The Miami Dolphins are enjoying their best season for quite some time, reaching the playoffs first time since 2008. There are several reasons why they have enjoyed this success, but perhaps the greatest reason was the breakout, albeit delayed, of London born RB Jay Ajayi. Now Ajayi has finished the season as one of the most prolific RB’s in the NFL and is held in the same regard as some of the best at the position. Heading into the Dolphins playoff game, spoke with UK media, where he talked about this season so far, his roots in the UK and, of course, how he and the team feel heading into this rematch against the Steelers.
Going through training camp and into the regular season Jay Ajayi was seen as the number 1 guy in Miami’s backfield, with only Arian Foster figuring to take away any meaningful snaps during the regular season, but come Week 1 that all changed. Ajayi was a healthy scratch in Week 1, when the Dolphins travelled to Seattle, following the fallout from Adam Gase’s decision to elevate Foster ahead of Ajayi on the depth chart. Reports swirled afterwards that Ajayi had sulked, as it were, following the decision to start Foster, “It is what it is.” Ajayi said when asked about the situation. He went on to say, “You want to be out there on that field helping your team win.”
That benching did trigger something in Ajayi though, “From that first week it was just about moving past it. Trying to just understand, for myself, what I wanted to accomplish this year. Going into Week 2 it was just about channel focus.” Week 2 wasn’t his breakout moment but it saw him back in the lineup. In Week 3 he scored an overtime walk-off touchdown against the Browns for the Dolphins first win of the season. However, it wasn’t until Week 5 that Ajayi really became the focal point of the Dolphins ground game. “Coach Gase kind of explained to me that now I would get more opportunities running the ball.” He went on to explain that, “From that week it was just about when I got the opportunity to just showcase my ability.” And he did from that point on.
In Week 5 against the Titans he got a then-season high 13 carries, for 42 yards and a touchdown in a game that saw the Dolphins offense get held under wraps for large spells. Then came Pittsburgh. In that game Ajayi carried the ball 25 times for 204 yards and 2 touchdowns, including a 62 yard touchdown run late in the 4th quarter to seal the Dolphins win.
The season continued much like that for Ajayi and the Dolphins. Their offense was a lot more reliant on the run from that moment and Ajayi rewarded them for that. He ran for 200 yards once again the following week against the Bills to become just the 4th running back in the NFL history to reach that level of production in back to back games, joining the likes of O.J. Simpson, Ricky Williams and Earl Campbell. He would later add a 3rd 200+ yard game in Week 16 against the Bills, once again, to become the 4th player in NFL history to accomplish that feat, joining Tiki Barber, Earl Campbell and O.J. Simpson. He finished the season with 1272 yards on 260 carries with 8 rushing touchdowns.
So how does Ajayi feel heading into his first career playoff game against the team that kicked off his historic season? “Yeah, it’s exciting.” He said when asked about this upcoming game. “We’re excited for another chance to get a crack at them. It’s the playoffs so the stakes are higher.” Of course, the Steelers are not the same team that they were in that Week 6 game. In fact, since that game they have gotten better in every area as the season has gone on, particularly on defense. They have gotten more play time from some rookies and younger players, such as Sean Davis at safety and Bud Dupree at outside linebacker, and have as a result clamped down on the run in a big way since that Week 6 travesty against the Dolphins.
Things have changed for the Dolphins too. Franchise QB Ryan Tannehill suffered a potentially season ending injury in Week 14 and the Dolphins have been led by career backup Matt Moore. Though they won 3 of the 4 games that Matt Moore played in, Ajayi’s numbers have decreased, presumably as teams are choosing to load the box and force Matt Moore to try and beat them through the air. None of this seems to bother Ajayi though. When asked about the Steelers improved defense he had this to say, “All of that really kind of goes out the window. It’s the playoffs, so it’s all become one game seasons.” Finishing with, “Anybody can be beat on any game.” Then, when asked if he expects the Steelers to load the box he didn’t seem all to fazed, “Whatever they do, it doesn’t really matter to me. For ourselves, as the Dolphins, we gotta go out there and no matter what the Steelers decide to do, it doesn’t matter.”
He seemed similarly unfazed when he was asked whether he felt more pressure with Matt Moore leading the team rather than Tannehill, “I wouldn’t say so. Matt played, I think it’s the last three games for us, and he’s had really good games.” He finished his point by saying, “It’s all about everyone doing their job… It’s going to come out to a whole team effort.”
Clearly then, confidence and team belief is high going into what is the team’s biggest game of the last 9 years. The Steelers poise an incredibly tough task for the Dolphins, especially considering the game will be played in Pittsburgh and the Steelers are all more experienced when it comes to the playoffs. Ajayi will likely be asked to at least keep up with what Le’Veon Bell and the rest of the Steelers offense will be looking to achieve which will not be easy, but he is used to the pressure of supporting a large group of fans as he does that every day for all of the loyal NFLUK fans, and that is something he takes pride in. “It’s been really exciting for me personally. I really appreciate all the support… it feels really great and I want to keep pushing forward, keep raising my game.” Later stating that he, “takes pride in it. “ And that he wants to “keep representing” the UK.