Belichick in his media conference Monday was asked why he thinks Miami has been able to win so many close games late this season, and in his answer, he perfectly described why the Dolphins have been so impressive.
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"I think it’s been a little bit different each week," Belichick said. "They had an interception, they returned an interception for a touchdown to kind of beat San Diego, kicked a big field goal last week to go into overtime against Buffalo. Obviously they’ve had some big plays offensively. The kickoff return to beat the Jets, so I think it’s kind of doing whatever they need to do to win; offense, defense, special teams.
"They’ve gotten a variety of big plays at critical times from different players in different parts of the game. Just good complementary football, good team execution in critical situations by all three of the units and decision making by the coaching staff and all of the things that go into it. It hasn’t just been one guy or one unit or one type of play. They’ve done it really in all areas."
Miami began the season 1-4, and a Week 4 Thursday night loss in Cincinnati seemed to be a low point from which the team would not be able to recover.
Then the Dolphins' offensive line got healthy and started dominating. Running back Jay Ajayi found his groove. Quarterback Ryan Tannehill, before he was injured, played the best football of his career.
After that 1-4 start, the Dolphins have gone 9-1 and are a comfortable second in the AFC East behind the Patriots.
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Belichick was asked specifically about Ajayi, who has posted three 200-yard rushing performances during Miami's run.
"(He's) one of the top backs in the league," Belichick said. "He's having a tremendous year. He's fast, he’s got good vision, hard to tackle, rips off a lot of long runs. It’s not all four and five-yarders. He’s got a lot of explosive plays so we're going to have to do a great job playing team defense across the board. He can find space where the play is designed to go or other places if those aren’t defended well, and then as I said, he makes a lot of yards on his own.
"He can make guys miss, runs hard, breaks tackles, gets extra yardage. He's good. He's having a great year."
Ajayi, a 23-year-old second-year back out of Boise State, has 1,213 rushing yards (sixth in the NFL) and eight scores on the season. He's just one of several beneficiaries of an apparent culture shift implemented by Gase.
Another, on defense, is Cameron Wake.
The 34-year-old defensive end returned as a starter in Week 6 this season, a little more than a year after an Achilles tear ended his 2015 season. His numbers — 10.5 sacks and four forced fumbles — prove his impact.
That's comeback player of the year-type impact, an award for which Wake does not care — not yet.
"It would be something that I would probably enjoy when the offseason came," Wake told The Miami Herald last week, "but I'm just trying to do whatever I can to keep winning games."
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So Wake and the Dolphins will focus on the Patriots before they take their chances in the playoffs with Matt Moore playing quarterback in place of Tannehill, who suffered a torn ACL in Week 14.
But they won't rely on Moore. They'll employ the all-hands-on-deck approach Belichick referenced — big returns, key blocks, timely chunk runs, impactful sacks, critical turnovers.
That's how Miami got here, after all.