Mike McDaniel became the third coach in franchise history to achieve a trip to the postseason in each of his first two seasons as the Dolphins made the holidays a little merrier with a buzzer-beating field goal over Dallas. It's the first 11-4 start for Miami since the 1990 season.
Here are the three takeaways from the Dolphins 22-20 win over the Cowboys:
1. Many routes to victory
The best teams can win any style of football game. This time of year, the only bigger mystery than what Santa will leave under the tree, is what shape an NFL game will take around the holidays. Upsets, defensive struggles, the elements all help make football king because of its unpredictability.
Whichever direction a game flows, the Dolphins are equipped to adjust and find the winner's circle. For much of Christmas Eve, Miami's defense put the screws to an explosive Dallas offense, while the special teams unit fought to sustain critical field position and scored 16 points. More on that in a moment.
But the Cowboys offense was merely a sleeping giant that awoke in the fourth quarter to score 10 unanswered points, leaving the Miami with 3:23 of game time and two timeouts to drive into field goal range.
Miami, missing four starting offensive linemen, with wide receivers Tyreek Hill and Jaylen Waddle not at 100 percent, and running back Raheem Mostert in-and-out of the lineup, executed a perfect four-minute drive to beat the clock and the Cowboys.
Rookie De'Von Achane's elusiveness got things started. Alec Ingold and Cedrick Wilson moved Miami into field goal range before Tyreek Hill won a one-on-one to convert a critical third down that would afford the Fins the opportunity to drain the entire clock with one more first down.
To move the chains one last time, Head Coach Mike McDaniel called upon a gritty, sometimes forgotten veteran back with a penchant for the difficult yards.
"Jeff Wilson comes and fights for the yardage that allows us to kneel down and kick a field goal," McDaniel said. "That is happening all over the place in all three phases, which is why you're seeing a team that is playing very hard for each other each and every week. So many guys are contributing. So many guys are stepping up with injuries, and that's the most fun football to be a part of."
Coach mentioned the injuries. The player responsible for the biggest lane on the final conversion was Robert Jones, a reserve lineman who endured and recovered from two injuries this season.
That's the story of the 2023 Dolphins. It is a team with the aforementioned injuries on offense. A team without an emerging pass rushing star and the two signal-callers at both linebacker and safety on defense. A team that has found a way to win 11 out of 15 games this season.
The NFL is a mystery, always. But when it comes to the Miami Dolphins, fans can count on a driven team that plays for one another without letting adversity veer course.
2. Jason Sanders! Bang!
The night started for Miami's All-Pro kicker with a career-long 57-yard boot. Four more field goals and a walk-off later, Christian Wilkins is carrying Jason Sanders around the home locker room at Hard Rock Stadium the same way a game-winning penalty kick scorer would be hoisted by his teammates.
Sanders became the first Dolphin to connect on three kicks of 50-plus yards in the same game. It extended his streak of 50-yard kicks to five straight. Aside from a blocked kick in Week 14, Sanders has made 15 consecutive field goals to go along with 52 PATs without missing the target.
"I felt like I've been waiting for that moment since the Jets game last year," Sanders said. "To come on in a big game like this against a good opponent, it feels good. I have to give a lot of credit to Jake (Bailey) and Blake (Ferguson). They don't get a lot of credit on kicks like that. So to have a snapper like Blake and a holder like Jake, it makes my job that much easier."
3. Ferocious front
Don't look now, but Miami now ranks fifth in total defense, 13th in scoring, and has a franchise record 52 sacks to go along with a league-leading 129 QB hits. Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott was under pressure on 42 percent of his drop backs, the most he's faced since the 2017 season.
Dallas' only success on the ground came from quarterback scrambles. On handoffs, Dallas produced a success rate of just 38.3 while running backs carried the ball 18 times for just 45 yards.
Bradley Chubb picked up his 11th sack of the season, the first Fin with double-digit sacks since Cameron Wake had 10.5 sacks in 2017. Andrew Van Ginkel had 1.5 sacks, four QB hits and 10 total tackles in the win.
For more analysis, takeaways and breakdowns, download the Drive Time Podcast with Travis Wingfield, available on Apple, Spotify, or wherever you get your podcasts.