What should have been a feel-good win for the Miami Dolphins with a thorough trouncing of the rival Jets instead left a sickening aftertaste due to the loss of a defensive standout to an apparent serious leg injury.
The sight of Jaelan Phillips, who was blossoming into a dominant force as an edge player, being carted off the field after collapsing with an Achilles tendon injury without being engaged in contact turned a 34-13 win into a heartbreaker for the Dolphins on Friday at Met Life Stadium in the Meadowlands.
Until then the visual of the day was a spectacular 99-yard interception return by Dolphins safety Jevon Holland off a “Hail Mary” throw by the Jets’ Tim Boyle just before the end of the first half.
Curiously, it was 39 years to the day since the most infamous Hail Mary in the annals of Miami football. It was Nov. 23, 1984 that Boston College QB Doug Flutie uncorked a desperation heave that carried more than 60 yards and came down in the hands of his roommate Gerard Phelan with 6 seconds left to snatch victory from the Miami Hurricanes in a 45-41 thriller.
Flutie’s Miracle in Miami is often referred to as the “Hail Flutie”.
Jets flop with ‘Fail Mary’
Boyle’s ill-fated fling was quickly being referred to on social media as a “Fail Mary.” It was indicative of the failings of an inept Jets offense that has been reeling without direction since losing quarterback Aaron Rodgers to an Achilles injury in the season opener.
Rodgers’ injury occurred on the same Met Life Stadium artificial turf that been derided by players as a dangerous surface. There have been quite a few serious injuries attributed to the unforgiving surface there.
— The Artist. A Captain. (@CaptainOfArt) November 24, 2023
“It’s tough, especially playing on this turf,” Dolphins running back Raheem Mostert said after the game. “You saw what happened to Rodgers in the first game. We’ve got to do something about this turd. Obviously, it’s still a major problem. It just has to change.
“The reason why guys are against the [artificial] turf is there’s no give to the turf.”
Losing Phillips is a tough blow to a Dolphins defense that continued its resurgence with another dominant performance. The injury is devastating for Phillips who overcame injuries that nearly ended his football career in college.
Phillips’ injury stirs emotions
Before the injury, Phillips was having another outstanding game with four tackles, a sack, two quarterback hits, and three tackles for loss.
Later, Phillips tweeted: “Absolutely devastated, but I feel strength in knowing that this is all a part of God’s plan, and that I have an incredible team and support system around me. I’ll be back stronger than ever.”
Phillips, who the Dolphins drafted in the first round after one season at the University of Miami, has merged as a favorite not only of Dolphins fans but of teammates.
“He’s going to know that he’s loved and he’s missed, but we’re going to go out there and ball for him,” ~ Holland said in a TV interview immediately after the game.
Meanwhile, the signature play of the game was Holland picking off Boyle’s pass and weaving through through futile pursuit by the Jets. Vital because it followed Tua Tagovailoa throwing a pick-6 that cut the Miami lead to 10-6, putting the Jets back in the game despite managing only two first downs and 47 yards of total offense in the half.
99 YARD MIAMI DOLPHINS HAIL MARY INTERCEPTION RETURN FOR A TOUCHDOWN!!!!!!!!
— Big E (@ian693) November 24, 2023
Another Tua interception then set up Boyle’s ill-fated heave with 2 seconds remaining. Instead, Holland’s coast-to-coast dash made it 17-6 Miami at the intermission and the outcome was never in doubt after that.
“That was one of the best plays I’ve ever seen,” Dolphins wide receiver Jaylen Waddle said. “That was a crazy play that we needed.”
“That was very reminiscent of [hall-of-famer] Ed Reed,” coach Mike McDaniel said.
The Dolphins improved to 8-3 and are sitting pretty in the AFC East lead and as one of five three-loss teams in the conference.
Dolphins one of five three-loss teams in AFC
They were also 8-3 at this point last season before losing five in a row.
There is plenty of reason to feel better about their position right now. The next three weeks they face the 4-8 Commanders away, and the 3-7 Titans and the 4-7 Jets at home.
Miami’s fate in the regular season figures to be decided by the closing gauntlet of Cowboys, Ravens and Bills.
As in recent weeks, the Dolphins defense continued to impress more than the offense that was the talk of the NFL early in the season but has been erratic lately.
The defense had seven sacks and limited the struggling Jets offense to 2.9 yards per play.
So Tua throws two INTs in that final minute, including a pick 6, and somehow the Dolphins scored one more point than the Jets during the span. That’s a helluva riddle for someone who wasn’t watching.
— Jeff Darlington (@JeffDarlington) November 24, 2023
Fins have things to fix on offense
Offensively, the turnovers were troubling and the health of the line continues to be a concern.
Star left tackle Terron Armstead left the game early with another injury. With backup Kendall Lamm also ailing, they had to call on the third choice of Kion Smith.
Nonetheless, I was glad to see McDaniel stick with the rushing game even though room to run was sparse against a tough Jets defense. The Dolphins averaged a mere 3.3 yards a carry in the first half. But they ended up with 167 yards and an average of 4.5, including two second-half touchdown by Mostert.
Most impressive was the 15-play, 92-yard drive that consumed nine minutes and put the game well out of reach at 27-6.
It must be a good sign that the Dolphins has progressed to where even lopsided wins get picked apart. But it’s tough to feel bad in any way about a rout of the hated Jets on the road.
Unfortunately, the injury to Phillips left a deep pain in the gut to the team and its fans.
Craig Davis has covered South Florida sports and teams, including the Dolphins, for four decades. Follow him on the site formerly known as Twitter @CraigDavisRuns.