Next Man Up
Last season, Flores' first as a head coach at any level, he saw 84 players take a snap in a regular season game. That mark is the most in the history of the NFL and despite the weekly lineup shuffle, Miami finished the season winners in five of the final nine games.
Fast forward nearly 12 months later and the Dolphins, at 8-5 and in the seventh-position in the AFC standings, faced a similar challenge. Miami's top eight offensive skill players this season in terms of yards from scrimmage were unavailable to quarterback Tua Tagovailoa and the Miami offense for the final two possessions of the game.
T"I think we just have a bunch of guys who compete," Flores said. "These are conversations we have throughout the course of the week. We try to be ready for worst-case scenarios. 'If this happens, we're doing this. If that happens, we're doing this. If these four or five things happen, we're going to do this, this, and this.' At times, those become long conversations and things that we need to think through the best – what's the best thing for our team. I think our staff does a good job of that and it's not easy."
"It's the message Flo's (Brian Flores) been preaching in the offseason and through the virtual meetings," Dolphins safety Eric Rowe said. "If one guy goes down, the next guy needs to take advantage of his opportunity. Guys stepped up and made plays … That's the kind of team you need to have – that type of depth and to build throughout the type of season."
Without the services of those top eight players, the Dolphins offense drove 73 yards to cut the Chiefs' lead to six (30-24) with more than four minutes on the game clock. Miami got career days out of wide receivers Mack Hollins (66 receiving yards) and rookie Lynn Bowden Jr. (82 receiving yards).
"From Day 1 since I got here, the coaches implemented just don't learn one position, learn them all," Bowden Jr. said. "So when things took place in the game yesterday, we all were ready just to go in and fill in where we needed to be. Stuff like that that we prepare for, the extra walk-throughs coach gave us and a lot of stuff that you guys really don't see that we prepare to keep us ready for stuff like that."
The first touchdown march of the fourth quarter – which chewed up 80 yards on six plays – had the Dolphins without seven of the top eight players in the aforementioned YFS category. The one out of those top eight was tight end Mike Gesicki, who showed his value with a pair of catches for 42 yards and a leaping touchdown reception between three Chiefs defenders.
Tagovailoa Heats Up in the Second Half
On those two touchdown drives, Tagovailoa cumulatively completed 11-of-14 passes for 128 yards and a pair of touchdowns (one rushing, one passing). The play of Miami's rookie garnered effusive praise from CBS' color commentator, the revered Tony Romo.
"Tua is going to be special in the future," Romo said in the first half of Sunday's broadcast. "The way he reads defenses and adjusts on the fly, his accuracy and his leadership are special for a rookie."
Tagovailoa has another fan in ESPN's Dan Orlovsky. Sunday night, Orlovsky tweeted a breakdown of a third-and-12 conversion where the southpaw manipulated the defense post-snap to create a throwing lane and move the chains.
Orlovsky continued his praise for both Tua, and the Dolphins team as a whole, Monday in an appearance on ESPN's radio program 'KJZ.'
"I don't think that there's a lot that teams are going to take that Miami did that you can replicate," Orlovsky said on KJZ. "You've gotta have the corners to do it -- they don't. You've gotta have the exotic pressures that Miami does and a lot of teams don't."
Tagovailoa was one of three rookies (Solomon Kindley and Robert Hunt) on offense to play 83 snaps in the game. Add left tackle Austin Jackson (75 snaps) and wide receivers Lynn Bowden Jr. (59 snaps) and Malcolm Perry (33 snaps) to that equation and the Miami offense saw 416 of a possible 913 snaps go to rookies, good for 45.6 percent of the offensive workload.
"Bringing us back and putting together some touchdown drives there in the fourth quarter, I thought that was good," Flores said in his evaluation of Tagovailoa. "I thought there were obviously some throws that he could've made that he didn't. I think overall, I thought he played well. I thought he took a step in the right direction against a good defense. I think we just need to continue to take these steps and try to improve and get better."
If Miami's ability to get production from the next man up isn't the team's identity, then playing disciplined football is the club's calling card.
One week after an uncharacteristic eight-penalty game against the Bengals, Miami committed just three fouls for 35 yards. On the season, the Dolphins have the third-fewest penalties accepted against them (60) for the second-fewest yardage assessed (499). Both of those rankings improve upon last year's fourth-place finish in both categories (92 penalties for 769 yards).
Take it Away
Another identity of the Dolphins under Flores and Defensive Coordinator Josh Boyer is the emphasis on creating takeaways. Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes had thrown three interceptions in an NFL game only once before and his last multi-interception game in the regular season occurred in 2018.
The Dolphins extended their league-best streak to 19 consecutive games with a takeaway. The four turnovers created gives Miami 25 on the season, tied for best in the NFL (Pittsburgh).
Cornerback Xavien Howard has been responsible for 36 percent of those 25 takeaways, including his one-handed interception in a matchup with wide receiver Tyreek Hill in the fourth quarter of Sunday's game.
Kansas City Head Coach Andy Reid shared his thoughts on what makes the NFL's leader in interceptions so special.
"He's playing as well as any corner in the National Football League," Reid said postgame. "That catch he made was phenomenal. If you underthrow it an inch … he can go up and do what he did."
Peter King is projecting more than a Pro Bowl bid for Howard, he thinks the All Pro team is a likely destination.
Such great defensive back play on Sunday. Three one-handed interceptions, including the best pick of star cornerback Xavien Howard's life, catching a Patrick Mahomes toss like Spiderman. Just amazing. Howard and Jalen Ramsey look like good candidates for first-team all-pro this year—Howard has picks in five straight games.
King didn't stop at Howard. The Dolphins four turnovers and four punts forced against an offense that entered play averaging better than 420 yards per game impressed the author of the weekly wrap up column, Football Morning in America.
This Dolphins Defense isn't perfect, but it's feisty. Any D that forces four turnovers and four punts against the Chiefs is one hell of a defense. That Vegas-Miami game in Week 16 is close to a play-in game for January.
If Howard can pull down one more over the final three games, he will tie the Dolphins franchise record for interceptions in a single season, which was set back in 1967 by Dick Westmoreland.