The Miami Dolphins’ transformation from an NFL doormat to legitimate playoff contender is complete.
Miami, which began this season 1-7, is in possession of a winning record courtesy of Monday night’s 20-3 win over the New Orleans Saints, putting Brian Flores’ team in position to qualify for the postseason if Miami (8-7) can win its final two games of the regular season.
Skeptics will criticize the caliber of opponents the Dolphins beat, and the talent level of the quarterbacks the team has faced during its seven-game winning streak. But they can’t discredit the position this team has put itself in, making the season’s finish interesting.
Here are some more takeaways from Monday’s win over the Saints:
Win puts Miami in possession of a winning record
While it wasn’t a pretty victory, especially considering the amount of Saints players (21) who missed the game because of COVID-19 protocols, Monday night’s victory delivered something the Dolphins haven’t had since Week 1 of the season. It gave the Dolphins, who have won seven straight games, a winning record headed into their final two games. — Omar Kelly
Dolphins defense has sackfest
Ian Book’s first NFL start provided a ton of lasting memories for Dolphins defenders, who feasted on the rookie quarterback elevated into a starting role because of Taysom Hill and Trevor Siemian being placed on the COVID list. The Dolphins record eight sacks against Book, producing the franchise’s first eight-sack performance since 2012.
The Dolphins clamped down on the Book-led Saints all game, but Miami’s defense was especially stingy on third downs. The Dolphins kept New Orleans from converting a third down all game, holding the Saints to 0-12 on those critical possessions.
Jaylen Waddle on verge of NFL record
Missing one game because he was on the COVID list didn’t derail Waddle from challenging Anquan Boldin’s rookie record for receptions in a season. Waddle caught 10 passes for 92 yards against the Saints, which puts him six shy of surpassing the record Boldin set in 2003. Waddle also set the franchise record for receiving yards by a rookie against the Saints, passing a mark held set by Chris Chambers (883 yards) in 2001.
Tua Tagovailoa can play a cleaner game
Tagovailoa had an efficient day against the Saints, completing 19-of-26 passes for 198 yards and throwing one touchdown. But he threw one costly interception, which kept his passer rating (91.5) from surpassing 100 for the game. While Tagovailoa’s style isn’t sexy enough to produce high-level production, his efficiency makes him one of four quarterbacks in the past three draft classes that is in possession of a winning record as a starter. But he can’t afford to keep committing turnovers regularly.
Emmanuel Ogbah is a double-digit sack producer
Ogbah recorded two sacks against the Saints, putting his season total at 10.5, which exceeds his former career-high of nine that he produced last season. Ogbah has two games to boost his sack total, which would certainly benefit his bank account no matter how the Dolphins decide to handle his impending free agency. Miami has three options — sign him before free agency starts, place a transition or franchise tag on him, or exposed him to the free-agent market where he could sign with the highest bidder.
Nik Needham raising his value
NFL teams looking for a quality starting cornerback might start sniffing around Needham, who is set to become an restricted free agent once the season concludes. The Dolphins can retain Needham, who scored a touchdown on an interception Monday, by placing a tender on him. But which tender used — first-round, second-round or original tender — could impact whether another team makes a qualifying offer. Needham’s consistent play the past three seasons makes him an enticing young player Miami should consider signing to a multi-year deal.
O-line keeps holding back offense
The Dolphins offensive line has held this team down like an anchor for most of the season, and their struggles led to Miami’s disappointing first half. There were holding calls that stalled drives Monday and eliminated some of Miami’s bigger runs and passes, and the sack Jesse Davis allowed late in the second quarter pushed back Miami’s field position on the 59-yard field goal Jason Sanders missed. The Dolphins allowed three sacks Monday night.
Miami’s tailbacks shared workload
Duke Johnson got his second NFL start as a Dolphin, but that was the extent of how Miami featured him. Johnson was platooned in and out of the game, sharing the tailback snaps with Phillip Lindsay and Myles Gaskin. Flores has always pledged to stick with the hot hand, and the fact all of Miami’s tailbacks were struggling against a stingy Saints defense forced his hand. Johnson and Lindsay, the two newcomers, each finished the game with 13 carries.
Mack Hollins keeps delivering big plays
Hollins caught a 40-yard deep ball from Tagovailoa to begin the third quarter, and that play was the major catalyst for the 17-3 lead Miami built in the second half. Considering he is responsible for two of the bigger plays of the season and has scored four touchdowns this year it leads one to wonder why he doesn’t play more on offense.
