Dolphins' Bess showing he's an all-around player ... as a receiver
"He's hurt us inside, he's hurt us on the perimeter," said New England coach Bill Belichick, whose team plays Bess and the Dolphins on Sunday. "You can go all the way back to the '09 game, and probably every game since then. He's a good player."
Bess, known for his expertise in route-running and sure-handedness, was overshadowed early this season by the exploits of teammate Brian Hartline, who led the NFL in receiving yards. But look at the numbers now.
Bess has 55 receptions for 715 yards and one touchdown, which ranks 19th in the league; Hartline has 55 receptions for 807 yards and one touchdown, which ranks 12th. Bess has had two 100-yard receiving days this season.
"Every week I try to have a big day," Bess said. "That's my mindset."
Bess, a fifth-year player from Hawaii, had a big day in Sunday's 24-21 victory over Seattle. It was a career-best. He had seven receptions for 129 yards. He had two receptions for 44 yards on the game-winning drive, during which Miami went 65 yards to get in range for kicker Dan Carpenter's 43-yard game-winner.
"The middle was somewhat open," Bess said.
And that's where he attacked. That's kind of always been Bess' specialty area. When he saw open areas of the field, he didn't hesitate to get there and make the tough catches against Seattle's secondary, the "Legion of Boom."
"That was our mindset," Bess said. "We knew what type of game it was going to be and we knew the type of players we were going against, and at the end of the day we wanted it more."
Bess, part of a Dolphins receiving crew that received lots of doubt and scrutiny before the season, is on pace to have his first 1,000-yard receiving season. That'd be quite an accomplishment because this is his first season with extended duty on the outside instead of the inside.
"I think he's had a very good year," Dolphins coach Joe Philbin said.
But it's not a crazy good year. It's fashionable to compare Bess to New England wide receiver Wes Welker because both are smallish, they excel as slot receivers and they have Dolphins ties. Welker played for Miami before New England. But don't try comparing Welker, a four-time Pro Bowl selection, to Bess with Philbin. He's not buying it.
"I'm not even going to kid about that," Philbin said.
Bess' hands keep him a trusted punt returner. He splits that job with Marcus Thigpen, but Thigpen has 19 returns and one fair catch while Bess has four returns and 18 fair catches.
But what really makes him his money is his third-down effectiveness. He's fifth in the NFL this year in third-down receiving with 22 receptions for 231 yards and one touchdown. That's 40 percent of his receptions and 32 percent of his receiving yards.
Those are numbers typically indicative of a slot receiver.
"He's more than a slot to us," Philbin said.
What Bess is proving is he's a complete wide receiver. Last week, he was going against what is generally regarded as the best secondary in the NFL. But he repeatedly got open against Seahawks cornerbacks Richard Sherman and Brandon Browner and safeties Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor.
Earlier this season, he had 12 receptions for 123 yards against Arizona. The previous week he had seven receptions for 86 yards against the New York Jets. In both of those games you could argue Bess was almost running free because the Cardinals and Jets devoted much of their attention to Hartline, who was atop, or near the top, of the NFL in receiving yards.
But Bess has proven his value and toughness to quarterback Ryan Tannehill throughout the season. And he's showed he's more than just a slot receiver.
"If the ball's in the air," Tannehill said, "over 99 percent of the time he's going to catch it."