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Tough Defense Lifts Dolphins Over Chargers, 20-16

Posted Nov 17, 2013

Timely sacks and third-down stops keep San Diego at bay.



No defensive coordinator is fond of the term “bend but don’t break,” but the Miami Dolphins did just that Sunday afternoon at Sun Life Stadium to help preserve a 20-16 victory over the San Diego Chargers and improve to 5-5 on the season.

After allowing a short touchdown drive in the first quarter that was set up by a Chargers interception, Miami’s defense held them to three field goals the rest of the way and got stronger in the fourth quarter. Olivier Vernon’s sack of Philip Rivers midway through the fourth quarter pushed San Diego out of field goal range and was one of three in the quarter by the Dolphins. Jared Odrick and Cameron Wake had the others. Those were all of the sacks in the game and they came when it mattered most.

“We were put in a position where we could make some plays and given the opportunity and we made them today,” said Odrick, who now has 4.5 sacks on the season and 15.5 for his career. “That was the difference between last week (in the loss at Tampa Bay) and this week and we were happy that the D-line could contribute today. I think you’ve seen it for a little while, it just needs to stay a little more consistent during pressure moments like that and finishing games. Today we did it and we need to build on it and keep doing it.”

Cornerback Brent Grimes came up with his third interception of the season and left his feet to knock down Rivers’ desperation final pass of the game in the end zone to seal the win. His interception came on San Diego’s opening drive when he got better position behind Chargers wide receiver Vincent Brown, caught the ball, stayed inbounds and then it turned it up the field back to his own 21.

But it was that last play of the game that stuck in Grimes’ mind because it illustrated just what the defensive front had been doing most of the game as far as pressuring Rivers. The veteran quarterback was forced to throw off of his back foot and Grimes read it all of the way.

“We knew they obviously needed to get in the end zone, our coach made a call, we had to man up and play,” he said. “I saw the ball up in the air, jumped up in the air and made a play on the ball. I have seen a lot of crazy stuff going on so I made sure I hit it forward.”

Meanwhile on the offensive side of the ball, tight end Charles Clay caught six passes for 90 yards and his 39-yard catch-and-run touchdown in the third quarter helped turn the tide. He bowled over Chargers safety Marcus Gilchrist on his way into the end zone to fire up the crowd and the Miami sideline.

Quarterback Ryan Tannehill completed 22-of-35 passes for 268 yards, one touchdown and an interception and rushed the ball 10 times for 57 yards and a touchdown, a 1-yard leap in the second quarter to give the Dolphins a 10-7 lead. San Diego tied it on Nick Novak’s 27-yard field goal with 54 seconds left in the first half and had 77 of its 154 rushing yards in those first two quarters, but the defense dug in after the intermission and kept the Chargers a little more off balance.

“Our defensive line and front seven played a better tempo in the second half,” said Head Coach Joe Philbin, whose team is back in the thick of the playoff race. “The first half, they were kind of gaining five yards on a rush and their quarterback had a lot of time to make decisions and release the football. I thought the second half – we didn’t sack him a ton, but we made him move his feet, made him shuffle around a little bit and I think that helped us.”

Rookie kicker Caleb Sturgis was a perfect 2-for-2 on field goals and Brandon Fields’ 61-yard punt late in the game forced Rivers to have to try and go 83 yards for the win. Wake’s sack of Rivers chewed up more clock on that final drive and set the tone for that final set of plays.

With the game on the line, the crowd of 60,256 got behind the home team and simultaneously fired up the defense while distracting the San Diego offense. There was visible confusion before the snap down the stretch by the Chargers and visible frustration on the face of Rivers.

“The energy level was picked up the whole time,” Odrick said. “But yes, obviously when you hear the fans getting up and getting loud it gives you a little extra boost.”

Miami will be looking for that boost again next Sunday when the Carolina Panthers come to Sun Life Stadium.
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