Lightning actually struck twice in Miami’s 27-23 Sunday win over the New York Jets.
Kenyan Drake returned a kickoff 96 yards for a touchdown and Jakeem Grant took a punt return all the way from 57. Problem is, Grant’s touchdown was wiped out by a penalty, but it got me thinking.
When was the Dolphins’ most explosive day when it comes to the bonus-points category of touchdown returns?
It would take a lot of time to dig through all the archives to verify this fact, and maybe I’ll get around to that on some rainy day. For now, take a look at this crazy game from 2009.
The date is Nov. 1 and Miami is playing the Jets, again.
It’s a sleepy 6-3 game early in the third quarter, with the Jets leading at Giants Stadium. Then Ted Ginn Jr., rips off a 100-yard kickoff return to give the Dolphins their first lead. Uncommon.
A few minutes later Paul Soliai knocks the ball loose from Jets running back Shonn Greene and Miami legend Jason Taylor scoops and scores from 48 yards out. Unbelievable.
But wait, another miracle is coming. Ginn strikes again with a kickoff return of 101 yards, the only time in franchise history that a player has scored on two kick returns in the same game. Unconscious.
We’re talking about three touchdown returns for Miami in the same quarter, and all in the space of seven minutes and one second. Every one was vital, too, because the Dolphins, quarterbacked by Chad Henne, won 30-25.
Sunday’s game was similarly scary. The Jets led 20-16 with 5:32 to play. Oh, and don’t forget that clumsy Ryan Tannehill swing pass that lofted toward Jay Ajayi in the third quarter. Jets linebacker Jordan Jenkins anticipated the play and had the pass right in his hands with 90 yards of open field ahead. Dropped it.
Everything was made right, however, by Drake’s touchdown return. Wasn’t watching Dolphins running backs coach Danny Barrett as the rookie sailed down the sidelines, but I would imagine he was jumping and screaming and telling whoever would listen “I told you so.”
Back in the steamy early days of training camp in August, Barrett said of Drake, “Obviously, he’s going to be a special-teams demon for us.”
That was before Drake had spent much time catching punts or kickoffs. Before any preseason games, too. Barrett and the rest of the staff were primarily focused on the kid’s ability to shed blockers and cover kicks, the kind of duty that often secures a roster spot at the final cutdown.
For that matter, prior to Sunday’s game-winner, Drake had been used only sparingly in regular-season games as a return man. In the first seven weeks he returned three kickoffs for an average of just under 20 yards and returned no punts at all.
Now teams will be worried about Grant and Drake together, trying to decide where the least danger lies on kickoffs. It’s far more than just an exciting prospect. It’s going to be the key to winning more games in the season’s second half and possibly surfacing somewhere in the December playoff conversation. Miami, after all, has little room for error week to week. The Dolphins won their first game in overtime and won the last two by a combined total of seven points.
Even last year, the Dolphins might not have gotten to 6-10 if not for Jarvis Landry’s punt return for a touchdown to beat Washington. The game was tied at that point, and in the fourth quarter.
So we say congrats to Drake and Grant, who have one touchdown each in the first half of their rookie season, and, of course, many happy returns.