MIAMI GARDENS — There Jaelan Phillips was, right after making game-winning plays, talking a little trash and making a joke, all rolled into one. The Raiders claimed they were packing their run game in a suitcase when they traveled to Miami, Phillips was saying before coming to the punchline: “I guess they must have packed the wrong suitcase.”.
Phillips was holding court for a large media contingent after the Dolphins beat the Raiders 20-13. The scene seemed to fit better than the way-too-small shirt someone had handed Phillips so he’d look presentable for the cameras.
If the shirt was too tight, the same could be said at times this season for the man wearing it as well as his opposite number as an edge rusher, Bradley Chubb.
One of the best moves coach Mike McDaniel made this season is one fans will never see. When McDaniel rearranged the team’s locker room, he assigned Phillips a locker right next to Chubb, even though most other assignments appear random.
Whatever McDaniel’s reasoning, it turned into a blessing for the team early in the season when Phillips endured a series of injuries that had him feeling like he was a “shell” of himself. Meanwhile, Chubb turned in performances that had him staring at “the man in the mirror.” Good thing, then, that Phillips and Chubb are close, and not just geographically.
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“We were always picking each other up,” Phillips said. “When he would be down, I would pick him up. The next day I’d be down, he’d pick me up. I’m like, ‘We can’t keep doing this. We just have to be happy.’.
“But that’s really how it is, and to be able to have a teammate who understands you and understands what you go through, it really just helps a lot.”.
Pause, for a moment, and remember that Chubb is 6-feet-4, 268 pounds. Phillips is 6-5, 263. They may be intimidating physically, but they’re still human.
“Although it is a macho sport, I don’t think we have that, especially on this team,” Phillips said. “We’re not afraid to be vulnerable. We’re not afraid to be honest and open with each other and I think that starts from the head down. That’s how Mike is, that’s how all of our coaches are, pretty much.”.
If you’ve been watching the Dolphins this past month, you know the next part of the Phillips-Chubb story. It involves quarterbacks and ballcarriers feeling vulnerable, or worse. Phillips and Chubb have combined for 11.5 sacks, 84 tackles, 19 quarterback hits and four forced fumbles. On Friday, they will be facing a first-time starting quarterback when they play at the Jets.
Last Sunday, with the Raiders game on the line, Phillips took matters into his own hands, sacking Aidan O’Connell with four minutes left. Three plays later, as O’Connell was about to be sacked by Christian Wilkins, he unloaded a desperation heave that Phillips caught for his first career interception.
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It’s what general manager Chris Grier envisioned when he spent a first-round pick on both Chubb (via trade) and Phillips (in the draft).
Phillips believes he turned the corner on a night in Philadelphia when not enough went right for the team. He sacked Jalen Hurts, which came only after he got past All-Pro tackle Lane Johnson. Pro Football Focus reported it was the first sack allowed by Johnson since Week 11 in 2020 — a span of more than 1,100 snaps.
Phillips came out of that game with a different mindset than when he entered.
“Honestly, I was kind of second-guessing myself, thinking, ‘Damn, I don’t even know if I can beat this guy. I don’t even know if I can just straight win and get a sack.’ “.
For a player who has had as much success as he has on the collegiate and pro levels, Phillips seems to be in a constant battle with himself.
“For me, it’s all up here,” he said. “It’s crazy how much of an impact mentality can have. That’s something I’ve been dealing with my whole life.”.
There are avenues athletes can turn to for help getting over that hump. Sports psychologists. Confidence coaches. Meditation. Watching cut-ups of his best plays as a Dolphin. Phillips, 24, has tried everything.
“Different things work for different people,” he said. “I think for me, I’m just still growing and learning. At the end of the day, it’s really just about myself talking and my confidence and how I believe in myself. I think everybody, my whole life, has told me that I’m my biggest enemy.”.
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Phillips and Chubb haven’t made many friends wearing other teams’ colors this past month. Safe to say their locker-room talks have taken on a decidedly different, more joyful tone.
“In Jaelan’s case, he missed those four games and took him a game or two to get his timing back, his feel back,” defensive coordinator Vic Fangio said before the Raiders game. “I think he’s playing really good now. I think Bradley’s played good the entire season. Everyone gets caught up in numbers at times, he didn’t have ‘x’ amount of sacks early on, but he’s had some here lately. … Now I think everyone is seeing the player that he can be.”.
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The Dolphins are 7-3, with a defense largely intact and rounding into form the past three weeks now that cornerback Jalen Ramsey is healthy. Which is why, as Sunday afternoon went on, Phillips wasn’t allowing doubt to enter into his thinking.
Phillips: “I think the key is to just keep our head down and like I said, have that confidence from each other.”.
No doubt about it.
Dolphins reporter Hal Habib can be reached at [email protected]. Follow him on social media @gunnerhal.