Two. More. Wins.
That’s what now separates the Miami Dolphins from a playoff berth that appeared more than improbable when the team was 1-7 and on a seven-game losing streak on Halloween.
The Dolphins mostly played it safe offensively, let their swarming defense dominate the COVID-decimated New Orleans Saints and went into Caesars Superdome for a seventh consecutive victory, 20-3, on Monday Night Football.
Miami (8-7) has brought itself all the way back in the AFC playoff picture as the conference’s No. 7 seed if the season ended today. The Dolphins control their own postseason fate as winning out over their final two games puts them into the playoffs. With the victory, Miami’s postseason odds jumped from 18 percent to 31 percent, according to FiveThirtyEight.
The Dolphins are on a seven-game winning streak for the first time since 1985 and are the first team in NFL history to have seven-game losing and winning streaks in the same season. The Miami win in the Superdome is a first since 1986.
Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa went 19 of 26 for 198 yards, a touchdown and an interception.
Rookie wide receiver Jaylen Waddle, who surpassed Chris Chambers’ franchise rookie receiving yards record on Monday, had 10 receptions for 92 yards and the touchdown. Waddle, who already owned Miami’s rookie record for receptions in a season, now has 96 receptions on the year, five behind Anquan Boldin’s mark of 101 set in 2003.
Waddle’s third-quarter score extended the Dolphins’ lead to two possessions, 17-3, after a nondescript first half where the only touchdown came on defense. Waddle took a jet-sweep pitch forward from Tagovailoa and punched it in from a yard out.
The Dolphins, largely relegated on offense to that point, opened it up on the nine-play, 86-yard drive. Tagovailoa connected with Mack Hollins deep to the right sideline for a gain of 40 yards as Hollins secured a diving reception with a defender draped on him. Miami play-caller George Godsey then went with a flea flicker on the next play that resulted in a 21-yard pass to Waddle.
The two-touchdown lead proved to be more than enough with the Dolphins defense rolling. Miami held New Orleans to 158 total yards, 0 for 12 on third downs and recorded two interceptions plus eight sacks.
In his NFL debut, rookie quarterback Ian Book, starting because quarterbacks Taysom Hill and Trevor Siemian were among the 21 Saints players on the reserve/COVID-19 list, went 12 of 20 for 135 yards and the two interceptions. Miami contained star running back Alvin Kamara to 52 rushing yards on 13 carries and 7 yards on two receptions.
The defensive dominance started on the opening series. Book was intercepted on his second pass by cornerback Nik Needham on a pass tipped by outside linebacker Andrew Van Ginkel, and Needham returned it 28 yards for a touchdown.
The Dolphins held the Saints without a first down and to minus-2 yards of offense in the first quarter. Jerome Baker had a sack on Book, and Emmanuel Ogbah split one with Christian Wilkins. Miami had three sacks by halftime with cornerback Xavien Howard also credited with one on a Book scramble out of bounds of no gain.
Miami led, 10-0, at the end of the opening period, extending the lead from the Needham pick-six on a 48-yard field goal from Jason Sanders. The attempt was pushed back from the red zone after Tagovailoa was sacked by Marcus Davenport and fumbled backward before left tackle Liam Eichenberg recovered the ball.
It was one of three first-half sacks of Tagovailoa — with the other two coming from Cameron Jordan. The later one pushed the Dolphins out of field-goal range at the end of the first half. Sanders lined up for a 59-yard try and missed to the right after right tackle Jesse Davis was beat in pass protection on third-and-2 from the Saints’ 32. Three different Miami offensive linemen were called for holding penalties.
New Orleans scored a field goal on the preceding possession at the end of an eight-play, 55-yard drive that was aided by a Dolphins’ personal foul penalty.
Safety Brandon Jones had a late interception and a sack, and defensive lineman Zach Sieler added a second-half sack. Ogbah, who finished with two sacks, split another with Raekwon Davis, and Baker got in on another at the same time as safety Jevon Holland.
The Dolphins next play Sunday at the Tennessee Titans (10-5) before wrapping up the regular season against the New England Patriots (9-6) at Hard Rock Stadium on Jan. 9.
This story will be updated.