The Dolphins have been dominant in the first halves of football games this season, particularly on the current winning streak. Miami extended the streak to five games with a 29-21 win over the Los Angeles Chargers Sunday at Hard Rock Stadium.
|3rd Down Conv.||5/14||4/13|
|Time of Possession||30:06||29:54|
Miami raced out to a 14-0 first quarter lead before taking a 17-7 advantage to the locker room. The Dolphins are now plus-74 in point differential in the opening halves of games – the best in the National Football League. The scoring got started with, yet again, complementary football. The Miami defense forced a Los Angeles three-and-out thanks to a sack from cornerback Nik Needham, which sent Special Teams Coordinator Danny Crossman's punt return onto the field.
A late shift at the snap opened up linebacker Andrew Van Ginkel for a free run at the Los Angeles punter Ty Long, and he did not miss his opportunity.
"Our special teams coordinator, Danny Crossman, comes up with different schemes every week and we don't get to run it all the time," Dolphins Head Coach Brian Flores said. "We had an opportunity to run that early and had a little bit of shift and motion and got a rush. The big thing is executing it. Often times you draw things up and it hits the way you want it to hit, but you still have to make the play."
Van Ginkel laid out and rejected Long's kick. Cornerback Jamal Perry fell on it setting the Dolphins offense up at the 1-yard-line. Rookie offensive guard Solomon Kindley aligned in I-formation in front of running back Salvon Ahmed and led his fellow rookie teammate into the end zone to give the Dolphins a quick lead.
After another defensive stop, the Dolphins put together their best offensive drive of the game. Miami went on a march that covered 13 plays, 88 yards and took 7:04 off the game clock. It started with a rolling, 23-yard rip from quarterback Tua Tagovailoa to tight end Mike Gesicki and finished with a 3-yard dart to wide receiver Jakeem Grant.
"It looked like he made some pretty good decisions," Flores said of Tagovailoa's performance. There were some throws that he got into tight windows. I'll watch the tape. We have a lot of confidence in all of our draft picks, that they're going to develop and improve, and he's no different.
The touchdown was one of a few big plays from Miami's dynamic wide receiver/return man. In addition to three catches for 31 yards on that drive, Grant registered punt returns of 21, 19 and 18 yards and finished the day with four receptions for 43 yards.
"All week coach has been telling me to hit in that zone, it's going to be wide open," Grant said. "All you have to do is sit there and Tua (Tagovailoa) is going to find me."
The Dolphins got the football back after another three-and-out and looked poised to take control of the game. The offense drove it back into the red zone, but a failed snap exchange led to a 44-yard fumble return by Chargers linebacker Nick Vigil.
Los Angeles would take the ensuing possession 11 plays for 37 yards and the first touchdown for the visitors on the day. Then, the Miami special teams went back to work. Matt Haack launched a 62-yard punt that was downed at the 5-yard-line with wide receiver Mack Hollins saving the football from tumbling into the end zone. The Miami defense would stand up on the next series and force the Chargers to punt from their own end zone. Grant returned the punt 21 yards to put Miami in field goal range just before the half.
Kicker Jason Sanders split the uprights from 50 yards giving him a perfect 18-for-18 mark on the season. He would connect again from 35 yards in the third quarter to give him 19 straight to open the season and 22 consecutive field goals dating back to 2019, extending his own franchise record. The streak would come to an end, however, as Sanders missed a 47-yard field goal in the fourth quarter. He started a new streak with a successful 49-yard field goal with four minutes left in the game.
Coming into play, Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert was sixth in deep passing with 597 yards on throws with 20 or more air yards. Wide receivers Mike Williams and Jaylen Guyton ranked 13th and 14th respectively, per Pro Football Focus. Prior to Los Angeles' final drive (trailing by 15), their longest play was just 17 yards to tight end Hunter Henry (Williams caught a 28-yard pass on their final drive).
"That's the way the coaches coach us,' Howard said. "That's how they want us to play, to be aggressive no matter what. Everybody working together and making plays, that's what it's all about."
