the Vikings. It was a rare breakdown in punt coverage by the Dolphins, who hadn’t allowed a return longer than 26 yards before that play. “It was a tight game there for a minute,” Gase said. “That sucked the air out of us.”
Defensive highlight: It was a difficult day for the Dolphins defense, but there was one play that clearly stood out, the 50-yard interception return for a touchdown by rookie first-round pick Minkah Fitzpatrick. It was the second time this season a Dolphins rookie had a pick-six, with linebacker Jerome Baker accomplishing the feat in the Nov. 4 victory against the New York Jets. “You had to waste plays like that and not be in a tight game toward the end,” Gase said. “You wish those plays would matter in the grand scheme of things.”