The Miami Dolphins stunningly won their seventh consecutive contest on Monday night by defeating the Ian Book-led New Orleans Saints by a dominant final score of 20-3. The victory helped transform the once 1-7 Dolphins to 8-7 while catapulting them into the seventh and final playoff seed in the AFC.
To properly capture what a peculiar stretch it's been in South Florida, Miami becomes the first team in NFL history to both win and lose seven straight games in the same campaign. Brian Flores' Dolphins now control their own playoff destiny, as wins in their final two contests would guarantee them a playoff spot. It's a remarkable development for a franchise that found themselves in the league's basement through October.
One player in particular deserves a ton of credit for Miami's turnaround, especially on the offensive side of the ball. Rookie receiver Jaylen Waddle has been phenomenal down the stretch. The former Alabama standout has now recorded 96 receptions for 941 yards and five touchdowns in his debut season. Waddle's 96 receptions are tied for sixth-best in the league and place him in elite company alongside the likes of Justin Jefferson, Keenan Allen, and Tyreek Hill. Waddle has completely transformed Miami's offense while serving as a crucial weapon for quarterback Tua Tagovailoa, who is uncoincidentally playing a much-improved brand of football since Waddle's midseason breakout. Waddle firmly belongs in the Offensive Rookie of the Year conversation.
Such an honor is bestowed upon a player that makes a monumental difference on the trajectory of his team. That's what Waddle has done as of late. Miami's recent string of success has been directly tied to getting Waddle more involved in their offense.
Throughout Miami's active seven-game winning streak, Waddle has averaged an astounding eight receptions and 88 yards per contest in six appearances. Waddle missed one contest due to COVID-19, but there's little doubt his numbers would be even more productive if not for the one-game absence. Waddle has particularly exploded in his last three showings, having recorded at least nine receptions, 90 receiving yards, and two touchdowns in Miami's latest three wins while helping boost Miami into playoff contention.
Waddle's recent numbers pale in comparison to his lack of productivity (or lack of involvement, I should say) throughout Miami's early-season seven-game losing streak. In those seven defeats, Waddle averaged just north of six receptions and a measly 50 yards per game, including three showings that finished with four receptions and 33 yards or less.
Co-offensive coordinators George Godsey and Eric Studesville have recently figured out what should have been viewed as straightforward much earlier. Great things happen when you get the ball in Waddle's hands. His newfound involvement has helped unlock a much more effective offense in Miami down the stretch. Waddle's participation in an RPO-based offense that prioritizes getting the ball out of Tagovailoa's hands in a timely and efficient manner (behind a struggling offensive line, no less) has helped alleviate the pressure from the rest of the group.
Waddle faces stiff competition from New England Patriots quarterback Mac Jones and Cincinnati Bengals receiver Ja'Marr Chase for this year's Offensive Rookie of the Year honor. He may still be viewed as a distant third in the race, but he's undeniably making ground. If Miami can win their final two games and make the postseason, his claim to the award is as good as any.