The Miami Dolphins (8-5) took more than one tough loss on Sunday to the Kansas City Chiefs (12-1). Despite battling back from a 20-point second half deficit, the Dolphins dropped a meaningful game to the defending Super Bowl champs. Along the way, the team also lost several players to injury.
Although Miami maintained hold of the last playoff spot in the AFC by Week 14’s end, the path to the postseason has narrowed considerably. The Dolphins still control their playoff destiny, but there’s little margin for error. Miami may very well need to win-out to secure a Wild Card spot at this point.
Here’s a look at five takeaways from the Dolphins loss to the Chiefs.
Dolphins D Came to Play in Loss to Chiefs
The matchup between Miami and Kansas City highlighted a strength-on-strength tug-of-war. The Chiefs feature one of the most potent offenses in the league, while the Dolphins sport one of the NFL’s top defensive units.
Miami’s D held the upper hand early, picking off a pair of Patrick Mahomes passes. The Chiefs entered with only eight turnovers all season long, but by the time the game ended, the Dolphins added four to that tally.
Byron Jones nabbed his first interception as a Dolphin in the first quarter after Andrew Van Ginkel tipped a Mahomes offering. Safety Eric Rowe picked off his second pass of the year later in that quarter. Mahomes had thrown only two interceptions all season entering this one.
Later in the game, Jones added a forced fumble to the tally before Xavien Howard came away with an interception of his own.
All told, the Dolphins defense held the league’s highest scoring offense to just 24 points, six below their season average. (Special Teams surrendered a punt return TD and the offense gave up a safety.) Miami’s 25 takeaways this season now leads the league.
There’s no other offense in the league scarier than that in KC, so this performance should prove, when fully healthy, this defense can play with anyone.
Howard Makes His DPOY Case
Howard’s stellar play continued in this one. Some questioned if he would be up to the challenge, considering Mahomes and the offensive weapons at his disposal. But Howard showed not only that he’s at an All-Pro level but also that he should be the NFL’s Defensive Player of the Year.
Consider this: In 2019, Patriots’ CB Stephon Gilmore won the award on the back of six interceptions, 20 passes defensed and 53 total tackles. In 2020, with three games to play, Howard leads the league with nine interceptions and 17 passes defensed, and has 40 total tackles. When targeting Howard, opposing quarterbacks have a passer rating of just 53.4, second-best among cornerbacks with at least 30 pass targets.
Howard’s nine interceptions puts him within striking distance of the single-season franchise record of 10, held by Dick Westmoreland who set the record in 1967. No NFL player has had at least nine interceptions in a season since Chicago’s Tim Jennings in 2012. No one’s had at least 10 since Antonio Cromartie picked off 10 passes in 2007.
Dolphins Exit Loss with Injury Issues
One of the big concerns for Miami in the wake of this loss remains the health of its frontline players. The Dolphins started the game without a pair of starting linebackers in Kyle Van Noy and Elandon Roberts, but the injury list just got longer from there.
DeVante Parker exited in the second quarter of the game with a leg injury and did not return. He did not make a catch on his two targets. Jakeem Grant also went down with a leg injury as well. Parker and Grant, the team’s top wideouts, played just 27 and 31 snaps respectively.
Another huge loss came midway through the fourth quarter when Mike Gesicki sustained a shoulder injury after a short reception. Gesicki, who had five catches for 65 yards and two touchdowns, emerged as Tua Tagovailoa’s favorite target in this one.
There’s a good chance the Dolphins will be without both Gesicki and Grant come Sunday’s contest against the Patriots.
Safety Bobby McCain sustained an ankle injury during the game but was able to return. Unfortunately, his replacements Clayton Fejedelm and Kavon Frazier both gave up big plays in McCain’s absence, including a 44-yard touchdown pass to Tyreek Hill.
Bowden Emerges as Slot Option
One of the positive takeaways from this spate of injuries might be the emergence of Lynn Bowden Jr as a slot receiver. Bowden has earned more playing time over the last several weeks and led Dolphins receivers in snaps in this one. He played 59 of 83 possible offensive snaps.
Bowden led the team with seven receptions for 82 yards, an 11.7 yards-per-reception average. Each of those set a new career-high for the rookie receiver. He was targeted nine times and six of his catches moved the chains. Bowden also carried the ball once for two yards and attempted one pass.
Bowden has emerged as a utility offensive weapon for the ‘Phins and has developed some positive chemistry with Tagovailoa. That chemistry will be necessary if the receiver corps continues to be thinned out.
One reinforcement this week could be the return of Isaiah Ford. Miami traded Ford to the Patriots for a conditional draft pick earlier this season, only to see New England cut the third-year wideout shortly thereafter. Ford has experience as a slot receiver and in Miami’s system.
Tagovailoa Nearly Pulls Off Epic Comeback
Tagovailoa completed 28-of-48 attempts for a career-high 316 yards in this one. He added two touchdown passes and his first career rushing touchdown. As the game unfolded, Tagovailoa lost most of his go-to offensive outlets, but the rookie quarterback still managed to make this interesting in the end.
Missing the top-8 skill position players (in terms of yards-from-scrimmage) by game’s end, Tagovailoa kept the Dolphins within striking distance. The team put up 17 points in the fourth and were an onside kick recovery away from making it even more compelling.
Perhaps the most impressive drive came after Gesicki was lost for the game. Tagovailoa navigated the offense 73 yards for a touchdown with Bowden and Mack Hollins as his most reliable receivers. The first touchdown drive of the fourth went 80 yards, capping with a 29-yard toss to Gesicki.
Dolphins fans can come away from this one that Tagovailoa has that “it” factor absent from Miami’s backfield since Dan Marino.