Published September 16, 2013
DAVIE, Fla. – Mike Wallace was still scooting through the secondary toward his first Miami Dolphins touchdown when Ryan Tannehill raised his arms to signal a score.
Wallace did indeed reach the end zone, but the Dolphins might want to be more careful about premature celebrations.
Yes, they're 2-0 for just the second time since 2002. They're one of seven unbeaten teams in the NFL, and only the Dolphins have two road wins.
"I'll tell you one thing — we've got a hell of a team in the making," coach Joe Philbin told his players in the locker room following Sunday's 24-20 victory at Indianapolis.
With an impressive fourth quarter, the Dolphins defeated a 2012 playoff team that beat them a year ago. For a franchise trying to end a streak of four consecutive losing seasons, such a victory might be a milestone.
Or it could be a mirage. This is a franchise unaccustomed to early-season success, with a 7-18 record in September — this season included — over the past eight years. The last time the Dolphins started 2-0, in 2010, they stumbled to a 7-9 finish.
Now the challenge is to build on a fast start that has them tied with perennial AFC East favorite New England atop the division.
"It's only two games," cornerback Brent Grimes said Monday. "But we played well and got two road wins to start the season, which is a big deal, and we showed a lot of promise of things we can do if we keep our heads on straight."
The pace will be tough to sustain, with games the next three weeks against Atlanta, New Orleans and Baltimore, all expected to be playoff contenders.
"Any time you start 2-0 it's a confidence builder," linebacker Philip Wheeler said, "and we're going to feel like we can beat anybody."
While the fast start buoys the team's mood, it also helps to validate much-maligned general manager Jeff Ireland's many offseason moves. Among the newcomers to play pivotal roles in the latest win were receivers Wallace and Brandon Gibson, Grimes, Wheeler and rookie kicker Caleb Sturgis.
Wallace, miffed after he caught only one pass in the first game, matched his career high with nine receptions for 115 yards. Gibson made only one catch, but it was critical — a third-down reception to keep alive a fourth-quarter drive that helped Miami chew up the clock.
Grimes squelched a scoring threat when he outmaneuvered Reggie Wayne for his first interception since tearing his Achilles tendon a year ago. Sturgis kicked a 54-yard field goal that tied the score on the final play of the first half, and Wheeler's fourth-down sack sealed the win.
Two other new starters, Charles Clay and Lamar Miller, made significant contributions. Clay, a third-year pro promoted to the first team only after Dustin Keller suffered a season-ending knee injury, had a breakout game with 109 receiving yards, the second-highest total ever for a Miami tight end. His 67-yard catch set up one touchdown, and he scored the winning TD on his first NFL carry.
Miller showed why Philbin and Ireland decided Reggie Bush was expendable by rushing for 69 yards in 14 carries, including a 10-yard touchdown.
Tannehill drew even in his rivalry with Andrew Luck, throwing for 319 yards without an interception to win the rematch between quarterbacks from the 2012 draft. Luck rallied the Colts to victory when they met last season in one of five games Miami lost by a touchdown or less a year ago.
Tannehill's passer rating of 94.2 represents a vast improvement on his 76.1 rating as a rookie.
"Having gone through an NFL season and an offseason as the starter, he has grown into the position and has tremendous confidence," offensive coordinator Mike Sherman said. "He just shows me great composure when he's on the field."
In the next three weeks Tannehill will be matched against Matt Ryan, Drew Brees and Joe Flacco. Those games will provide bountiful evidence regarding how much he and the Dolphins have improved.
While Philbin believes they're better, he anticipates they'll continue to get better, and a 2-0 record won't inspire complacency.
"You have to stay true to the film," he said. "The film tells us from Sunday's game we did a lot of good things. But the film also says there are major areas of improvement that need to be addressed quickly. I think our guys are levelheaded and know film is the biggest barometer of success."
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