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Re-energized Dolphins still harbor playoff aspirations

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The Sports Xchange

DAVIE, Fla. — Interim Miami Dolphins head coach Dan Campbell, who said he wanted his players to “violently compete” after he was named to his position on Oct. 5, won his debut with a convincing 38-10 victory at the Tennessee Titans on Sunday, sparking a Gatorade dousing on the sideline and a wild celebration in the locker room.

“It was probably one of the best postgame scenes I’ve ever seen,” linebacker Jelani Jenkins said.

Campbell, the former NFL tight end who oozes intensity, led his charges to a spirited performance that used a smash-mouth approach to dominate in the same fashion they had been dominated during their three-game losing streak.

Miami (2-3), which was last in the NFL in run defense at 160.5 yards allowed per game, held the Titans to 63 yards rushing.

And the Dolphins, who averaged 69 yards rushing per game, accumulated a season-best 180 yards on the ground, led by running back Lamar Miller, who rushed for a season-best 113 yards, 99 yards of those in the first half.

Defensively, end Cam Wake had four sacks, causing two fumbles in the process. Titans right tackle Jamon Meredith was flagged twice for holding, preventing Wake from registering two more sacks.

Strong safety Reshad Jones returned an interception 30 yards for a touchdown, and cornerback Brent Grimes had a fourth-quarter interception near the goal line with the Dolphins protecting a 24-10 lead.

It was a victory that included physical plays, big plays and lots of emotion. Miami, which many believed entered the season with its best playoff chances since its last postseason berth in 2008, had been searching for an identity all season. The Dolphins hope they found it Sunday.

“Those guys were dying for something like that,” Campbell said. “It gives you momentum. It gives validity to everything that’s being done.”

The Dolphins have 11 games to do the implausible, which is getting themselves back into the AFC playoff picture.

Next up is a home game against the Houston Texans, who the Dolphins have never beaten in seven tries, and then come three consecutive road games – New England (Thursday night), Buffalo and Philadelphia.

The Dolphins, brimming with confidence after playing their first complete game of the season, are embracing the challenge.

“We’re hungry for more wins,” quarterback Ryan Tannehill said, “and that’s the mindset Dan brought in when he was named coach.”

REPORT CARD VS. TENNESSEE:

PASSING OFFENSE: B. Tannehill (2 TDs, 2 INTs, 97.8 passer rating) was aggressive at times, and simply good at other times. He had two passes that should have been intercepted, and was sacked twice, but the wide receivers and tight ends had a good showing and the offensive line did a fairly good job in pass protection.

RUSHING OFFENSE: A. RB Lamar Miller (113 yards rushing, 1 TD) had his best performance of the season and Miami (180 yards rushing) had its best performance in the ground game. Tannehill had a 20-yard carry wiped out by a holding penalty, but Miami accomplished what it wanted by establishing a physical presence and using the running game to fuel the offense.

PASS DEFENSE: A. DE Cam Wake (four sacks, two fumbles caused) led a charge that recorded six sacks and two interceptions. SS Reshad Jones had a 30-yard interception return for a touchdown and CB Brent Grimes had a fourth-quarter interception at Miami’s 3-yard line. DE Olivier Vernon also got his first sack of the season as the pass rush and defensive backs played in unison for the first time all season.

RUSH DEFENSE: A. Miami held Tennessee to 63 yards rushing, almost 100 yards below its NFL-worst season average of 160.5 yards rushing allowed per game entering the contest. It was easily the best and most aggressive game of the season. The linebackers, disappointing to this point, also established themselves as Jelani Jenkins (seven tackles) and Koa Misi (eight tackles) plugged holes.

SPECIAL TEAMS: B. KOR Damien Williams fumbled on one play but overall this unit was solid. P Matt Darr and K Andrew Franks did their jobs well, and the coverage units were physical and productive. Williams had a 31-yard kickoff return. Nothing spectacular, but no complaints.

COACHING: A. Interim coach Dan Campbell had his guys fired up, and defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo, also making his debut at his job, had his guys playing hard and setting a physical tone. The Dolphins had been outscored, 37-3, in the first quarter entering the game but they had a 10-3 first quarter lead Sunday. Overall, Campbell accomplished his mission, which was competing with a hardened edge. Oh, and winning, which ended a three-game losing streak.


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