1) Ground and Pound
The Miami Dolphins physically dominated New England on Sunday to push their record to 9-5. They did it with an offense that leaned on a rushing attack that hasn't been viewed by Dolphins fans in a few seasons. Running backs Salvon Ahmed and Matt Breida took turns finding ways to move the chains and keep the pressure on the Patriots' defense all day long. Ahmed was the teams leading rusher with 122 yards on 23 carries and one touchdown. The rookie averaged 5.3 yards per carry, and his vision, sudden speed and quickness through the line of scrimmage was beautiful to watch. Breida was the counterpunch to Ahmed's stiff jab. His fresh legs and track-like speed carried him past would-be tacklers, running for 86 yards on just 12 attempts. Breida averaged more than seven yards per carry, making the most out of his dozen rushing attempts. A lot of their combined credit also lies up front with the play of the offensive line. They provided ample running lanes, pushing around the New England front seven for the majority of the game. Even when rookie left guard Solomon Kindley went out with a knee injury, fellow lineman Micheal Deiter stepped up and elevated his level of play. Rookie quarterback Tua Tagovailoa added to the rushing game by eluding pressure in the pocket and making positive plays with his legs. He scrambled in the fourth quarter for a three-yard touchdown, and later in the game, adding another rushing touchdown, sneaking it in from the one-yard line. Tua became the fifth quarterback in Dolphins history to have two rushing touchdowns in the same game. He also assisted in keeping the offense on the field by hitting a high percentage of his passing attempts, going 20 of 26. That accuracy with a dominant rushing attack makes moving the chains much easier on the offense, and a luxury we haven't witnessed in a long time.
2) Second Half Turnaround
The Dolphins were held scoreless in the first 30 minutes against the Patriots, but I never felt like we were in serious danger of losing the game. Tua and the offense wasted little time generating scoring chances early in the third quarter, taking the ball and driving 72 yards on nine plays to take the lead 7-6. The drive had a little bit of everything, including a double reverse pass, that ended up turning into a nine-yard rush by receiver Lynn Bowden. The rookie wide out stepped up into a leading role in the pass offense catching six passes for 37 yards. His targets and explosive run after catch opportunities have consistently gone up over the last three games, and the impact he will give this offense in the future will be fun to watch. The offense continued to move the ball late in the third and for much of the fourth quarter. They put together a dominating 14 play drive that covered 90 yards ending with a Tagovailoa three-yard touchdown run. The Dolphins went for the two-point conversion in style, using the hook-and-lateral with Isaiah Ford catching a Tua pass, then pitching the football back to Ahmed who dashed inside the front pylon to complete the play. It was a complete thirty minutes on offense, where this group finished drives without small miscues and self inflicted mistakes that had squandered scoring chances earlier in the game.
3) Relentless Pressure on Defense
This defense has played with consistency and tenacity for the majority of the season, and this week against New England was another example of displaying those traits. They limited the Patriots offense to just four field goals, and it was the third time this season the Dolphins defense hasn't allowed a touchdown! The entire defense played with an aggressive style on Sunday, and that type of play has been a huge factor in leading this team to win eight of their last 10 games. Quarterback Cam Newton was harassed, hit and sacked three times. Linebacker Jerome Baker now has back to back games with at least one sack and defensive end Emmanuel Ogbah recorded his ninth sack of the year. He now ranks ninth in the NFL in sacks and his 21 quarterback hits also come in at ninth in the league. The Miami defense also found a way to slow down the rushing attack of New England, mainly limiting Newton's ability to take over a game by using his legs on the perimeter of the defense. Newton was only able to muster 38 yards in the ground, and his usual ability to extend drives running the ball disappeared under a swarming defense. But the biggest asset of the defense has been their ability to get their hands on the football. Against New England, Miami defenders forced four fumbles, one resulting in a fumble recovered by linebacker Elandon Roberts in the third quarter. That turnover extended their takeaway streak to 20 games, which is the longest takeaway streak in the NFL. Cornerback Xavien Howard, who forced that fumble recovered by Roberts, now has been involved in 10 of those takeaways this season. The Dolphins defense now ranks first in the league in takeaways, and in third down defense. They held the Patriots offense to just two of nine on third down conversion attempts and just over 22 minutes in time of possession. This group will need to keep raising the bar, finding different ways to stop the Raiders and the Bills on the road over the next two week. If they do, the Dolphins will continue to suit up and play in the second week of January!