The Dolphins took an 8-3 record out west to California and return back to South Florida an 8-5 team. An opportunity to respond and get back on track will come quick, as the team goes on the road to Buffalo for a short-week Saturday night primetime showdown.
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Here are the three takeaways from the Dolphins' 23-17 loss to the Chargers.
1. Taking away the fastball
One area the Dolphins offense had really exploited defenses this season was the intermediate passing game. Through the first 12 weeks, Tua Tagovailoa was on a torrent pace attacking this area of the field with Tyreek Hill trending towards a record-breaking 2,000-yard season.
After the 49ers limited that, the Chargers upped the ante. Tagovailoa was just 10-of-28 throwing the football with just two completions on seven throws of 10-plus air yards between the numbers. The Chargers challenged Miami receivers to the tune of just one completion on eight targets against press coverage, and wide receivers Hill and Jaylen Waddle were both held to season-low average separation numbers.
Tagovailoa was asked after the game if the Chargers did something specifically that other teams haven't in defending Miami.
"No, they didn't," said Tagovailoa. "They played to what they're good at, and we just didn't execute. It's very disappointing for us to go out there as an offense and show what we showed. That's not up to our standard, that's not how we play football here, and that was very disappointing."
Miami was outgained 432-219 in total yardage. Tagovailoa's 35.7 percent completion rate and 5.2 yards per pass were both season-lows. Coming into the game, the Chargers were allowing a league-high 5.4 yards per rush. Outside of 28 yards on three Tagovailoa scrambles, Miami rushed for 64 yards on 16 rush attempts, an average of four yards per carry.
"Credit does go to the Chargers," Dolphins Head Coach Mike McDaniel said. "They executed a great game plan and really out-physicaled us, I thought. Football is a humbling game. These are the things that you have to learn as a team. Unfortunately, we had to learn it the hard way. For what we want to do with this team, that's not going to get us there. We need a better performance and it will start with me."
2. Third down struggles on defense
The Miami defense scored its fair share of wins including big performances from four defenders – Christian Wilkins, Jaelan Phillips, Jerome Baker and Eric Rowe. The quartet combined for four sacks, 34 tackles and eight tackles for loss.
Still, the Chargers converted on half of their third-down opportunities. Half of their eight conversions came against long distances to convert (seven yards or more).
By extending drives, the Chargers were able to possess the football for nearly double the time of the Dolphins (39:38). Los Angeles ended up putting together drives of 15, 13 and 17 plays.
"I thought the defense played well enough for us to win," McDaniel said. "There is stuff we can clean up, for sure. There's a multitude of things. It's easy to point fingers one way or another, but what I'll challenge the team is to do exactly as I'm going to do, which is you're just accountable and look at everything you can do better."
3. Quick-strike offense
It's been two weeks of frustration for a Dolphins offense that was humming through the previous five weeks since Tagovailoa's return to the lineup. Still, games never feel over with the Dolphins quick-strike ability on offense.
In San Francisco, it was Tagovailoa to Tyreek Hill for 45 yards to pull the Fins to within six in the fourth quarter. Sunday night, in Los Angeles, it was a 60-yard dime in the third quarter that brought Miami to within three. It was Hill's second touchdown of 50-plus yards following a wild offensive fumble return for a 57-yard touchdown in the first half.
"Those types of things happen when you're hustling to block and when you're hustling and straining as offensive linemen, sometimes when the ball does come out, you can find yourself in a fortunate situation," McDaniel said of the first touchdown. "That was a big play that I was hoping would get us out of our funk and it didn't really do that as much as I had hoped."
For more analysis, takeaways and breakdowns, check out the Drive Time Podcast with Travis Wingfield, available on Apple, Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts.