Jay Ajayi talked with his offensive line before Sunday’s game about his yardage objective, and at the time, the numbers discussed seemed outrageously optimistic.
After all, the Miami Dolphins’ second-year pro had never had a 100-yard day.
“I told him before the game, ‘Let’s go for a couple of hundred,’ ” guard Jermon Bushrod said. “He said 150. And I said, ‘No, a couple of hundred.’ ”
Ajayi met the goal by crossing it. He ran 62 yards for a touchdown on his final carry, pushing his total to 204 yards and punctuating the Dolphins’ 30-15 victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers.
It was by far the most impressive victory for the Dolphins (2-4) under first-year coach Adam Gase. Their only other win came in overtime against woeful Cleveland.
“No one likes losing week after week,” Ajayi said. “We were determined to come out this week and put a stop to that.”
Ajayi became the first NFL rusher this year to top 160 yards. He joined Ricky Williams as the only Dolphins to rush for at least 200 yards and two scores in a game.
Ajayi carried a career-high 25 times, and his other touchdown came on a 1-yard run. He became the Dolphins’ first 200-yard rusher since Reggie Bush in 2011.
Afterward, he said the milestone was still stinking in.
“In the NFL, probably that’s a big thing,” Ajayi said. “It hasn’t hit me yet, but it’s a big deal. It’s something to cherish for sure.”
It helped that Gase’s offensive line was intact for the first time this year after a series of health issues. Along with the stout one-man ground game, Miami netted 252 yards passing without a sack.
“It makes a big difference when we have holes and the quarterback is not on his back,” Gase said.
Ajayi was a fantasy league bargain last week because he totaled just 117 yards in the first five games. He ran for 187 all of last season, his rookie year.
He was so off the radar that even after the game, Steelers coach Mike Tomlin didn’t refer to Ajayi by name.
“That back ran hard, ran through tackles,” Tomlin said.
The Dolphins saw the potential in the former fifth-round pick from Boise State, even though he fell out of favor at times this year because of fumbling and attitude issues when he wasn’t happy about his place on the depth chart.
“I’ve watched him struggle,” teammate Jarvis Landry said, “and I’ve watched him grow by leaps and bounds.”
Gase went with a four-back rotation early in the season, but when the offense sputtered, he decided to try Ajayi as his feature back.
Ajayi’s previous career high for carries was 13, so he was understandably tired in the fourth quarter. But rookie running back Kenyan Drake and other teammates urged him to finish strong against the equally weary Steelers, who had not allowed a 200-yard performance since 2000.
“It felt great,” Ajayi said. “The other running backs were pushing me. My boy Drake kept saying, ‘Get that 200.’ ”
On the last carry, he did. Objective accomplished.