Mike Wallace caught 10 touchdown passes in 2014, the first Miami Dolphins receiver to hit double figures in nearly a decade, but that didn’t satisfy anybody.
The franchise was spinning its wheels back then, hitting 8-8 with regularity, which meant that nobody was satisfied with much of anything.
What made it worse for Wallace, who opposes the Dolphins on Sunday as a member of the Baltimore Ravens, were the expectations attached to his five-year, $60 million contract.
All anybody wanted in return for all that money was for Wallace and Ryan Tannehill to team up for one 75-yard touchdown strike after another, giving Miami the kind of deep threat that hadn’t been seen around here since Mark Duper ran streak routes for Dan Marino.
That never was realistic.
Duper and Marino, that most dangerous of home-run combinations, hit on three touchdown bombs of 75 yards or longer in their 10 seasons together.
Paul Warfield and Bob Griese, a couple of Pro Football Hall of Famers, connected for two passes in that 75-plus range in all their shared time as Dolphins.
Plays like this don’t just happen because you want them to, or because there are players with the ability to run fast and throw long.
It has to be a part of a successful whole. Quarterbacks need time for deep routes to develop. A sturdy run game that has safeties sneaking toward the line of scrimmage helps, too, and so does a willingness on the part of coaches to let a passer take chances that could backfire as frequently as they succeed.
Did all of those factors line up while Joe Philbin was the Dolphins’ coach? Not very often. Matter of fact, he and Wallace were so frustrated with each other that the speedy wide receiver was benched for the second half of his final game at Miami.
“He and I had a discussion,” Philbin said after that 37-24 loss to the New York Jets on Dec. 28, 2014. “Then, I made a coaching decision. Really, that’s all there is to it.”
Well, actually, there is a little bit more to tell, since Wallace got traded to Minnesota three months later and Philbin got fired just four games into the following season.
For now, though, the questions are what will Wallace do against the Dolphins on Sunday, and what might be his motivations? His customary honesty came through while discussing all of that on a conference call with South Florida reporters the other day.
“I have no regrets,” Wallace said. “They gave me a lot of money in two years … It’s all love on my end. My life is a lot better because of those guys, so I have no grudges against them whatsoever.”
As for establishing a comfortable partnership with Tannehill and benefiting from the long plays that might have come from that, Wallace said “It’s obvious we never did.” No use denying it, since a 57-yarder was his longest Dolphins play.
“I was always good with Ryan,” Wallace said. “I like Ryan. I think he’s a great guy, a hard worker and I see him getting better.”
There’s no villain here, just an opponent who could do damage to the Dolphins’ growing playoff hopes if he connects with Joe Flacco on Sunday the way he rarely did with Tannehill. After a down season with the Vikings, Wallace has found his stride again.
Already he has nearly twice as many catches (51) as Miami deep threat Kenny Stills. Wallace has a higher per-catch average (15.5 yards) than DeVante Parker, the Dolphins’ injury-prone sensation. Wallace has a 95-yard touchdown catch, too, which means at the age of 30, he still can burn up the field.
“You think I’m old now?” Wallace said. “I think I’m forever young. I could be 45 years old and still run past people. I don’t think that’s ever going to be a problem the way I feel today.”
Wallace had his drops in Miami, too, like any high-volume receiver, but toward the end he was taking heat for every contested ball that went off his fingertips. I don’t ever remember having my faith badly shaken in Wallace’s ability to catch a ball, at least not like it was with Stills in the season-opening loss at Seattle. That’s when he let what would have been a 71-yard touchdown pass clank off his hands while running wide open in the middle of the field.
Stills is no bum, so let’s not get started on that. He’s leading the Dolphins with five touchdown receptions and ranking third among the league’s starting wide receivers with an average of 18.5 yards per catch.
Wallace was no bust in Miami, either. You have to go back to Chris Chambers to find a Miami receiver who topped Wallace’s total of 15 touchdowns over the course of two seasons. Brandon Marshall couldn’t do it, and that’s in spite of a couple of 1,000-yard receiving seasons for the Dolphins.
Sometimes the timing just isn’t right, but Wallace is quick to recognize that in Miami, the money always was.
That led to this cheery request from him on a conference call free of whining — “Tell Mr. (Stephen) Ross I said hello.”