Beating the defending Super Bowl champion Chiefs requires a near perfect concoction of big plays, conversions in key spots and perhaps a little luck. The Dolphins were up for the challenge early and late; but as he so often does, quarterback Patrick Mahomes found a rhythm for a period of the game that put the comeback just out of reach.
The Dolphins fell to 8-5 with a 33-27 loss to the defending Super Bowl champion Chiefs Sunday at Hard Rock Stadium. After a pair of Dolphins sacks and interceptions of the 2018 league MVP in the first quarter, Kansas City put together scoring drives on four of their next five possessions, including a 67-yard punt return touchdown by wide receiver Mecole Hardman.
|3rd Down Conv.||7/15||5/11|
|Time of Possession||31:31||28:30|
"This is an explosive team and they went on a run starting at the end of the second quarter," Dolphins Head Coach Brian Flores said. "They got the ball back (to start the second half) and punched it in, got a return, it was a quick spurt there. That's how they're built. They go on runs and they went on one there. We had to settle in and I thought our guys did a good job of that. We played with some poise and got back in the game. But you've got to limit those big plays and we weren't able to do that today. Ultimately, that was the difference."
Identifying the heart of this Dolphins team does not require a lengthy search. After the Chiefs racked up 30-straight points to wipe out Miami's 10-0 start, the Dolphins relied on their identity as a team -- their resilient makeup. Quarterback Tua Tagovailoa led the offense to back-to-back touchdown drives to make it a one-score game late in the fourth quarter.
The defense forced a fourth-and-1 attempt for the Chiefs with 2:30 to play, but Mahomes went back to his favorite target – wide receiver Tyreek Hill – to diminish the Dolphins hopes.
"We have a resilient team," Flores said. "They don't quit. At the end, we didn't make enough plays to win the game. We have to play better. We prepared the right way and just didn't make enough plays. This is a good team and they made more plays than we did."
Early, the Dolphins defense was cooking with a mixture of coverages, fronts, blitz looks and blanketing receivers downfield. The Dolphins defense forced a pair of interceptions on tipped passes. Cornerback Byron Jones secured his first interception as a member of the Miami Dolphins and safety Eric Rowe secured his second of the season when he caught the deflection of a high pass from Mahomes. Jones later forced a fumble that was covered up by linebacker Kamu Grugier-Hill.
The Dolphins would add a fourth takeaway courtesy of cornerback Xavien Howard's ninth interception of the season, perhaps his most impressive to date. With the Chiefs driving and looking to build on a 20-point lead, Mahomes was in search of another long touchdown pass in the direction of Hill. Howard extended with one arm and pulled down the 21st interception of his career.
The four takeaways extend Miami's streak to 19 consecutive games creating a turnover, the longest active streak in the NFL.
After his second interception, Mahomes went to work. During Kansas City's stretch of 30-straight points, he was 11/15 with 168 yards and two touchdown passes. The Dolphins defense allowed just three points on the Chiefs' final three possessions to give the offense an opportunity to get back into the game.
"That's a good offense so they moved it," Flores said. "That last drive they got enough yards to kick the field goal and stretch the lead. We made some plays. I thought the guys played hard and executed in spurts. Against a team like that, one missed alignment, one missed communication and they take advantage, which was the case today."
On that offensive side, Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa showed the skills that made him the fifth pick in April's draft. In the first quarter, he threw the eighth touchdown pass of his career on a seven-yard strike to tight end Mike Gesicki. On the drive, Tagovailoa completed three of his four passes for 40 yards.
Miami found pay dirt courtesy of two conversions on third down – one on third-and-11 and another on third-and-5. The Dolphins began the game converting their first trip to the red zone and 4-of-6 on third down plays. Miami finished the game 7-of-15 on third down with two of the three red zone trips producing touchdowns.
"I thought (Tagovailoa) made a lot of plays for us, especially in the fourth quarter," Flores said. "He made some throws in tight windows, scrambled a little bit. He put us in position to score some points. At the end of the day, I'm sure he's not satisfied. None of us are."
Gesicki added another touchdown (29 yards from Tagovailoa) in the fourth quarter, giving him 11 in his three-year career. His 11 touchdowns since Week 12 of the 2019 season are tied for the most by any tight end in the NFL (at the end of today's 1 p.m. games).
Tagovailoa finished the day 28-for-48 with 316 passing yards, two touchdowns and an interception. Gesicki left the game with a shoulder injury and did not return, but ended with five receptions for 65 yards and his two scores.
"The biggest difference is execution. I don't know how else to put it. We had many opportunities offensively and I wasn't able to execute those plays with our guys. This is a result of it. We run out of time and we were just put in a bad position. You can't win games doing that."
Rookie wide receiver Lynn Bowden Jr. let the Dolphins with in receiving. His career day produced 82 receiving yards on seven receptions from nine targets. Wide receiver Mack Hollins chipped in with five receptions for 65 yards.
Linebacker Jerome Baker set his career-high with 2.5 sacks and Byron Jones produced the first and second turnovers of his Dolphins career (interception, forced fumble).
"It's fun to see our defense get a lot of turnovers like that throughout the game," Dolphins Jones said. "I'm a little frustrated to give up some easy stuff. Coming into this game, we wanted to make them earn it and I think we gave them some easy plays with some dumb stuff here and there and it cost us. We're still taking the ball away though, so that's awesome."
Injuries piled up in the game for the Dolphins. Gesicki, safety Bobby McCain and wide receivers DeVante Parker and Jakeem Grant all left the game.
"I'm very confident with whatever guys I'm playing with," Tagovailoa said. "I get a good amount of reps with a lot of the guys. Starters go one hard rep and sometimes they're nicked up. For timing purposes, they take one rep, two reps here and then I'm with these other guys. Those guys did a good job stepping up because those guys were down. It's never a good feeling when you lose guys."
"It's something we talk about on a weekly basis," Flores said. "Everybody has to be ready to go. Those young receivers Malcolm (Perry), Lynn, Mack, (Antonio) Callaway, Jakeem … all those guys stepped up and made some plays there at the end. We really need that across the board."
Three games remain for Miami in the 2020 regular season schedule. The Dolphins will conclude the home slate next week when the New England Patriots come to town before a Saturday night primetime showdown in Las Vegas and a Week 17 trip to Orchard Park to take on the Bills.