The Miami Dolphins led the Denver Broncos 33-9 in the second half of Sunday’s Week 13 game when, having just scored a touchdown on the first play following an interception, the Dolphins kicked a surprise onside kick. Miami was forced to punt after recovering the kick, but a fumble on the return led to the Dolphins’ second safety of the game and a 35-9 lead. Speculation of why head coach Adam Gase would call for the onside kick with the score so much in his favor ran wild throughout the game.
After the contest, Gase simply told reporters, “Just playing 60 minutes. We’re not going to slow down. I don’t care what the score is.”
A lot was made of the relationship between Gase and Denver head coach Vance Joseph, with the pair said to be close friends, and Joseph having served as the Dolphins’ defensive coordinator in 2016, Gase’s first year as a head coach. Was Gase sending a message to Joseph for leaving? Was the coach just trying to fire up a Dolphins team that had lost five straight games coming into the meeting? What would lead to a decision to onside kick the ball with a 24 point lead?
Several media speculations over the past 24 hours seem to have another idea as to why Gase was hell-bent on putting the screws to the Broncos. Gase served as the Broncos’ wide receivers coach from 2009 through 2010, then moved to be the quarterbacks coach from 2011 through 2012 before becoming the offensive coordinator for 2013 and 2014. As Gase became the quarterbacks coach for the club, Hall of Fame quarterback John Elway assumed his current role as the general manager and Executive Vice President of Football Operations for the Broncos.
The Miami Herald’s Armando Salguero, in one of the media speculations on the meaning of the onside kick, explained that, back in 2015, bad blood between Gase and Elway could have led to that decision. Gase was being interviewed for head coaching positions that offseason, with the San Francisco 49ers appearing to be the likely landing spot for the up-and-coming coach. Salguero writes, “Except that after San Francisco GM Trent Baalke left that second interview with Gase, he suddenly soured on the young coach and gave the job to defensive assistant Jim Tomsula. And the reason, Gase believes per the sources, is that Broncos GM John Elway bad-mouthed him to Baalke and the 49’ers.”
Gase, according to Salguero’s report, thought Elway could have worked to cool the 49ers’ interest in advance of the Broncos hiring Gase as their head coach. Instead, the job went to Gary Kubiak, and Gase headed to the Chicago Bears to be the offensive coordinator. A year later, the Dolphins hired Gase as their head coach, and, come full circle to 2017, Gase had his first shot at Elway as a head coach.
The Broncos did not seem overly upset about the onside kick after the game, with running back C.J. Anderson saying after the contest about their former coach, using his nickname “Goose,” “That’s Goose, that’s Goose. I love Goose, man. That’s Goose, though.”
Anderson was also asked if the kick bothered him, replying, “It’s not my place to say. As players, we have jobs so with the onside kick, that’s how I look at it. That’s Goose.”
“I was ready to go back out there. I was still trying to get a sack — a sack for a fumble,” linebacker Von Miller said after the game. “That’s the game. I’m not sitting on the sideline and saying, ‘Man why are you kicked the onside kick, just give us the ball.’ That’s loser football. If they want to kick an onside kick let them do it. We have to cover it. We have to get the ball back and we have to play. It’s the pros. If it was little league, yeah we would be upset but this is the pros.”
“That’s his choice,” Joseph said when asked about Gase’s decision. “I tried one also. That’s his choice.”
Not everyone saw it as just a part of the game, though, as cornerback Chris Harris told the media, “I don’t know if there was any bad blood. But apparently there was because he was trying to embarrass us.”
To be fair, during his press availability on Monday, Gase denied there was any thought of sending a message to Elway during the game.
But, it still leads to the question of why the Dolphins, up 24 in the second half, broke out the onside kick. Was it really just the team not wanting to take their foot off the gas? Or, was there a message in there somewhere?
No one will ever admit to why it happened, but it is fun to speculate about a hidden meaning.