When did the Jay Ajayi revolution begin? Seems to me it was at about the lowest point you could imagine for the second-year running back, and for rookie head coach Adam Gase, and for the Miami Dolphins in general.
Think back to Sept. 25. The Dolphins were in overtime against the winless Cleveland Browns, a supposed easy mark. Problem is, Miami was winless, too, at that point, and would already have been beaten if not for a missed Browns field goal attempt as time expired in regulation.
Ajayi didn’t look like much of a hero at that point.
Rookie Kenyan Drake started ahead of him against Cleveland. What’s more, Arian Foster, since retired, would have gotten the start ahead of Drake if not for a hamstring injury. By the time Miami and the Browns got to overtime that day, Ajayi had been basically ignored in Gase’s game plan, with five carries for 16 yards.
Drake, meanwhile, had nine carries for 37 yards and Isaiah Pead, since released, had five for 17. Ajayi, in other words, was just another of Miami’s backs. Nothing more notable than that.
Wait, it gets worse. Ajayi was famously left home for the season opener when Miami lost at Seattle. He was in Gase’s doghouse for moping over losing his starting job to Foster. Looking back, the greatest surprise in all of this is that Ajayi was in the lineup in overtime of Game Three. Gase must have felt he needed the kid, must have desperately felt that he needed something different and unexpected.
By now, after consecutive games with more than 200 rushing yards, it’s obvious that Ajayi has something special. Does any of it happen, however, without that overtime against Cleveland, or without the two Jarvis Landry plays that put Ajayi in position to shine?
First, Landry returned a punt 13 yards to put Miami at the Cleveland 44-yard line. Then Landry got open for a 32-yard pass from Ryan Tannehill, instantly moving the ball to the 11.
A couple of runs and a field goals would have done it from there, but Ajayi went rumbling around left end for a touchdown. Miami won 30-24, and the former Boise State star finally had a foot in the door with Gase. No guarantees, but a chance.
“We did it, we pulled it off, a deep sigh of relief,” Ajayi said after the game. At the same time, in the adjacent interview room, Gase was grumbling to reporters about how “irritated” he was over the Miami offense just being “out there flopping it around.”
Yeah, it was a real mixed bag of emotions, but Ajayi’s resurgence was still a few weeks away.
When finally he busted loose for 204 yards in an Oct. 16 win over Pittsburgh, Ajayi nearly doubled his output for the entire season, which to that point had been 31 carries for 117 yards.
How close was Gase to turning the page on this guy? He’s done it with other players, and it’s clear that the coach had a ton of respect for Foster, his opening-day choice to start. Ajayi easily could have been lost in the shuffle.
Instead, the New York Jets will be game-planning to try to stop him on Sunday, and so will the rest of Miami’s opponents down the line.
Working overtime got the ball rolling. Getting a second chance from Gase as a pouty player with potential. Getting a second chance from the Browns with an extra period brought on by a missed kick.
Overall, this J-Train phenomenon might be the most spontaneous and amazing thing to happen at that stadium since another crazy express rolled through – Dontrelle Willis, the Miami Marlins’ D-Train from the 2003 World Series season.