The Miami Dolphins notched another victory in Week 15 and are now in control of the final AFC playoff spot. The Dolphins earned their biggest win in years by defeating the New England Patriots, 24-20. A huge part of that victory was wide receiver Mike Wallace, who is starting to prove that signing him was no mistake by the Dolphins front office.
Wallace has arguably been the most criticized member of the Dolphins team this season. His numbers during the first half of the season were less than impressive, certainly not worth the $60 million Miami coughed up during free agency.
In recent weeks, Wallace has shown why he was the league's most coveted free-agent receiver following last season. The Dolphins' go-to receiver deserves a great deal of credit for the excelling play of Ryan Tannehill, as well as the Dolphins being in a position to make the playoffs for the first time since 2008.
Before we turn the page to Week 16, let's take a look at the five biggest takeaways from Wallace's big game against the Patriots.
Final stats presented by Doctors Hospital: QB Ryan Tannehill: 25/37 312 YDS 3 TDs. WR Mike Wallace: 6 REC 105 YDS 1 TD.— Miami Dolphins (@MiamiDolphins) December 15, 2013
Wallace Was the Reason Miami Had a Chance
The Dolphins offense looked awful in the first half against New England. The 'Fins found themselves in a 10-0 hole with the half nearing its end. Tannehill found Wallace for a 39-yard touchdown to make it a 10-7 game at the half.
This play showcased all of Wallace's talents. He ran a solid route, made the clean catch and used his speed and agility to break tackles on his way to the end zone. Tannehill was great, but this play was all Wallace.
Mike Wallace gets Dolphins within three at half http://t.co/SQyz8wB1nE— ProFootballTalk (@ProFootballTalk) December 15, 2013
Wallace and Tannehill Are As Dangerous a Combo As Any
The NFL is a quarterback-driven league, and it should be. That being said, the recent rise of Tannehill can be partially credited to Wallace. Tannehill-to-Wallace has been as lethal a combination as any in the league since Week 12.
Tannehill has posted four straight 300-plus-yard games. He also has his four highest quarterback ratings over the past four weeks. It should come as no shock that Wallace's numbers have also improved. These two have found their rhythm, and it has been a joy to watch.
Over the past four games, Wallace has 20 receptions for 326 yards and three touchdowns. During that span, Wallace has just three drops. He has become more reliable and thus added a much-needed threat to Miami's game plan.
That move is why Miami paid all that cash to Mike Wallace— trey wingo (@wingoz) December 15, 2013
Wallace Makes Other Receivers Better
Brian Hartline was expected by many to have a drop-off this season. The receiver posted his first career 1,000-yard receiving season in 2012. The receiver was expected to draw more coverage from opposing defenses, naturally leading to a decrease in production.
Along came Wallace. The emergence of Wallace in the Miami offense has kept Hartline from drawing extra defensive coverage. As a result, the former fourth-round pick is just 75 yards from back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons.
Let us not forget the big season Brandon Gibson was having prior to injury. Gibson played in just seven games this season but managed 30 receptions and three touchdowns. Charles Clay has also benefited from defenses keying in on Wallace. The big tight end has a team-high six touchdowns.
Signing Wallace Was No Mistake
Much has been made of the gigantic contract the Dolphins gave Wallace. Many, including me, have criticized Wallace during the season for not earning that big payday. It's not easy for me to say, but I was wrong. Wallace has been proving a lot of people wrong.
Wallace is nearing the third 1,000-yard season of his career. His drops have decreased while his effort has increased. Wallace has taken a business-like approach to the second half of the season, and it has shown on the field.
Say what you like about the big-time receiver, but Tannehill is not putting up these numbers if Wallace isn't there. One reason Wallace was brought in was to stretch the defense and make things easier for Tannehill and the other receivers—in that aspect he has far exceeded expectations.
Wallace Can Still Improve
Drops have been an issue with Wallace at times this season. In recent weeks, he has become a more reliable receiver (he has just three drops in the past four games). Another issue with Wallace has been his effort. His effort has been questioned at different times throughout the season. That being said, Wallace has been giving 100 percent effort over the past several weeks.
The big question with Wallace has to be why it took so long for the effort, reliability and accountability to surface. The positive side of that is Wallace has room for improvement. His chemistry with Tannehill will only get better as time goes by. Miami has all the pieces in place to be a contender for many years to come.
Mike Wallace: "It's just time. It's the right time to build, time to go to the playoffs, make a run. In order to do that, I have to step up"— Andrew Abramson (@AbramsonPBP) December 15, 2013
As we approach Week 16 of the NFL season, the playoff picture is beginning to become more clear. Denver, Kansas City and Indianapolis are locks for the postseason. The Cincinnati Bengals and New England Patriots control their destinies within their divisions. That leaves the Miami Dolphins and Baltimore Ravens jockeying for the sixth and final AFC playoff slot.
The Dolphins are currently in the driver seat for the final wild-card spot. If Wallace continues performing at this level, the Dolphins won't be taking a backseat anytime soon.
All stats courtesy of NFL.com.