It's a Celebration
Some games in the NFL have clear turning points, others require a little more digging to find the ultimate momentum shift. For the Dolphins Sunday against the Rams, by way of linebacker Andrew Van Ginkel's 78-yard fumble return for a touchdown, it was the former.
Tied at seven points apiece, the Rams were inside the Miami 10-yard-line primed to take the lead. As they have done for the better part of the last month, the Dolphins defense rose to the occasion. Defensive Coordinator Josh Boyer's play call created a free rush for defensive end Emmanuel Ogbah and the NFL's sixth-leading sack producer (tied for sixth) did not miss his opportunity.
Ogbah, at full speed, extended his 35.5-inch arms to dislodge the football just as Rams quarterback Jared Goff reached back to throw. Disengaging off his block on the other side, Van Ginkel located the football, scooped it up at the 22-yard-line and called upon his 4.59 40-yard dash time to go untouched en route to the end zone.
"When I picked it up, I was just thinking I can't get caught," Van Ginkel said. "Seeing DK (Metcalf) the other day, that was going through my head."
Van Ginkel was swarmed by his teammates both in the end zone at the conclusion of the play and again on the sideline by more Dolphins players and coaches.
The Dolphins team celebrations are fast becoming a fan-favorite event on Sundays, especially given the team's copious reasons to exhibit jubilation in recent weeks. However, a play of that magnitude, a play that rare, usually makes for an unplanned celebration.
"I didn't even know what to feel. I was so ecstatic," Van Ginkel added. "Seeing how happy (Brian Flores) was for me and just living in that moment, it was awesome. Seeing all the teammates and coach come surround me, it's just awesome. Something I'll never forget."
Celebrations, when viewed through an old school lens, might send the wrong message, but that's not the case with Flores' Dolphins.
"You see guys flipping out on the sideline during Jakeem (Grant's) big return," Flores said. "Building that big rapport, I think that's grown over the last year-plus. Hopefully it continues to grow."
Defense Dominant Again
One area of growth for Flores' team over the last calendar year has been the defensive production. With one more game on the Week 8 NFL docket, the Dolphins' 18.6 points allowed per game is the best mark in the league. The 33.3 percent conversion rate of Miami's opponents on third down is tied for the second best mark in football while the 19 sacks are tied for ninth and the 13 takeaways are fourth-best.
Those statistics paint a positive picture for the Dolphins defense, but numbers always require context – especially in yesterday's game.
"I'm very leery on statistics right now," Flores said. "I look at the stats and we gave up this many yards passing, this many yards rushing … when you look at it, you feel like we got dominated and I certainly didn't feel that way during the game."
Always Room for Growth
Despite the recent production and surge up the leaderboard in various categories, Dolphins players are following the word of their head coach – the message that there's no such thing as a perfect game and improvement is always achievable.
Dolphins safety – and captain – Bobby McCain is in his sixth year as a pro. He's been on winning and losing teams. He's been in multiple schemes and has played several positions. If there's one thing he's learned throughout the process, it's that nothing will ever trump preparation.
"Preparation," McCain answered to a question about the key to success. "I am very fortunate to have been able to be here with the Dolphins during my whole career. It's taught me a lot of lessons but none bigger than the importance of preparation. Put in the work and it pays dividends on Sunday at one o' clock."
Despite the four turnovers from Goff and the Rams offense, there was still some meat left on the bone. Safety Eric Rowe had an opportunity for his second interception of the game. He addressed the play Sunday.
"That was on my mind the rest of the game," Rowe said. "I'm on the field thinking, like dang, I could have – a touchdown would change the whole complexion of that game second half. I'm hurt because I know all I had was just grass after that. And it's probably going to eat at me all the way until next game."
Like Rowe, Van Ginkel had a chance for a second game-changing play that narrowly fell by the wayside.
"I thought the defense played great, but it's something that we can continue to build off of," Van Ginkel said. "There are some plays we wish we could have back. I dropped a pick and there are little corrections that a lot of outsiders don't see."
For Dolphins center Ted Karras, a captain on the interior of the Miami offensive line, improvement in everything they do is key; but he mentioned one element of the game he wants to specifically focus on this week.
"If you can rush the ball 20-25 times per game with a four-yard average, usually you're going to win the game, so that's what we're striving for," Karras said. "We take a lot of pride in both aspects of offensive line play. We have to do a lot better in the ground game and that's something we're going to be focusing on all week."
The Dolphins have a well-earned day off tomorrow before hitting the practice field Wednesday in preparation for the Arizona Cardinals.
Coach Flores is already concocting plans for how to slow the explosive Arizona offense.
"As soon as I'm off this call, I'm going back and try to figure out a way to get Kyler Murray, DeAndre Hopkins, to get that group limited or contained," Flores said during his Monday press conference.
The Dolphins take on the 5-2 Cardinals next Sunday at 4:25 EST in Glendale, Arizona.