(Video: Cameron Wake mum on Jones, discusses how defense rallied from adversity)
MIAMI GARDENS – The astute football philosopher Brock Osweiler was saying recently that fortunes in the NFL are very much a week-to-week proposition. They swing like whiplash.
So this week the Dolphins defense had its day, atoning for a couple of embarrassing performances that preceded it. Osweiler and the offense weren’t much of a factor in subduing the Jets 13-6 Sunday at Hard Rock Stadium.
Even as rookie linebacker Jerome Baker was smiling and showing off the ball he intercepted and returned 25 yards for the only touchdown of the game and talking about plans to frame it and display it, there was strangeness lurking in the background.
Amid all the bows being taken and explanations about how teamwork and the efforts of a wide range of contributors led to a dominant effort, the mystery of safety Reshad Jones’ unexplained exit cast a peculiar backdrop to the celebration.
Isn’t that the Dolphins way? Always a weird drama, some unusual issue pulling the rug out of progress.
Gase offers no insight
Aside from Cameron Wake, Jones is the most esteemed member of the defense. The veteran safety is the quarterback of the secondary. He’s in his ninth season with two Pro Bowl selections to his credit.
Yet, there he was much of the day on the sideline sans helmet, just watching.
Coach Adam Gase said that Jones pulled himself out of the game. When pressed for a reason why, he played the don’t-ask-me-I-coach-the-offense card.
“I haven’t asked a whole bunch of questions because we were having our own issues on the other side of the ball,” he said.
While injuries were announced for several players who left the game, no physical reason was cited for Jones’ absence. No reason was given at all.
Jones missed two games earlier in the season due to a shoulder injury but had played true to form since returning. He came into Sunday with two interceptions, 33 tackles (25 solo) and five passes defended.
But while the defense was holding the Jets to 80 yards rushing and intercepting four Sam Darnold passes, Jones wasn’t a part of it, and nobody was saying why.
Wake, the only player with longer tenure on the team, was observed on the sideline in conversation with Jones, his arm around him.
Wake gives sideline counsel
As to what they talked about, Wake said, “That’s between him and I.”
Asked if Jones is too hurt to play, Wake gave the same reply.
Regarding whether Jones has expressed any issue with his role or defensive scheme, Gase said, “No. We were doing some different stuff this game, obviously. I don’t know. I’ll find out more [Monday].”
Following the 42-23 debacle against the Texans, Gase promised some changes on defense. There was a lot of shuffling of personnel during the game Sunday, utilizing players throughout the depth chart.
Rookie Minkah Fitzpatrick, who usually plays slot cornerback, started out as a boundary corner. He ended up in Jones’ spot at safety.
Veteran Walt Aikens, usually confined to special teams, made a game-ending interception.
“Yeah, we moved some guys in and out,” Gase said. “We’re trying to keep guys fresh and they played 80-plus plays today. So they had to play a lot of guys. We had a couple of guys get pulled out and then go back in or stay out. That’s what we had to do to win the game.”
Bigger challenge ahead vs. Pack
It certainly was a commendable effort by a group that looked disorganized and overmatched at Houston.
But with a trip to Green Bay next week to face Aaron Rodgers and the Packers’ prolific offense, it doesn’t bode well to have such a key player as Jones on the sideline for reasons unexplained.
Certainly, Jets offensive ineptitude contributed to the Dolphins’ better defensive results. The Jets were ranked 29th in the league on offense and looked worse.
Darnold won’t be mistaken for Rodgers – or for Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson. The interceptions seemed gift-wrapped for Miami defenders, who dropped two others they should have caught.
Still, Wake, who had two sacks and assisted Akeem Spence on another, insisted the difference wasn’t a matter of the opponent.
“This week, again, it was no magical defensive call. There was no special water. It was guys doing what they are supposed to do, which should be the default, and when it doesn’t happen, obviously you’ve got games like you had before,” Wake said. “Again, today shouldn’t be nothing out of the ordinary.”
Rookies stand out
Wake said missed assignments led to many breakdowns of recent weeks.
“If you see a receiver running and nobody’s there, somebody has done something,” he said. “If I’m not in the gap and the ball runs through untouched – freelancing is an umbrella word – I was wrong.”
Jones has a habit of doing his own thing and there is speculation he may have taken exception to the Dolphins trying to rein him in after the loss at Houston.
As troubling as the odd absence of a veteran leader was, the contributions of young defenders Baker and Fitzpatrick were encouraging for the challenges in Green Bay and beyond.
Baker, who showed his speed in darting in front of tight end Eric Tomlinson and taking it to the house, said it was the second pick 6 of his career. He had one in college for Ohio State against Oklahoma’s Baker Mayfield, now a Browns rookie.
Fitzpatrick, who for much of the season has been on the sideline in the base defense, said he benefited from staying on the field and in the flow of the game.
“When you’re going off and on the field you don’t see everything, or it’s hard to see everything. You just lose the adrenaline rush, or something like that, that you may have,” he said.
As for all the shifting of positions, from boundary corner to safety, even some duty in the slot, Fitzpatrick smiled and said, “I’ve got a headache right now. It’s a lot mentally.”
Could that have been Jones problem, a headache? Who knows? He wasn’t around after the game.
Maybe Gase will have some insight to offer, after he asks around.
Craig Davis has covered South Florida sports and teams, including the Dolphins, for four decades. Follow him on Twitter @CraigDavisRuns