Wins this season for the Dolphins this season have followed a similar script – jump out to an early lead, play efficiently on the attack and smother the opposing offense with pressure and takeaways.
Until today, that is.
|3rd Down Conv.||1/10||3/12|
|Time of Possessions||32:16||27:44|
Though the seemingly weekly interception from cornerback Xavien Howard came early, the rest of the first half was unusually quiet for the home team.
"We needed to play better," Head Coach Brian Flores said. "We had too many penalties, didn't execute offensively, gave up the big play defensively, just had to do a better job across the board – playing and coaching. Chan (Gailey), Josh (Boyer) and Danny (Crossman) – those guys made some adjustments in all three phases and we were able to play a lot better in the second half."
As the Bengals searched to extend the 7-3 lead at the end of the first half, a Miami defensive stand resulted in a missed Bengals field goal. Quarterback Tua Tagovailoa drove the offense into the range of kicker Jason Sanders, who split the uprights from 48 yards for the 25th time this season, cutting the Cincinnati lead to a one-point advantage.
The Dolphins took that momentum and stormed out of the gates in the second half. After a first quarter, 72-yard touchdown to Tyler Boyd, the Miami defense didn't surrender another point. Through 12 games, the Dolphins have allowed just 212 points, 17.7 points per game (second-fewest in the NFL).
Linebacker Kyle Van Noy picked up the fifth multi-sack game of his career and his first with Miami, totaling a career-high three sacks. All three of them came on third down and led to three of the Bengals' seven punts on the day. In total, the Miami defense forced four three-and-outs, two interceptions and a missed field goal.
"You know throughout the week, he worked hard to make a play on Sunday and we just feed off that," defensive end Shaq Lawson said. "People were feeding off Kyle (Van Noy), (Emmanuel) Ogbah, Christian (Wilkins). Christian is the one that gets us going. I'm part of that too but Christian, it's been different having him back. The energy level is different with that guy."
"I think we did a better job in the second half of bringing more energy," Van Noy said. "The offense got it rolling and we picked it up. We just have to do a better job of coming out of the gate a little better."
With a more explosive and efficient offensive attack, Miami ripped off the final 19 points in the game to get to 8-4 – the best mark through 12 games for the franchise since 2003.
"I think Chan and the offensive staff made that adjustment," Flores said. "We just wanted to pick up the pace a little bit. It was efficient and we got some production out of it so we stayed with it. That's hard to deal with defensively. We were able to make some good throws and good runs … That was the thought at halftime and we were able to execute."
Trailing at halftime, the Dolphins came out of the locker room with an eight-play, 75-yard touchdown drive that took 3:25 of game time off the clock. Tagovailoa completed five of six passes for 76 yards and the touchdown to Mike Gesicki to take a 13-7 lead, one Miami would not relinquish.
On the drive, the Dolphins offense opted for an up-tempo attack to get into the end zone for the first time, prompting Gailey to go right back to the no-huddle approach on the following series. The offense stalled inside the 5-yard line as Jason Sanders put one of his four field goals through the uprights. He's now 28-for-29 on the season.
The up-tempo attack produced one of the best statistical halves in the young career of Tagovailoa. He completed 12-of-16 passes for 158 yards and a touchdown pass in the final 30 minutes of the game and wound up just four yards shy of his first career 300-yard game. On the day, Tagovailoa was 26-for-39 with 296 yards, one touchdown and a passer rating of 98.7.
"When you're on the ball and you're going fast, it confuses the defense," Tagovailoa said. "They need to get lined up and can't get their call in. We have guys motioning and it confuses up their call … The up-tempo things we did in the second half really helped us to get the ball rolling."
"(The up-tempo) worked for us today," Gesicki said. "We were able to kind of catch them in some personnel and calls that they weren't ready for. Ultimately, that goes back up to coaching and they did a great job getting calls in quick. The offensive line did a great job getting Tua time."
Miami's big second half was sparked by tight end Mike Gesicki, who caught a career-high nine passes for 88 yards and a touchdown. He made the highlight-reel play of the day when he stretched out – shades of former Dolphins wide receiver Oronde Gadsden in 2002 – for a one-handed stab. Gesicki capped the drive with the 5-yard touchdown that brought Miami out in front 13-7.
Gesicki has been a microcosm of Miami's efficient offensive attack this year. Entering play, no tight end had a higher first-down rate (73.3 percent) and six of his nine receptions moved the chains for Miami on Sunday. The Dolphins now have 247 first downs this season, the most through the first 12 games for the franchise since 2014.
At the end of the early-afternoon games, Gesicki was fourth among NFL tight ends with 537 receiving yards this season and his nine touchdowns since Week 13 of last season are third-most among his positional counterparts.
"There's nothing I love more than going out there and making plays and catching the football," Gesicki said. "Every catch I make is like the game-winning catch in the Super Bowl. I put in too much work and too much time to go out there and not have fun with it."
The Miami tight end led the way, but Tagovailoa spread the ball all over the field. Eight players caught a pass with five players contributing with at least 35 receiving yards (Gesicki, Myles Gaskin, DeVante Parker, Lynn Bowden Jr., and Jakeem Grant).
"It's not just with Mike. Mike had a great game," Tagovailoa said. "He's made a good amount of contested catches. But it's with everyone. Whoever is open, I'm going to try to get the ball to them and Mike put himself in a position to get himself open and did what he did."
Gaskin picked up 51 yards through the air on two receptions to go along with his 90 rushing yards. The 141 yards from scrimmage was the most by a Miami running back this season and a career-high for Gaskin.
The Dolphins picked up the win, but some key players endured injuries. Safety Eric Rowe left the game after the first possession but returned. The story was not the same for left guard Ereck Flowers and linebacker Elandon Roberts. Veteran Jesse Davis and Calvin Munson filled in for both players.
Cornerback Nik Needham was Johnny-on-the-spot for Miami's second interception, his second in as many weeks. Lawson dumped the quarterback twice for his first multi-sack game as a member of the Miami Dolphins (third of his career) and Sieler made it six in the game (2.5 sacks for Sieler this season).
The performance gives the Miami defense 10 combined points allowed in their past two games. That is the fewest allowed by the Dolphins in consecutive games since the team also allowed 10 combined points in the 2002 season.
Xavien Howard's first quarter interception made it 18 consecutive games with a takeaway by the Miami defense, the longest active streak in the NFL.
This was the first of three straight games at Hard Rock Stadium for the Dolphins. Next Sunday, defending Super Bowl Champion Kansas City and 2018 MVP quarterback Patrick Mahomes come to town for an AFC showdown.
Sunday's win keeps the Dolphins in sixth position in the AFC standings where they are tied with the 8-4 Colts. Both Miami and Indianapolis are a game clear of the 7-5 Raiders and 1.5 games up on the 6-5 Ravens, who play the Cowboys on Tuesday night.
"People remember what you do in December right? December is the most important football," Lawson said. "It takes care of all the other months so that's what's been going through my mind and my teammates minds. There's no room for error. That's our mindset and that's the approach we gotta have for the rest of the season."