Welcome to Pressure Point by Craig Davis, commentary and analysis from a longtime observer and reporter of the South Florida sports scene and its teams.
MIAMI GARDENS – The most confusing of Dolphins seasons reached a new level of mystifying Sunday.
They not only pulled off the cleverest trick play of the year, the left-for-dead Dolphins came back from a two-touchdown deficit in the second half to defeat an Eagles team vying for the lead in its division 37-31 at Hard Rock Stadium.
Maybe it had something to do with wearing those throwback uniforms to their glory years.
Or maybe they have something special in coach Brian Flores, who has no hesitation about trying all sorts of daring do, whether an onside kick to open the second half (unsuccessful) or any fourth down situation at any time (three for three Sunday).
Or that whacky set piece by the field-goal unit, which had players spread wide near both sidelines with only punter/holder Matt Haack and center Daniel Kilgore in the middle of the field. Haack took the snap, darted to his left and Frisbee-tossed a pass to kicker Frank Sanders, who had slipped undetected into the end zone.
It was not only a forehead-slapping touchdown, it was the second Dolphins TD pass on fourth down in the first half.
Loud cheers inside the Dolphins locker room. The players and coaches were never tanking. Impressive what Brian Flores is doing. @5ReasonsSports
— Ethan J. Skolnick of @5ReasonsSports (@EthanJSkolnick) December 1, 2019
DeVante Parker takes flight
Earlier, DeVante Parker’s twisting, high-wire grab and tightrope walk along the sideline for a 43-yard touchdown on fourth-and-4 provided a short-lived highlight reel topper for the season.
The punter passing to the kicker for a touchdown was certainly a talker. It was a delight to witness, though a case could be made for saving such ingenuity for when the Dolphins have progressed beyond a sideshow.
But it was Parker who had the most to do with this improbable comeback win.
Miami’s No. 1 pick in 2014 (No. 14 overall) who was written off as a bust awhile ago, is finally playing as originally envisioned in his fifth season. Parker’s 65th NFL game was his most impressive: seven catches (on 10 targets) for 159 yards and two touchdowns.
He did it by using his lanky 6-3 frame and athleticism to get above and beyond defenders, frequently victimizing Eagles 5-11 cornerback Ronald Darby.
He also went airborne for a 42-yard reception on a third-and-13 toss from Ryan Fitzpatrick and for a 17-yard touchdown catch in the third quarter that got the comeback started.
“If I’m not getting it, nobody else is getting it. That’s the way I feel,” Parker said of his mindset on the 50-50 balls that are up for grabs.
Quieting critics, vocal visiting crowd
He also said he was motivated by “the fact that they had more fans than us [in the crowd Sunday], it kind of made me mad.”
It seemed every time a big catch was needed, Parker was there to make it.
devante parker can not be stopped pic.twitter.com/KAlC8HyVCv
— josh houtz (@houtz) December 1, 2019
There was a 34-yard reception on third down that led to the go-ahead touchdown. Parker converted another fourth down with an 8-yard grab to keep alive the drive to the clinching field goal.
“He’s been playing great all year. I’m really happy for him because he’s taken a lot of criticism that he didn’t deserve in the past,” said second-year tight end Mike Gesicki, another high draft pick that is quieting critics of his early work.
Gesicki had his second TD catch in two weeks – a Parker-like leap in the end zone – and finished with five catches for 79 yards.
Later, when Sanders kicked the 51-yard field goal in the waning minutes that effectively sealed the win, the bigger picture of this season became fuzzier than ever – that is, where this leaves the 3-9 Dolphins in relation to the real objective, which is to attain the highest draft pick they can.
With games remaining against a downtrodden trio of Jets, Giants and Bengals, it isn’t a stretch that a Dolphins team built to lose could end up with six wins.
Draft hopes in peril
That would certainly put the choicest picks of the 2020 draft out of Miami’s reach. Which would seem like whitewash all over the blueprint of tearing down the roster to build it back up.
No doubt many players on this roster won’t remain when the Dolphins are gearing up to win – Parker and Gesicki would now appear to be among those with a future on the team.
What the #dolphins are doing under Brian Flores is NOT a surprise to anyone that has played, scouted, or coached with him. True leader. While he realistically won’t win Coach-of-the-Year, getting this stripped-down team to 3 wins should earn him votes.
— Jim Nagy (@JimNagy_SB) December 1, 2019
But just maybe something else of significance is already being mined from this seeming lost season.
“I think there’s been a lot of growth over the course of the season. I think that’s something that we struggled with and we talked – early in the season we’ve talked about building, improving on a week-to-week basis, really, in all areas. I think it showed this afternoon,” Flores said.
“It’s a team of fighters. This is – we compete. I think that’s something that we talk about day after day after day. … really, if you want to play in this league at a good level against good competition like we had out there today, that’s what you need.”
On this day of surprises and sleight of hand, that’s exactly what they demonstrated.