Jay Ajayi thought he had the starting running back job locked up midway through the Miami Dolphins’ training camp.
Then the Miami Dolphins signed veteran Arian Foster as a free agent late in the preseason and tabbed him to take over as the feature back for Lamar Miller, who signed with the Houston Texans as a free agent in the offseason.
Ajayi, the Dolphin’s fifth-round draft pick last year from Boise State, was not pleased.
“He had a bad five days,” Dolphins coach Adam Gase said of Ajayi’s performance and attitude in the wake of the Foster signing.
As a result of the pouting, Gase did not allow Ajayi to make the trip to Seattle for the season-opening 12-10 loss to the Seahawks.
However, any anger Ajayi had about the situation is a thing of the past. He is clearly the Dolphins’ top rushing threat now, and he showed it Sunday as the Dolphins stunned the visiting Pittsburgh Steelers 30-15 to end a two-game losing streak and improve to 2-4.
Ajayi rushed for 204 yards and two touchdowns on 25 carries against a team that entered the day fifth in the NFL in rushing yards allowed. He became the first Dolphins rusher to reach the 200-yard mark since Reggie Bush had 203 on Dec. 18, 2011, against the Bills at Buffalo.
The 204 yards are also the most in the NFL this year.
Additionally, Ajayi became just the second player in Dolphins’ history to rush for over 200 yards with at least two touchdowns in a game. The other was Ricky Williams, who had 228 yards and a pair of TDs on Dec. 1, 2002, at Buffalo.
“In the NFL, probably that’s a big thing,” Ajayi said of a 200-yard game while talking to reporters after the game. “It hasn’t hit me yet, but it’s a big deal. It’s something to cherish for sure.”
Through the Dolphins’ first five games, Ajayi had carried just 31 times for 117 yards, an average of 3.8 yards an attempt.
He averaged a whopping 8.2 a carry Sunday, including ripping off a 62-yard touchdown run with 50 seconds remaining to seal the win. The Steelers had cut the Dolphins’ lead to 23-15 just 12 seconds earlier on a 23-yard touchdown pass from Ben Roethlisberger to Cobi Hamilton.
“The offensive line kept opening creases,” Ajayi said. “I looked up, and I was at 140 (yards). I had some guys tell me, ‘Let’s go man! Go get (two hundred)!”
Ajayi even outdid his lofty pregame prediction of 150 yards. However, he made guard Jermon Bushrod look clairvoyant for saying Ajayi would top 200.
The clinching run was somewhat similar to Ajayi’s 11-yard touchdown in overtime that gave the Dolphins their only other victory this season, 30-24 over the Cleveland Browns in Week 3.
However, beating the Browns was one thing as they are the last winless team in the NFL at 0-6. The Steelers are 4-2 and considered a Super Bowl contender.
The Dolphins feel it was the kind of win that can turn their season around, especially how Ajayi ended it after the Steelers were unable to recover an onside kick and potentially tie the game.
“That last play illustrated everything about this game and how hard we played,” Dolphins left offensive tackle Branden Albert said. “We were tired of everyone calling us soft. We played physical today. We made a statement.”
Nobody helped make that statement better than Ajayi.
“No one likes losing week after week,” Ajayi said. “We were determined to come out this week and put a stop to that.”
Dolphins wide receiver Jarvis Landry said of Ajayi, “I’ve watched him struggle and I’ve watched him grow by leaps and bounds.”