The Dolphins defense mixed it up throughout the game. A zero pressure saw Head Coach Brian Flores and Defensive Coordinator Josh Boyer dial up seven rushers and forced an errant throw on third down. Later, at the start of the fourth quarter, Miami had a sequence of plays that allowed the Dolphins defense to play coverage on a third-and-12, and it paid off big time.
Miami, nursing a six-point lead, saw the Chargers quickly race out to midfield before three big plays turned the tide back to the home team. First, the Dolphins ran a twist up front that had two rookies -- undrafted free agent Benito Jones and fifth-round pick Jason Strowbridge – executing the perfect stunt to free up Strowbridge for a 2-yard loss.
Then, after the action paused to get the game to its final quarter, defensive end Emmanuel Ogbah continued his hot streak. The lengthy, over-powering defensive end rushed up field, worked off of his block as Herbert attempted to tuck it and run, and brought the 6-foot-5 quarterback to the ground. Ogbah now has a sack in six straight games, tied for the second-longest streak in franchise history (Jason Taylor eight straight games in 2002).
"There were a lot of big plays. Total team effort," Flores said. "We started fast, played well in the kicking game. We got the block on special teams and the offense punched it in after that. Defensively we made it hard on them early on. A lot of guys played well. I thought it was good communication throughout the game."
Ogbah wasn't done. On the next play, he put pressure on Herbert resulting in a quick throw. That throw was jumped by cornerback Xavien Howard. The NFL's leader in interceptions since December of 2017 stepped in front of the Herbert pass and brought it back to the Chargers 35-yard-line. His five interceptions this year are tied for most in the NFL.
The interception helped the Miami offense discover it's rhythm again. Tagovailoa found Durham Smythe on a beautifully designed throwback for his second touchdown pass of the day.
Previously, on the Dolphins opening touchdown, Miami brought two extra offensive linemen onto the field to hammer the ball into the end zone. On the crucial third-and-goal from the 1-yard-line, Miami again ushered the heavy package onto the field. Tagovailoa faked the handoff and found Smythe all alone on the other side of the field for the back-breaking score.
Smythe now has two touchdown receptions on the season and joins fellow Dolphins tight ends Mike Gesicki (2 touchdown catches) and Adam Shaheen (2) with multiple touchdown catches this season. The last time the Dolphins had three tight ends each have multiple touchdown catches in a season was 1985 with Bruce Hardy (4), Joe Rose (4) and Dan Johnson (3).
On the drive, Ahmed picked up 11 yards on a first down run to get Miami into goal-to-go territory. With runs of the aforementioned 11 yards, and a pair of 18-yard gallops, Ahmed led Miami with 86 yards on 21 carries.
"Just practicing hard and asking questions," Ahmed said about how he succeeded in his Hard Rock Stadium debut. "Not being too proud to ask questions. There's a lot of older guys in that room and on this team that want to help."
Ahmed's production is a testament to Miami's next-man-up mentality. With Myles Gaskin on injured reserve and Matt Breida out with a hamstring injury, the Dolphins dressed three running backs: the rookie Ahmed, second-year player Patrick Laird and DeAndre Washington, who arrived at the trade deadline only 12 days ago.
"The way you perform in practice will go a long way to how much time you get in the game," Flores said of his rookie running back. "I thought he ran the ball effectively but we also left some yards out there. It wasn't perfect, but we'll make the corrections and hopefully it's better next week."
The win gives Miami their fifth straight victory and a 6-3 mark on the season. That's the best start for the Dolphins since 2001.
The Dolphins have scored at least 21 points in eight consecutive games this season. It is the longest such streak since an eight-game regular season stretch in 2001 (last two games) and 2002 (first six games). The last time the Dolphins scored at least 21 points in eight consecutive games within a single season was 1984, when the team scored at least 21 points in all 16 games.
"We have a mentally tough team," Flores said. "This team knows it's a week-to-week league. How we prepare, how we practice and how we walkthrough is a direct correlation to how we play I think they understand that. This is a hungry group and they fight for each other."
The Dolphins are back on the road next week with a trip to Denver to take on the Broncos. Kickoff is on Sunday, Nov. 22 at 4:05 p.m. ET.