Howard and Drake are turning the corner simultaneously toward the end of their second seasons, which is enough time for fans with little patience and short attention spans to write off both players. Their rookie seasons were inconsistent, and neither performed great in the first half of Year 2.
But the light has come on for both Howard and Drake in December. The pair capped a memorable two-game span that quietly placed the Dolphins (6-7) back into playoff contention following Monday's 27-20 upset win over the New England Patriots.
Drake led Miami in rushing for the second straight week, with 114 yards on 25 carries, while adding another five receptions for 79 yards. Howard also produced a memorable night with two interceptions off future Hall of Fame quarterback Tom Brady. After not getting a single interception in his first 18 games, Howard now has four interceptions in two weeks.
"To be very honest and frank, it's not surprising," Dolphins defensive end Cameron Wake said of Howard. "From the moment he arrived on campus last year, I knew the ability he had, the type of mentality and what he can bring to the table. You can tell him I said, 'It's about time.' I've seen him do amazing things on the field since he got here."
Teammate Bobby McCain joked in the locker room after the game that Brady should've stopped testing the second-year cornerback. Howard added that he is keeping both footballs from twice picking off one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time.
"Tom Brady is a great player, and picking him off is really just [increasing] my confidence," Howard said.
Howard and Drake were taken by Miami in the second and third rounds, respectively, of last year's NFL draft. It is vital for both to become important, young pillars for the Dolphins.
This is the first time in college or the pros that Drake is getting a look as a feature running back. He was the backup at the University of Alabama to Heisman Trophy winner and Tennessee Titans tailback Derrick Henry and began his pro career before former starter Jay Ajayi was traded by the Dolphins in October.
Drake now has 48 carries for 234 rushing yards in the past two weeks for Miami, which is one game out of the final wild-card spot in the AFC with three games remaining.
"I feel like I try to go out there with a level of arrogance that I feel like I can go out there and help this team win in any way possible," Drake said. "My confidence has stayed pretty stagnant because, regardless if I fumble or whatever the case may be, I'm going to go out there and prove that I can be a top-notch player."
The Dolphins have plenty of holes to fill next offseason, which include both guard spots, tight end and middle linebacker. Howard and Drake are well on their way to proving they can fill voids as Miami's No. 1 cornerback and running back, respectively, which could save Miami a lot of cap room and headaches next year.