Great Briton Jay Ajayi raises Dolphins’ playoff hopes

MIAMI (AP) — Grateful for great blocking that paved the way to his first career 200-yard game, Miami Dolphins running back Jay Ajayi offered to treat his offensive line to dinner.

The response: We’ll take a rain check.

“I just wanted to show some appreciation to those guys,” Ajayi said. “They told me, `It’s not a one-hit thing,’ and, `Let’s do it again.’ And lo and behold, we did it again.”

Ajayi tied an NFL record by topping 200 yards rushing in a second consecutive game, and this week he became the first running back to win offensive player of the week in back-to-back weeks since LaDainian Tomlinson a decade ago.

Even then there was little celebrating, because Ajayi has the Dolphins thinking big.

By carrying Miami (3-4) to victories over Pittsburgh and Buffalo, he saved the season and raised hopes the franchise’s eight-year postseason drought might soon end.

“When we’re in the playoff hunt, I can celebrate,” tackle Branden Albert said. “Until then I’m not celebrating. He doesn’t need to take us out to dinner. I’m just happy he’s doing good and we’re doing good as a team.”

The Dolphins have reason to believe their recent success can be sustained.

Following a wave of injuries and illness in an offensive line that includes four former first-round draft picks, the group was finally intact for the past two games, allowing Miami to physically dominate teams coached by Mike Tomlin and Rex Ryan.

In other words, the wins were no fluke.

“This team can be special if we keep doing the things we’re doing,” center Mike Pouncey said.

Mostly what they’re doing is handing the ball to Ajayi, a second-year pro from England who has more than doubled his career rushing total in the past fortnight.

At 6-foot and 229 pounds, Ajayi mixes a bruising running style with breakaway speed, and he’s the first player since the 1970 merger to rush for 200 yards in two of his first three career starts. He has the only 200-yard games in the NFL this season, and his averages of 6.4 yards per carry and 4.1 yards after contact lead the league .

“That’s a big man running hard, not slowing down, sticking his foot in the ground, getting north,” first-year Miami coach Adam Gase said. “He’s running through arm tackles, and all of a sudden we started getting all these explosive plays.”

Fans, the media and flattened defenders ask the same question: When did this guy come from?

Ajayi (pronounced uh-JYE-ee) was born in London to Nigerian parents and is a British citizen with lots of family and friends in England. He speaks with a British accent, and sounds particularly English when asked if he’s the best soccer player on the Dolphins.

“I would believe so,” he said with a smile.

Lately he’s their best football player, too. He moved to the United States in grade school unfamiliar with the game, but soon took it up while also playing soccer.
The divided attention slowed his progress.

“My dad sat me down and was telling me to decide on one, because, he told me, I could be good at both, or be great at one,” Ajayi recalled.

Showing the instincts of a good running back, he chose the right path. After starring in high school near Dallas, Ajayi went to Boise State, where he became the first FBS player to total 1,800 yards rushing and 500 receiving in a season.

The Dolphins waited until the fifth round to draft him in 2015, and even then the pick was critiqued as a reach, because of doubts about his durability because of a knee issue.

Ajayi came off the bench in nine games as a rookie and totaled 187 yards rushing. He was anointed a likely starter this season after Lamar Miller departed in free agency, but during training camp, Gase perceived a misplaced sense of entitlement regarding playing time and became increasingly annoyed.

When the Dolphins opened the season at Seattle, Ajayi didn’t even make the travel roster.

“We had a rough 10 days,” Gase said. “But he centered himself and then started over.”

In Week 5, Ajayi made his first start and became hard to stop. He blossomed into the Dolphins’ Great Briton, and teammates now rave about his resilience and relentlessness.

“To play the way he’s playing, it just makes me smile every time I think about it,” Pouncey said, “because a lot of guys would have tanked and gone the other way, getting benched right after thinking you’re starting the season off.”

Gase is optimistic he can keep his international celebrity humble, hungry and healthy. In interviews, Ajayi seems genial, modest and a little overwhelmed by all the attention he’s getting, whether from the BBC or school friends he had lost touch with.

“I’m learning a lot about myself,” he said. “I’m taking each week by itself, and just pushing to get through what happened earlier this year, and moving forward from that. Being in this position, it feels good, and we just want to keep building off that and not be satisfied.”

Celebratory dinners can wait.

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