The 2016 may not have resulted in the first world championship in more than four decades for the Miami Dolphins. In fact, it fell considerably short. What 2016 was for the once-proud franchise however, was nothing short of a glowing success.
After seven straight losing seasons, the Dolphins put together a 10-6 campaign under new head coach Adam Gase and reached the playoffs for the first time since 2008. In the aftermath of any season however, one can look back and think about things that could have changed the year for the better or the worse.
In reviewing the Dolphins’ most successful season since 2008, here are five “what-ifs” that could have drastically altered the campaign:
1. What if Cam Wake Wasn’t Re-Signed?
After a season-ending Achilles’ injury midway through 2015, many were writing off Cameron Wake’s career in Miami as over. At 34 years old, Wake’s best days appeared behind him, but rather than releasing him, the Dolphins decided to bring back their second all-time leading sack man. Wake didn’t disappoint in 2016 as he put together a Pro Bowl season with 11.5 sacks and five forced fumbles. Though he was used sparingly, Wake and Ndamukong Suh formed one of the best 1-2 punches of any defensive line combination in the league.
2. What if Arian Foster Stays Healthy?
No one wants to see anyone’s career end to injury, but running back Arian Foster’s ailment to his lower body may have been a blessing in disguise for the Dolphins. Foster was a great player throughout his career and undoubtedly brought leadership to Miami, but his lower body tissue injury that ultimately led to his unexpected retirement paved the way for second-year man Jay Ajayi to have a breakout year. Ajayi finished fourth in the league with 1,272 yards rushing, which included consecutive 200-yard games in October. Ajayi became the first Dolphins’ back since the Ricky Williams-Ronnie Brown combo that opponents had to game plan around stopping. Again, injuries are nothing to celebrate, but had Foster stayed healthy, Ajayi likely would have been used as a reserve if at all. In the season-opening loss to Seattle, Ajayi wasn’t even active.
3. What if Cody Parkey Makes the Field Goal?
No one thinks much about it in hindsight, but the Miami Dolphins nearly and probably should have lost their home opener…to the lowly Cleveland Browns. The Browns finished just 1-15 in 2016 and didn’t record a win until Week 16, but following a Ryan Tannehill turnover late in the fourth quarter in Week 3, Cleveland had Miami on the ropes. With just seconds to play, Cleveland kicker Cody Parkey lined up for a 46-yard field goal to break a 24-24 tie. Fortunately for the Dolphins, Parkey’s kick sailed left and the game went into overtime. After stopping the Browns deep in their own territory, it took the Dolphins just three plays for Jay Ajayi to find the end zone. Parkey’s miss at the end of the regulation was his third of the day. If only one of those three had gone through, it may be the Dolphins and not the Browns looking at a top 5 pick.
4. What if Colin Kaepernick Scores?
Against the 1-9 San Francisco 49ers at home on Nov. 28, things seemed to be slipping away from the Dolphins. The 49ers had cut what was once a 17-point Miami lead in the fourth quarter down to seven and with just two seconds left, San Francisco had the ball at the Dolphins’ 6-yard-line. On the final play, San Francisco quarterback Colin Kaepernick was forced to his right and made a sprint toward the end zone. Unfortunately for Kaepernick, he was stopped about a yard and a half short by the Miami combination of Ndamukong Suh and Kiko Alonso. Had Kaepernick scored, the 49ers could have gone for two and the win or kicked an extra point to force overtime. With all the momentum, San Francisco may have come out victorious. A loss like that could have set the tone for the rest of the season and killed the Dolphins’ playoff hopes.
5. What if Ryan Tannehill Doesn’t Get Injured?
Dolphins’ quarterback Ryan Tannehill was in the midst of a career-year when a Week 14 knee injury against the Arizona Cardinals ended his 2016 campaign. Backup Matt Moore was able to lead Miami on a game-winning drive to beat the Cardinals and played very well the next two weeks in wins over the New York Jets and Buffalo Bills. If Tannehill stayed healthy, there is obviously no guarantee that the results would have been the same. In the Wild Card game however, Moore committed three costly turnovers — two fumbles and one interception — in opponents’ territory in a 30-12 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers. Each of Moore’s three turnovers were debilitating and a big reason for the defeat. Had the more mobile Tannehill had played, there is no guarantee that the Dolphins would have beat the Steelers, but they may have stood a better chance. In the first meeting between the Dolphins and Steelers on Oct. 16, Tannehill was outstanding, completing 24 of 32 passes for 252 yards in a 30-15 Miami victory.
Mike Ferguson is a sports writer and reporter for several publications and the Pro Football Spot lead writer for the Miami Dolphins. Follow Mike on Twitter @MikeWFerguson