DAVIE, Fla. -- As Kenyan Drake crossed the goal line to complete the Miami Miracle on Sunday, several Dolphins coaches and players jumped on coach Adam Gase. He was wrapped up like a tamale by players and assistants. A minute or two later, defensive tackle Akeem Spence bear-hugged him in celebration. Nearly everybody on Miami's sideline predictably erupted with raw energy.
Gase? He offered some smirks, smiles and handshakes, but mostly he remained Joe Cool.
That moment sticks out amid the weird happenings that often surround the Dolphins. Despite the overflow of injuries to key players, Gase has kept his team steady and cool.
Despite ranking 29th in total offense and total defense with a minus-51 point differential, the Dolphins are 7-6 after claiming their biggest win of the season against New England, and they have a shot to make the playoffs for the second time in three seasons. Miami still resides in mediocrity, but Gase and his staff have gotten the most out of an average roster.
There are still at least three games left in the Dolphins' season, but it's becoming clearer that Gase should remain the Dolphins' coach in 2019, no matter how this season ends.
Before the season began, Miami was projected to range anywhere from the worst team in the league to comfortably mediocre. Very few people gave them a shot at the playoffs, and many thought this season could be the swan songs for Gase, quarterback Ryan Tannehill and Dolphins front-office heads Chris Grier and Mike Tannenbaum.
Changes are needed in some capacity when the season ends -- certainly to the roster and possibly more -- but it's plain to see that Gase isn't the problem.
The NFL is a "win-now" league, and coaches rarely feel sure about their job security. Gase, with a 23-22 record in his third season, finds himself in an eerily similar situation to that of Mike Mularkey in Tennessee last year. Mularkey helped the Titans win their first playoff game since 2004, but he was fired after the season ended.
The biggest difference is the Titans believed they had reached their ceiling with Mularkey, and they wanted a modern coaching staff to fix a regressing franchise quarterback in Marcus Mariota. Gase hasn't reached his ceiling, and he has done much more good than bad for Tannehill. Tannehill has a 105.7 passer rating -- best of his career, sixth in the NFL and on pace to be the second-best in Dolphins history (Dan Marino, 1984).
After regular conversations with owner Steve Ross, Gase believes his boss will also be understanding of why the Dolphins' record isn't better.
“Every time I see him after a game or talk to him during the week, [he says,] ‘Just keep grinding. Don’t think too much about injuries.’ I think he looks at that as we’ve lost some good players. That’s something that is always unfortunate," Gase said last month of Ross. "He can see those big plays when they were occurring with Albert [Wilson] and what we get from Jakeem [Grant] and when we were hitting some deeper throws with Ryan in there. He sees all of that stuff, and when those guys aren’t there anymore, he understands that we’ve got to do what we’ve got to do to try to move the ball and win the game.”
Dolphins fans should hope Gase is right about Ross. It's easy to call for a coach's job after three relatively mediocre seasons, but there don't appear to be any obvious upgrade coaching candidates available. The Dolphins would likely be looking for someone like Gase was in 2016 -- an up-and-coming offensive specialist -- if they had to replace him.
One of the biggest reasons Gase should still inspire hope is his willingness to adjust. Players discuss a noticeable difference between his interactions with them in 2016 and now. He has learned how to handle the mechanics of the big chair. Despite his pass-heavy background, he has adapted to lean on the run after losing key receivers and offensive linemen. Recently, he has reaped the rewards of handing the ball to Frank Gore, Drake and Brandon Bolden.
Playcalling critiques have validity at times, but you can't argue with end-of-game results. Miami leads the NFL with a 76.9 win percentage (20-6) in one-score games since 2016. New England is second.
It wasn't too long ago that Gase was the shiny ornament on the tree. He was 2016's Sean McVay or Matt Nagy when he lifted Miami to the playoffs as a rookie head coach. Unlike those coaches, Gase hasn't had a chance to select or groom a young, recently drafted quarterback.
Gase is one of three coaches remaining from the seven-man head-coaching class of 2016, and he's the only one of the group with a winning record in 2018. Gase has done this even though Tannehill has missed 25 of his coach's 46 games (including one playoff game).
An ear to the Dolphins' locker room will tell you what the players think of Gase. Gore and Wilson regularly call him a genius. Tannehill says Gase cares about him like his mother, and they might have the tightest player-coach bond on the team.
Gase has his flaws, and it's certainly an indictment that the offensive guru hasn't figured out a way to sport a top-16 offense in his tenure, no matter the circumstances. Maybe the Dolphins will eventually decide he isn't the right guy to lead them out of mediocrity. But he has shown that he deserves the full chance to prove he can.