The youngest head coach in the NFL and the Miami Dolphins’ oldest position player (with apologies to 38-year-old Dolphins long snapper John Denney) deserve some attention in the postseason awards.
Head coach Adam Gase (age 38) and pass rusher Cameron Wake (age 34) are having terrific seasons, and they were big reasons why the Dolphins overcame a slow start to take care of business Saturday night, 34-13, over the downtrodden New York Jets. It’s the first time the Dolphins have swept the Jets in a season since 2009.
Gase looked overmatched in the team’s 1-4 start (with the one victory at home in overtime against the winless Cleveland Browns), but he has been mostly brilliant since in turning the Dolphins into contenders at 9-5. They’re temporarily back in a playoff spot in the AFC — ahead of the Denver Broncos for now — and they beat the Jets in this game with big plays in all three units, which was a boost in backup QB Matt Moore’s first start since the 2011 season.
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Moore wasn’t special, but he was more than adequate in replacing the injured Ryan Tannehill, and Gase’s management (including two huge first-half challenges won) was strong. He called high-percentage passes and found weaknesses in the Jets’ blitz-happy defense. With the Jets stacking the box to stop running back Jay Ajayi, Moore was opened things up nicely with four TD passes.
What a week for him: Moore’s wife delivered their third child, baby Wyatt Moore, just one day after Moore came into to close the Week 14 win against the Arizona Cardinals.
Wake was the first-half tone-setter. The Dolphins were tackling poorly and looked lethargic early, and the Jets led going into the second quarter as QB Bryce Petty hit his good buddy Robby Anderson on a 40-yard TD pass. But with the Jets driving to the Miami 4-yard line, Wake got woke as he slammed into Petty for an unblocked strip sack with Ndamukong Suh getting the huge recovery.
Then Wake did something he’d never done before with the Dolphins: intercept a pass. Petty made a terrible read and decision on the throw as Wake dropped off into coverage and snagged the errant pass at his own 24. That summed up the Jets’ night: They moved the ball early, but two turnovers and a fourth-down stop (thanks to a smart Gase challenge on third down) haunted them.
The last time Cam Wake had an interception in a real football game he went by Derek Wake — that would be his sophomore year at Penn State, in 2002. That’s no interceptions in his final two seasons for the Nittany Lions, none in 36 games up in the CFL, and none in the prior 113 NFL games he’d played prior to Saturday night. On the first play of the fourth quarter, Wake and Suh crushed Petty on the first play of the fourth quarter, knocking him out for the remainder of that drive.
Coming off a torn Achilles, Wake is a prime candidate for Comeback Player of the Year. The sack was No. 10.5 on the season, the forced fumble his fifth, the latter of which is the most in the NFL. He’ll have prime competition from the likes of Le’Veon Bell, Jordy Nelson, Jason Pierre-Paul and others, but Wake should be a favorite, especially after doing nothing early in the season as a reserve player who had to work himself back into form under a new coach who had no loyalty to him.
Gase has improved since his slow start, too, and that’s why he deserves to be mentioned alongside Jason Garrett, Bill Belichick, Dirk Koetter, Jim Caldwell and Jack Del Rio for Coach of the Year honors.
Gase helped make Tannehill very good before suffering his knee injury, and Moore has looked confident — with starting center Mike Pouncey also hurt — in his place. The Dolphins also lost their top corner, Byron Maxwell, in this game and looked sluggish early on Saturday. But Gase’s two winning challenges (the other was for the first of Dion Sims’ two touchdowns), his play-calling adaptations and the big play on special teams with Walt Aikens’ blocked punt scoop and score led to a much-needed win.