The Dolphins became the first team in NFL history to piece together a seven-game winning streak inside the same season in which they lost seven in a row. The result: another important game. Miami leapfrogged a handful of teams in the AFC up to the seventh position in the conference with two games to play.
Before we start looking ahead to the Titans, the three takeaways from a convincing 20-3 road victory under the primetime lights.
As always, for further analysis, download the Drive Time Podcast with Travis Wingfield.
1. Pressure Bursts Pipes
It's becoming difficult to conjure up original superlatives when describing this Miami Dolphins defense. Over the seven-game winning-streak, the leaderboard is painted aqua and orange. Over the course of the entire season, Miami is among the top 10 in most major categories -- a true accomplishment after ranking near the bottom of every statistic during the 1-7 start.
The Dolphins held the Saints without a third down conversion and just five yards on 12 money-down plays. The eight sacks of rookie quarterback Ian Book vaults Miami to the top spot in the league with 45 (also best in knockdown percentage at 12.7 percent best in QB hits with 124, and fourth in pressure rate at 27.7 percent, per Pro Football Reference).
Miami's 21.1 points per game allowed is 10th in the league. The stingy defense is 11th in takeaways (23), seventh in rushing defense (102.3 rypg) and passing yards per play (5.5) and fourth in red zone defense (50 percent).
In the first half of the game, Miami blitzed the rookie quarterback on 70 percent of his drop backs, the most by any team in one half this season. But that's only part of the equation, Miami can get home in other ways. Per Next Gen Stats, since Week 9, Miami's 11 percent sack rate on drop backs with four-or-fewer pass rushers is the best in the NFL.
2. Explosive Play Ignites Offense
"We always stress playing complementary football," quarterback Tua Tagovailoa said. "So, the defense giving the offense the ball back and the offense capitalizing on those turnovers. Then, also in the kicking game, whether it's a punt and being able to back their team up and putting our defense in a good situation and vice-versa with our kick return and punt return game. It's something that definitely gives us life, whether it's the offense scoring on the first drive or scoring in general, or the defense getting a big third down stop or a turnover and scoring, it's definitely something that gives this team life."
It's clear the Dolphins game plan is designed to give the team the best chance to win the game – not to gain a certain amount of yards or fulfill any individual statistic quotas – and we saw that Monday night.
When the offense needed a play, however, Tagovailoa delivered with a dime to wide receiver Mack Hollins, who has turned into a timely big-play wide receiver. Facing third-and-9 early in the third quarter, the Saints were a stop away from getting the ball back with good field position facing just a seven-point deficit.
Hollins won his release immediately and stacked the defensive back to give Tagovailoa a window, and he hit it. That play sparked Miami to follow up with a 24-yard completion to rookie Jaylen Waddle on a flea flicker, an inspired 10-yard Duke Johnson run (equipped with a truck stick) and finally the creative misdirection flip to Waddle for his sixth career touchdown.
That drive happened after an interception, which has spawned Tagovailoa's best play this season. He finished the game 6-of-9 with 82 yards and a touchdown following the interception. On the season, Tagovailoa has thrown nine interceptions. The following series resulted in a touchdown or game-clinching drive six times. While the turnovers are something Tagovailoa would like to limit, overcoming adversity is also a big part of playing this position at this level. He continues to demonstrate a "next play" mentality when faced with adversity.
We'd be remiss if we didn't mention Waddle's weekly rewriting of the record books. He is now just six receptions shy of breaking Anquan Boldin's record for catches by a rookie (101). He tied Jerry Rice as the only rookie to catch 10 passes on a Monday Night Football Game and he set the record for receiving yards by a Dolphins rookie with 941.
3. Tighten Up for the Stretch Run
A win is a win is a win, but as Head Coach Brian Flores, a perfect game has never been played at this level. Tuesday is for corrections and the Dolphins will certainly be looking at some missed opportunities.
With three sacks and three holding calls in the first half, Miami struggled to just three offensive points in those first 30 minutes. On the night, Miami finished with seven penalties for 65 yards, both more than their season average. Tagovailoa, despite posting the second-highest passer rating (91.5) against the Saints since Week 11 (Josh Allen, 115.2), had an open Waddle on the pass that was intended for Hollins and eventually intercepted. He also missed Myles Gaskin on a pair of third down passes where the back uncovered.
It's always nice to make corrections after a victory.