Miami Dolphins

Jay Ajayi should be happy to see Falcons

Jay Ajayi should be happy to see Falcons

Jay Ajayi is locked in. This could be his moment. 

The running back is well-rested and ready to become a bell cow back if that's what the Eagles want from him this Saturday against the Falcons. 

Standing by his locker on Wednesday, Ajayi said he has been really impressed this week by the laser-like focus he's seen from his teammates. 

"It's win or go home," Ajayi said. "It's a three-game war for us. This is a team that's in the way of what we want to accomplish. We understand what the outside world thinks of us right now and we're OK with that. We believe in what we have, who we have. And that's just been our mindset. We're grinding right now and getting ready for a battle on Saturday."

While Ajayi claimed it didn't matter to him who the Eagles faced in their divisional round game, it would be understandable if drawing the Falcons was met with a smile from Ajayi. 

After all, he's already faced the Falcons once this season and put together a tremendous performance. While still with the Dolphins on Oct. 15, Ajayi carried the ball 26 times for 130 yards in a 20-17 win in Atlanta. 

It's the most yards the Falcons have given up to any running back in the last two years and the most they've given up since Adrian Peterson ran for 158 back in 2015. 

It's safe to say the Eagles have dipped back into the tape of that game this week. 

"Obviously it's good to know it's going to be the Falcons because I've seen it before a little bit," Ajayi said. "Familiar and just watching the tape as well, that's been helpful. I've been able to use my experience with playing them earlier this year, just remembering some of the things that worked, some of the things we can fix."

That day in October, Ajayi got off to a fast start. After one quarter, he already had five carries for 51 yards and by halftime, he had 11 for 71, but the Dolphins were trailing 17-0 after two quarters. 

The amazing thing is that the Dolphins didn't get pass-happy because they were down big. Instead, Ajayi actually carried the ball more in the second half and helped the Dolphins score the last 20 points of the game to get the win. 

"That's just what needed to be done that day for us to get the victory," Ajayi said. "I've taken many carries in my career before, so it's not something I'm not used to. I'll be ready this Saturday for whatever."

What made Ajayi's performance — which was his best of the season for either team — so impressive was that Atlanta stacked the box against him. For most of the afternoon, it packed eight guys in the box and tried to take away the run but couldn't. 

Ajayi said that sometimes when teams load up the box there's a downside for them. If he gets through that initial wave, there's a lot of open space. 

According to ProFootballFocus, 96 of Ajayi's 130 yards that day came after contact.

"I thought on that day, you guys have seen him now and covered him for half a year, he's got excellent change of direction," Falcons head coach Dan Quinn said on a conference call with Philly reporters earlier this week. "So we lost some leverage on some tackles, where he was able to extend some plays. Definitely give credit to him. He's definitely a guy that we got our respect for."

Through his seven games with the Eagles, Ajayi has been used somewhat sparingly. His biggest workload was a 15-carry game against the Rams. But Doug Pederson didn't rule out using Ajayi as a workhorse back against the Falcons and that would make some sense (see story). The Eagles should be able to run. 

In fact, the two largest individual rushing performances against the Falcons over the last two years have come from Eagles. Ryan Mathews ran for 109 yards with the Birds last season in a 24-15 win and Ajayi ran for 130 earlier this year. 

Because of the trade during the season, Ajayi had a bye week with the Dolphins to start the season (Hurricane Irma) and then had a bye week with the Eagles. Then the Birds rested him in the final game of the regular season, which led into the first-round bye. 

Those four bye weeks, combined with a lightened workload compared to a year ago, has Ajayi feeling really fresh with the playoff game on tap. 

"It's interesting, because like you said, I did get a couple bye weeks," Ajayi said. "I guess I got lucky. I'm excited for this challenge. It's a one-game season, so for me, it's just leave it all out there."

3 teams clinch playoff berths on final day of regular season

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AP Images

3 teams clinch playoff berths on final day of regular season

ATLANTA -- Matt Bryant kicked five field goals, including a 56-yarder, for all of Atlanta's second-half points and the Falcons clinched a playoff spot by beating the Panthers, 22-10.

After the teams played to a 7-7 halftime tie, the 42-year-old Bryant kicked field goals of 30, 42, 30, 56 and 33 yards without a miss.

Atlanta (10-6) clinched the No. 6 seed in the NFC and will play at the Los Angeles Rams next week in the first round of the playoffs.

On a day when Cam Newton and the Panthers' offense struggled, Bryant's 15 points provided a margin too great for Carolina to overcome.

The Panthers (11-5) had a playoff spot secured entering the weekend, but they couldn't improve their position.

Minnesota's 23-10 win over Chicago earlier Sunday ended the Panthers' hopes of a first-round bye. The loss to the Falcons ended Carolina's goal of winning the NFC South, and the Panthers will open the playoffs at New Orleans (see full recap).

Titans end playoff drought with wild-card berth
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Marcus Mariota threw a touchdown and used his legs to help the Tennessee Titans end an eight-season playoff drought by beating the Jacksonville Jaguars 15-10 Sunday to clinch an AFC wild-card berth.

The Titans (9-7) snapped a three-game skid in a game they needed to win or get some help with losses elsewhere to advance. They also posted their first back-to-back winning seasons since 2007 and 2008.

Mariota ran a season-high 10 times for 60 yards, the biggest a 13-yard scramble on third-and-5 at the 2:00 mark . Mariota also threw for 134 yards.

Derrick Henry took a screen pass from Mariota 66 yards for a TD in the second quarter, and Ryan Succop kicked three field goals.

The Titans also sacked Blake Bortles twice and forced four turnovers, two interceptions by Kevin Byard.

The Jaguars (10-6) clinched their first AFC South title a week ago when Tennessee lost to San Francisco. Coach Doug Marrone promised they came to win. Only left tackle Cam Robinson and wide receiver Marqise Lee were scratched -- both were on the injury report this week.

Yet they head into the postseason having lost two straight (see full recap).

Bills end 17-year playoff drought with win and help
MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. -- The Buffalo Bills snapped the longest current non-playoff drought in North American pro sports with a 22-16 victory Sunday at Miami and Cincinnati's victory at Baltimore. The Bills hadn't made the postseason since 1999.

Buffalo (9-7) will travel to Jacksonville next weekend in a wild-card game.

The Bills' anxiety was compounded by the loss of 1,000-yard rusher LeSean McCoy with a right ankle injury. He was carted off the field in the third quarter.

The frustration of a disappointing season got the best of the Dolphins (6-10) with 6:21 left, when receiver Jarvis Landry, running back Kenyan Drake and offensive lineman Jake Brendel were ejected following a fight. Landry was cited for disrespecting an official, and Drake for throwing his helmet 20 yards in anger. Unsportsmanlike conduct penalties were called against both teams.

The undisciplined Dolphins, who came into the game with the second-most penalties in the NFL, had 14 for 145 yards.

Buffalo punctuated the victory with a 1-yard touchdown run by defensive tackle Kyle Williams, who is in his 12th and perhaps final season with the Bills. Williams and his teammates celebrated the first score of his career with choreographed back flops in the end zone.

Golf great Jack Nicklaus wore Bills gear and a smile watching from the stands as his grandson, tight end Nick O'Leary, caught Tyrod Taylor's 26-yard touchdown pass.

The Dolphins scored a touchdown with 1:56 left and recovered the ensuing onside kick, but Jordan Poyer's interception sealed the win for Buffalo (see full recap).

Jay Ajayi Q&A: Reaction to trade, relationship with LeGarrette Blount and more

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USA Today Images

Jay Ajayi Q&A: Reaction to trade, relationship with LeGarrette Blount and more

Just nine months after playing in the Pro Bowl in a Dolphins jersey and just 2½ weeks after the biggest rushing game against the Falcons in two years, Jay Ajayi arrived at the NovaCare Complex Wednesday morning ready to begin a new phase of his career.

The Eagles acquired the 24-year-old running back from the Dolphins hours before the trade deadline Tuesday in exchange for a 2018 fourth-round draft pick.

Since opening day last year, Ajayi has the fourth-most rushing yards in the NFL, behind only Ezekiel Elliott, Le'Veon Bell and Jordan Howard (and just ahead of new teammate LeGarrette Blount).

Ajayi met with the media after practice Wednesday and addressed numerous topics, including his role with the Eagles, anonymous allegations coming out of Miami about his attitude, and his relationship with Blount.

Q: What was your initial reaction to the trade?
Ajayi:
 I enjoyed my time with the Dolphins and appreciated being there. And then getting the news that I’m going to be an Eagle and understanding what comes with that and understanding where this team is and just wanting to be a part of this team, [going to] put my head down and get to work.

Q: Why do you think they traded you?
Ajayi:
 I have no idea.

Q: What do you expect your role to be?
Ajayi:
 I think that’s the coach’s decision to make on that, but for me personally in our running back room, just go inside there and [we're going to] push each other to be great. Myself personally, I strive to be great every day and I’m excited to come into this talented room and join these running backs and achieving our goal of helping this team win the Super Bowl.

Q: A lot of anonymous allegations and accusations critical of you started coming out of Miami the last couple days. What was your reaction to all of that?
Ajayi:
 Those things that are out there, I can only speak on how I view myself. I view myself as a team guy. I’m excited to be on the Eagles, excited for this opportunity. That stuff is in the past. I woke up today as a Philadelphia Eagle and I’m very excited about that.

