ATLANTA -- There it was Friday night. The speed. The misdirection. The kind of blocking from the Dolphins offense that brought a tear to your eye -- no, a tear in a good way this time, folks.
Everything you hoped to see the new Dolphins offense crammed into a 10-play, 73-yard, coming-out drive against Atlanta in the Georgia Dome.
"My first NFL drive was a touchdown," rookie tackle Ja'Wuan James said. "It doesn't get any better than that."
He sat at his locker with such a big, rookie smile no one had the heart to tell him it gets better in the regular season. And maybe the playoffs. But you can appreciate James' sentiment and the Dolphins' measured progress on the only drive to measure anything thus far.
The quarterback being asked to be more accurate completed all six passes for 62 yards on that drive.
The offensive line with five new starters offered room-service protection and, on a third-and-1 play, popped running back Lamar Miller for a 4-yard gain.
The first-down plays that were such an unsolvable problem last year averaged 5 yards a pop this drive.
The red-zone issues that plagued the Dolphins in 2013 were replaced by quarterback Ryan Tannehill throwing to a wide-open Brandon Gibson for a 6-yard touchdown.
"You have to keep in mind we haven't got any game tape on these guys," Atlanta safety William Moore.
No, we don't. This night wasn't about perspective or long-term conclusions. This was about a temporary injection of overdue hope for new players and old fans regarding the biggest question of the season.
Everyone knows this offense is a work in progress. But this was the type of drive that filled the optimism tank to such a degree that coach Joe Philbin made the smart decision at that point. He pulled the first-time offense despite not hitting the 15-play count.
"When we saw them score a touchdown, we thought to move in the other group," Philbin said.
So the big question of the Dolphins season ran off the field. And the sure thing of this season, the defense, ran on the field. And so naturally that's when the night sank on the Dolphins.
They got shoved down the field 77 yards by Atlanta's offense and gave up a touchdown. The linebackers, especially, were a question. Were they there?
But even before Atlanta's offense picked up where the Dolphins offense left off, this was a bad day with September ramifications for this defense.
Safety Reshad Jones was suspended for four games by the NFL after testing positive for performance-enhancing drugs. It made you think if New England doesn't sink the Dolphins this season, the NFL drug testers might.
Dolphins lost to PEDs from 2010-2013: Zero.
Dolphins lost to PEDs in 2014: Two (Jones and defensive end Dion Jordan.)
Are the tests getting better or the players getting dumber? Because there's no in-between ground on this.
There's no excuse for a player to test positive for PEDs in the NFL considering all the help to counsel him on what supplements triggers a positive test (and, let's be real, what PEDs can't be tested for).
So now the Dolphins are down three starters for the first month when you throw in injured center Mike Pouncey. Not that you might need everyone you start the season against the Patriots and then go to Buffalo, right?
But that's a topic for down the road. Topic A on Friday night was that first offensive drive. You need to see more, of course. But it was one drive more than you had entering this game.
Tannehill didn't have top targets in receiver Mike Wallace and tight end Charles Clay to throw to, either. It didn't matter. He ran this offense just fine. The highlight was a 36-yard pass to Rishard Matthews down the middle to the Atlanta 10-yard line.
"He was pretty smooth and he ran the offense like a good leader," Philbin said of Tannehill.
Tannehill passed well. The offense passed its first preseason quiz. Now, if they can pass those drugs tests, maybe this season can go somewhere.
(c)2014 Sun Sentinel (Fort Lauderdale, Fla.)
Visit the Sun Sentinel (Fort Lauderdale, Fla.) at www.sun-sentinel.com
Distributed by MCT Information Services