RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- An interesting question was posed to several Miami Dolphins Saturday night: If they knew in training camp they’d be without quarterback Ryan Tannehill late and Pro Bowlers Mike Pouncey and Reshad Jones and others for most of the year, what would be their reaction?
“Well, you know, I would be worrisome right now,” Miami running back Damien Williams said laughing.
The same question was asked of outside linebacker Jelani Jenkins.
“I definitely would have some concern,” Jenkins said. “Those are some great players.”
The Dolphins are doing something they weren't even sure was possible following their 34-13 victory over the New York Jets. At 9-5, they are thriving down the stretch without their cornerstones.
Backup quarterback Matt Moore was the latest representative of this recurring theme. The Dolphins lost their franchise quarterback -- Tannehill -- six days earlier to a knee injury, and they actually played better with Moore under center.
Miami played arguably its most complete game in all three phases, and its 21-point victory margin was its largest of the season. Moore threw a career-high four touchdowns. The special teams scored a touchdown, and the defense forced four turnovers.
How do you explain it?
“A lot of these guys have heart,” Dolphins veteran guard Jermon Bushrod said. “That’s what I love about these individuals we have in this locker room. You’re here for a reason. They pay you for a reason. You wouldn’t be in this locker room if you didn’t show signs of being successful."
The Dolphins have won eight of their past nine games. They currently own the final wild-card spot in the AFC by a half-game over the Denver Broncos (8-5), who will host the New England Patriots (11-2) Sunday.
There are more talented teams than Miami at this stage of the season. But few are playing a better team brand of football. The Dolphins are getting key contributions from players up and down the roster, and they're peaking at the right time.
A week ago, it appeared Miami’s playoff hopes were done without Tannehill. A week later, the outlook is looking stronger than it has all season with Moore under center.
“I haven’t been around a team like this,” Moore said. “Guys understand that they are truly on a team.”
Dolphins first-year coach Adam Gase deserves credit for changing the team's mentality. Miami traditionally struggles with adversity. But that has changed this season.
“A lot of people’s opportunities have come from someone going down in front of them,” Jermon Bushrod said. “That’s how I got my opportunity.”