Q: Do the comments bother you?
Ajayi:
 It is what it is. It’s a business, and at the end of the day I can just say I respect the Dolphins for giving me the opportunity to chase my dream of being in the NFL. And I can say I respect all my teammates. I love those guys. Bled. Fought. Won a lot of games with them and enjoyed my time as a Miami Dolphin. At the end of the day, God has another plan for me, and that’s to be with the Philadelphia Eagles. We’re 7-1 and I’m excited about that, and the opportunity to go get this thing, and just here to be a part of that, however the coaching staff wants to use me.

Q: What are your thoughts about running backs coach Duce Staley, who you met during joint practices over the summer?
Ajayi:
 I was just talking with Coach Duce. It’s ironic that I’m here, even though we got to see each other earlier this year during training camp and we even spoke very briefly in passing in training camp. For him to be my running backs coach, I’m very excited about that opportunity. Somebody that I looked at when I was starting to even follow football, I can remember the name Duce Staley as a Philadelphia Eagles running back. For him to be my running backs coach, I’m excited. Knowing he’ll be able to bring the best out of me.

Q: There was a report that the Dolphins don't think your knee will hold up long term. How is your knee?
Ajayi:
 My knee’s doing good. Just staying diligent with it. Having a good plan with the training staff, having a good plan with the coaches. Just have to stay with it.

Q: How's your blitz pick-up? Can you be a guy who can be on the field on passing downs?
Ajayi:
 Definitely, I view myself as a three-down guy (see film study). A guy who can be counted on to do anything that the offense needs me to do. I’m excited to be able to do that role here as well. Just continue to work on my craft, whether it’s blocking, catching the ball out the backfield or running hard for this team. I’m ready to do anything.

Q: Carson (Wentz) said he spoke to you after he heard about the trade. What was that conversation like?
Ajayi:
 He just basically expressed his excitement to get me out here and get ready to keep this thing rolling. That was warming for me to get the quarterback and some of the guys to send a text and to tweet, so that was really cool. And then just being able to be around him today and even just from watching his game throughout this season, you can tell he’s a special guy, a special talent. I’m excited to be in the backfield with him.

Q: How do things stand between you and LeGarrette Blount?
Ajayi:
 Me and L.B. have actually had a good relationship through passing on playing games when he was on the Patriots to even when we were out here for joint practices. So I’ve been able to build a little bit of a respect relationship with him, and we’ve had conversations here and there. Now being a teammate, it’s just a really cool dynamic now, and it’s fresh, all of us in the running backs room are all trying to feel each other out, especially with me being the new guy. I’m just trying to join whatever they’ve got going and not try to be a distraction or anything, just try to be a help. I think it’s a great dynamic in that RB room.

Q: How's your understanding of the offense after one day?
Ajayi:
 It’s been good. I’ve been able to have a lot of good meetings with Coach Staley. We’ve been talking about the offense, going through the playbook and really it’s just about just getting comfortable. That’s what it comes down to. Getting on the field. The coaches getting comfortable in me knowing the plays. So right now it’s just about getting comfortable in the playbook and getting comfortable with my teammates and being able to do that.

Q: Before the trade, Dolphins coach Adam Gase criticized you for trying to hit home runs instead of running in a disciplined style and taking what the defense gives you. What was your reaction to that?
Ajayi:
 I think that my style is my style. I don’t think it’s a style of always looking to bounce. I think it’s taking what the defense gives you and even creating things if there’s nothing there. I think that’s a lot of my style, being able to break tackles, [play] downhill, and make big plays for the team. I don’t think that’s going to change. Definitely always want to be able to hit the right reads and make the right decisions on the field. At the end of the day, I’m a downhill runner looking to make big plays for this team and that’s what I’m going to continue to do.

Q: What have the last 24 hours been like?
Ajayi:
 It's been crazy. Never thought I would be traded. It’s something new, a little bit of a new challenge, new adversity, but I feel like I’m built for it. I’ve had a lot of ups and downs in my career and I’m excited to have this as a positive. I’m excited to be here in Philly. I think it’s time for a new opportunity for me and I’m embracing it and just excited to be here.

Q: You caught 50 passes your last year at Boise but only had 48 catches in three years in Miami. Can you be a viable receiver in the NFL?
Ajayi:
 Always working on my craft. This past offseason, really worked hard on doing a lot of route running and really being able to be a good pass catcher and understanding that if that’s something we need to be able to do here, I can do that and be an option at all times on the field.

Q: How different is the offense here than Miami?
Ajayi:
 We did a lot of different schemes [in Miami], to be honest, ran a lot of different styles of runs, which is why I feel like I’m very versatile and I can do a lot of different things. Here we actually do a lot of similar things to what I did in Miami. In a way it's a little bit different, some of the little tendencies here and there, but it's nothing too out of the ordinary for me, so it's just about putting it in those same terms that I can remember and I'll know it down pat and getting comfortable doing it over and over, and that way I can get used to this offense.