The Dolphins played a strong first half against the New York Giants on Sunday before things started going downhill after halftime in a 36-20 loss.
We examine the five biggest plays of the game.
1. The failed fourth-and-one
While the Dolphins overall played well in the first half, they also left some points on the field, points that could have made a difference in the outcome. For example, the offense moved the ball on the Dolphins' first two possessions but ended up with nothing to show for it. The second drive was particularly frustrating. Thanks to completions of 19 yards from Ryan Fitzpatrick to tight end Clive Walford and of 13 yards to Albert Wilson, the Dolphins found themselves at the Giants 10-yard line, where they faced a fourth-and-1. The decision was made to go for the first down with a running play for Patrick Laird. But the rookie never had a chance because Giants defensive tackle Dalvin Tomlinson broke through the line of scrimmage and met Laird in the backfield. The stop kept the game scoreless in the first quarter.
2. The Golden Tate touchdown
The Dolphins did take a 7-0 lead on their next possession on Fitzpatrick's TD pass to DeVante Parker, their first of two scoring hook-ups in the game, but the lead was shortlived. The Dolphins defense was looking at getting a three-and-out against the Giants offense, but new cornerback Nate Brooks was flagged for defensive pass interference against Darius Slayton for a 24-yard gain and an automatic first down. On the next play, Golden Tate caught a pass down the middle after tipping it to himself and sprinted to the end zone for a 51-yard touchdown that tied the score after the extra point. Even had Tate not caught the ball, the Dolphins also were flagged for defensive pass interference on that play.
3. The first snap of the second half
The tone was set for the disappointing second half right away. After Cody Latimer returned Jason Sanders' kickoff to the 30-yard line, Eli Manning went back to pass and was able to make an easy completion down the left side to a wide open Darius Slayton for a 26-yard gain to the Dolphins 44-yard line. Five plays later, Manning and Slayton connected again for a 5-yard touchdown to give the Giants a lead they never would relinquish.
4. The safety
After cutting their deficit to 14-13, the Dolphins forced a Giants punt from the New York 42-yard line. That's when the self-inflicted issues of the second half really came to light. The Dolphins already were going to have bad field position after the Giants downed Riley Dixon's punt at the 5-yard line, but it got worse when Trent Harris was penalized for holding, moving the ball to the 3. On first-and-10 from the 3, veteran J'Marcus Webb, into the game as an extra offensive lineman, was flagged for a false start, and now the Dolphins were moved back to the 1 1/2–yard line. Laird again found himself on the wrong end of a big play. He was handed the ball and headed into the middle of the line, but again there was a Giants defender who broke through the line, this time B.J. Hill. The only way Laird could avoid getting tackled into the end zone at that point was by bouncing the run outside and making a defender miss. But Giants cornerback Sam Beal got Laird by the legs to record the safety and make it a 16-13 score.
5. The free kick return
The safety by itself might not have been so bad, but it set off a sequence of events that really turned the game. The first big play came on the free kick by punter Matt Haack that Da'Mari Scott fielded at the Giants 26. Scott made a couple of jukes to avoid Dolphins defenders, then turned left and raced upfield all the way to the Dolphins 40 for a 34-yard return. The Giants didn't waste their great field position because Manning followed the long return with completions of 15 and 24 yards to Sterling Shepard and Saquon Barkley then scored on a 1-yard run to increase the Giants lead to 23-13 as they began to pull away.