Sunday, November 1, 2009
Ginn provides Dolphins many happy returns
AP Photo/Peter Morgan
Dolphins return man Ted Ginn gashed the Jets for 299 return yards Sunday.
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- In an orange-and-aqua streak, Ted Ginn bolted up the right sideline in front of his whooping, towel-waving teammates. Not once, but twice he ran from goal line to goal line, leaving New York Jets defenders and the critics singed by his afterburners.
Ginn became the first player in NFL history to run the length of the field for touchdowns twice, darting 100 and 101 yards on back-to-back kickoff returns in the third quarter to propel the Dolphins past the Jets, 30-25.
In their locker room all week, the Miami Dolphins embraced Ginn in a show of support. The besieged receiver lost his starting job for costly drops in last week's loss to the New Orleans Saints. He called it the worst game of his career and the days to follow one of the toughest weeks of his life.
On Sunday at the Meadowlands, the Dolphins were hugging him a little tighter out of gratitude.
Out of the offensive lineup, Ginn contributed the only way the coaching staff permitted.
"He was down the last couple weeks," Dolphins outside linebacker Joey Porter said. "Then it comes down to not being in the game like he wants to be.
"Two big plays like that will bring you out of the doghouse in a hurry."
Ginn helped the Dolphins steal a game they probably had no business winning. Miami is now 3-4 overall, 3-0 against AFC East opponents.
"Sometimes, things just don't make sense," Jets coach Rex Ryan said. "Statistically, this game is not going to look close."
The Jets (4-4) outgained the Dolphins in yards from scrimmage 378-104, the third-fewest yards the Dolphins have gained in team history -- win or lose.
The Dolphins received the ball to start the second half. At one point Dan Carpenter had kicked three extra points, and the Dolphins had run three offensive plays. Sandwiched in between Ginn's kickoff returns, outside linebacker Jason Taylor returned a fumble 48 yards for his ninth career defensive touchdown and Davone Bess fumbled a punt.
"They were hungry on defense," Dolphins left guard Justin Smiley said. "They talked a lot of smack and did a nice job. They backed it up.
"Thank goodness our defense came to play and Ted Ginn did his thing."
Ginn has been the source of ridicule since the moment Miami drafted him ninth overall in 2007. He's symbolic of the failed Cam Cameron era, generally viewed as a wasted opportunity. He was projected as no better than a No. 2 receiver. Who takes a return specialist with the ninth pick?
But Dolfans got Ginn, and they've been mostly dissatisfied ever since. He was dazzling on returns at Ohio State. It's what he did best, but he couldn't even keep that job.
Ginn occasionally flashed his thrilling play-making ability. He scorched Revis for a long touchdown in Week 5. But Ginn also elicited boos for dropping catchable passes and scurrying out of bounds to avoid contact.
Dolphins coach Tony Sparano apparently had seen enough drops and benched him in favor of a fellow Buckeye, rookie Brian Hartline.
Had original return man Patrick Cobbs not suffered a season-ending knee injury against the Jets three weeks ago, Ginn might not have been on the field much at all against the Jets. He had one pass thrown his way all afternoon.
"This was probably one of the toughest weeks I've ever experienced playing football," Ginn said. "Last week was one of the toughest games I ever had, the worst game of my career."
Ginn bobbled a pass three plays into the second half against the Saints. Darren Sharper pounced on it and returned the interception for a game-changing touchdown.
A photo in this week's Sports Illustrated showed Ginn had hustled back into the play and stripped Sharper at the 1-yard line. The ball bounced out of the end zone and should have been a touchback, giving the Dolphins the ball on their own 20. But the touchdown stood, and Ginn would have to wait a week for vindication.
Ginn conceded that losing his job to Hartline was a wakeup call.
"Me not being in that starting lineup hurt me deep down inside," Ginn said. "I just wanted to be able to make plays however I can make plays. Nobody said you have to be a starter to make plays.
"Being a big-play guy, a player that started when he was so young, to not be a starter really hurt."
Ginn's first return was pure speed. He ran up the middle for a piece and then bolted up the right sideline. He was a blur. The only contact he felt came from three diving defenders slapping in vain at his ankles.
At the end of the third quarter, after Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez cut the Dolphins' lead to four points with a brilliant fake handoff and touchdown run, the Jets made the mistake of kicking to Ginn again.
"We have a lot of faith in our coverage," Ryan said. "We're one of the best coverage teams in the league. We thought we had a good plan."
Ginn made them look foolish. He fielded the kick a yard deep and ran up the right hashmarks, then dashed to the left and came to a dead stop at the 15-yard line.
"I'm like a mouse trapped in a corner," Ginn said. "You always wonder how that mouse gets out."
"I really felt like I was trapped," Ginn said. "I tried to use what I have as far as my feet, play off my blocks. My motive was to get to the outside. Once I get that opening and turn on them burners, I'm gone."
In a whoosh, he was. Ginn found an opening and exploded, untouched the rest of the way.
Ginn is the eighth player to return two kicks in the same game, but the first to go 100 yards or more on both of them. His 299 kick return yards for the entire game -- no, the Jets didn't kick away from him -- rank second all-time, five yards behind Tyrone Hughes (Saints vs. Rams) in 1994.
Ginn's return average of 49.8 yards is the highest in NFL history for players who fielded at least five kickoffs.
"You have a couple bad games, they'll throw you away in this league," Porter said. "That's just how it goes. Everybody loves a guy when he makes plays, but as soon as you have a bad week or two, then they hate you.
"It'll be exciting to see everybody get back on the bandwagon and holler about how great he is."
Porter should know. He has been there before. Porter said he wants to see Ginn build from this, not merely assume that one sensational game will be good enough to silence the critics for good.
For now, though, the Dolphins can be happy he responded.
"Some people, they rise up. Some people, they don't," Sparano said. "Teddy rose up."