The Miami Sack Machine made it look big and easy in New Orleans
Can anyone remember when the Dolphins had only 12 sacks in the first eight games? Miami, which had been a half-step short of 10 more sacks in the first half of the season, has been pounding quarterbacks with the football the past seven games. With their eight sacks on Monday, the Dolphins, with 33, smashed a club record of 31 for the most sacks over a seven-game span, set in 1973. And, now, the team is four sacks from tying the franchise record for a season. — Steve Svekis
Brian Flores owns a special distinction with the seven-game win streak
With the win, the Dolphins earned the longest regular-season win streak in a year in franchise history under a coach not named Don Shula. The NFL’s winningest coach had in-season win streaks of 14 in the perfect season, 11 in 1984, 10 in 1973 and 8 in 1971 (all years the Dolphins won the AFC). Flores’ squad is tied for the fifth-longest win run with two other Shula teams (1975 and 1985).
Andrew Van Ginkel with another of his under-the-radar plays that win games
Van Ginkel with yet another deflected pass by the Dolphins’ front seven, helped give Nik Needham a tailor-made pick-six. That was the team’s 20th pass batted, which leads NFL.
Dolphins’ run defense kept on keeping on
With Alvin Kamara and company only scratching out 83 rushing yards, the Dolphins saw their average allowed over the past 10 games shave down to an elite 86.7 yards a game. For context, the top average for the whole season is owned by the Baltimore Ravens at 85.6. The Dolphins enter Week 17 seventh overall at 102.3 run yards allowed per game for the season.
Dolphins could get the playoffs-and-pick-ahead-of-the-Eagles quinela
The Eagles-owned Dolphins first-round pick, traded to move up from 12 to six and pick Jaylen Waddle, was the second pick in the draft LAST MONTH when Miami was 1-7. At that time, the 49ers’ first-rounder owned by the Dolphins in trading the No. 3 pick of the 2021 draft, was a pick in the late teens. As of now? The Dolphins are picking 21 and the Eagles are picking 19. Further, 49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo injured his hand and is doubtful for the final two games.
A big pass-defense finish for the Miami Dolphins’ final three games
The Dolphins jumped from ninth (85.4) in the NFL to sixth (83.7) in lowest passer rating-allowed average after their 40.6 shellacking of Ian Book. The teams ahead of Miami? The Saints are fifth at 82.9, the Broncos are 82.3, the Cowboys are at 74.1, the Patriots are at 73.6 and the Bills are at No. 1 at 64.4.
2022 schedule is pretty much set, unless Dolphins pass Patriots and/or Bills
The Dolphins continue their surge up the standings, but, at 8-7, are still in the third-place position in the AFC East. Next year, the Dolphins are assured of playing home and road games against their AFC East brethren, the Buffalo Bills, New England Patriots and New York Jets. Additional sure home games will be played against the Cleveland Browns, Pittsburgh Steelers, Green Bay Packers and Minnesota Vikings. Additional set-in-stone road games will be contested against the Cincinnati Bengals, Baltimore Ravens, Chicago Bears and Detroit Lions.
With the advent of the 17-game season, there are three variable games. In 2022, the AFC will be on the road in two of those games. For a third-place Dolphins, based on the current standings, they would play the Houston Texans at home and the Las Vegas Raiders and San Francisco 49ers on the road. A second-place Dolphins would now face the Indianapolis Colts at Hard Rock Stadium and Los Angeles Chargers and Arizona Cardinals away. An AFC East-champion Dolphins would, based on standings after NFL Week 16, face the Tennessee Titans at home and the Kansas City Chiefs and Los Angeles Rams on the road.
Superdome had been unkind to Miami
The Dolphins won their second game in the 47-year history of the Superdome. Miami was undefeated against the Saints at the erstwhile Tulane Stadium, and they won the Hurricane Katrina-moved meeting in Baton Rouge in 2005. However, the big golden dome on Poydras Street had been a whole other matter. Miami had been 1-4 there before Monday’s win.
Miami must minimize the most damaging play on offense
Exiting the Saints game, Tua Tagovailoa ranked sixth in the NFL in rate of interceptions for a touchdown. This is the pick-six rate in 2020-21 among QBs who have made at least one start this season — 1. Matthew Stafford: 1 every 177 passes 2. Nick Mullens: 1 every 178 passes 3. Mac Jones: 1 every 230.5 passes 4. Sam Darnold: 1 every 234 passes 5. Derek Carr: 1 every 269 passes 6. Tua Tagovailoa: 1 every 309 passes
On deck: Tennessee Titans, Nissan Stadium, Nashville, Sunday, 1 p.m.
Ryan Tannehill still has issues feeling pressure on his dropbacks and is tied for the most interceptions in the NFL, but he sliced and diced the 49ers after an early 10-0 deficit en route to a 20-17 win on Thursday night. The Dolphins will be playing in their coldest-weather game of the season, with the forecast high in Nashville on Sunday of 39 degrees. Tagovailoa had two games last year where the temperature at kickoff was 45 degrees or less (Denver and Buffalo), completing 46-of-78 passes for 444 yards, two touchdown passes, three interceptions and a 67.5 passer rating. Tennessee has the 10th-best opponent passer rating at 86.3.