1) Just Win... Baby!
Stealing a quote from the late Raiders owner Al Davis, the Miami Dolphins keep finding different ways to win this season. Saturday night's one-point come from behind win was a thriller, taking the lead twice in the final three minutes of the game, scoring three times in the final five minutes to win 26-25. Miami finally secured the victory on a 44-yard field goal from placekicker Jason Sanders with one second remaining. Back up quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick played spectacularly in relief of starter Tua Tagovailoa, completing nine of 13 passes for 182 yards and a touchdown in the fourth quarter. His experience was on full display, leading the Dolphins offense to 13 points in the final five minutes of the game. Fitzpatrick's willingness to push the football downfield made the offense explosive, and seemed to ignite the entire team. That play, coupled with a defense that made the Raiders settle for field goals early and late in the game, was the difference. The Miami defense might have given up chunk yardage plays, but didn't allow the Raiders to cash in with touchdowns. They also were especially stingy on third down, blanking the Raiders offense which didn't convert on third down going 0-10! Finding different ways to win without dominating a game from start to finish is a sign of a hard-nosed, disciplined football team. That's what head coach Brian Flores preaches on a daily basis, and it's been showing up in the win column. Miami has won nine of its past 11 and 10 of its past 13 games, and just need one more victory to secure a place in the postseason. Just win baby might be a Raiders trademark quote, but it's the Dolphins that are taking that statement and making it their own.
2) Dominating Defense
I mentioned above how dominant the Dolphins defense was on third down, and that production helped keep the game a one-score contest for most of the game. It was a total team effort by stopping an explosive Raiders offense inside the red zone, getting pressure that broke down pass protection, making Raiders quarterback Derek Carr throw the football away and settle for field goals. Also, critical open field tacking contributed to their success. Players like Andrew Van Ginkel, who had seven tackles, two sacks and two tackles for loss in the game, and defensive back Nik Needham consistently flashed with critical stops. Linebacker Jerome Baker also tallied a sack, and led the team with 10 tackles (seven solo). Baker was flying around all evening and has been so solid in middle of the Dolphins defense. Jerome's name hasn't been mentioned a lot this season, but deserves enormous credit for playing with such consistency. That consistency shows in his leadership and in the numbers he's amassed surpassing 100 tackles for the second consecutive season! The Dolphins defense allowed 25 points on Saturday night, and allowed too many explosive plays, but the Raiders offense couldn't finish drives inside the red zone. Those shortcomings allowed the Dolphins to stay close on the scoreboard, and helped contribute to the late game heroics by Fitzpatrick and company.
3) Next Man Up Mentality
This statement could apply to numerous positions up and down the Dolphins roster. From the late game rotation at quarterback to players like wideouts Mack Hollins and Isaiah Ford. The combination of running backs Myles Gaskin and Salvon Ahmed sharing the responsibility for moving the ball on the ground to Andrew Van Ginkel stepping up to replace Shaq Lawson. This team is building a standard of play, regardless of position, that has been ingrained in this team's DNA. This organization from top to bottom is building a winning foundation, one that can withstand change, while not allowing a drop in production. When players like placekicker Jason Sanders faltered over the past two weeks, he was ready to accept the next challenge and responded beautifully. Sanders was a perfect 4-for-4 in field goal opportunities against Las Vegas, including the 44-yard game-winner with one second remaining. He was solid all evening long, hitting from 37, 39, 22 and 44 yards. Tight end Mike Gesicki was invisible for most of the first half in his first game back after a shoulder injury, but came alive late in the game when the team needed him the most. His back-to-back receptions late in the fourth quarter kept an important scoring drive alive. Gesicki caught four passes against the Raiders for 54 yards. His 656 receiving yards are fourth among all NFL tight ends this season and is a player opposing defenses now need to game plan against. When receiver Jakeem Grant left the game with an injury, fellow wide out Isaiah Ford made a few difficult catches in between the numbers to extend drives. Those are just a few examples of coaches getting players prepared to excel, and players stepping up to meet the challenges when the change.