The Miami Dolphins (9-5) continued to prove doubters wrong with their comeback win over the New England Patriots (6-8) on Sunday. Miami’s 22-12 victory demonstrated the team’s resilience and drive, proving once again this franchise has the right coach and young quarterback.
With the win, the Dolphins kept pace in the AFC playoff race, holding their spot as the 7-seed. Gaining their ninth victory meant Miami secured its first winning season since 2016 and just their second since 2008.
Here’s a look at five takeaways from the Dolphins win over the Patriots.
Dolphins Run All Over Patriots in Win
One of the consistent struggles this season has been Miami’s inability to gain traction on the ground. The Dolphins have cycled through seven different running backs this season hoping to find the answer, but the team remained among the worst in the league in rushing yards-per-game and yards-per-carry.
But Sunday, the Dolphins found a ground game. Miami ran up a season-high 250 rushing yards against the Patriots and limited New England to 117 yards on the ground, 100 yards fewer than they allowed in their first matchup between these two.
This unexpected turn resulted in a total control of the ball game. The Dolphins rushed 42 times for a 6.0 yards-per-carry average. They punched in three rushing touchdowns and kept the ball away from New England. Miami topped the Pats in total plays (70 to 52) and time of possession (37:26 to 22:34).
Hogging the ball from New England forced the Patriots to rely on Cam Newton’s arm, which has not been a strength this season.
Ahmed Lays Claim to RB1 Spot
The Dolphins running back carrousel has spun for a few seasons now. This year, seven different backs have carried the ball. In 2019, the team’s leading rusher was a 37-year-old quarterback, despite seven different RBs getting carries throughout the season.
And while the churn continues, there have been a couple of players who’ve flashed in their opportunities. The latest: Salvon Ahmed.
Ahmed became Miami’s first 100-yard rusher since Kalen Ballage put up 123 yards in Week 15 of the 2018 season. His 122 rushing yards are the most in franchise history by an undrafted player in his rookie season and the eighth-most by any Dolphins rookie.
Ahmed’s gained 288 yards on 63 carries this season, both numbers good for second-most on the team despite playing in only four games. His 4.6 yards-per-carry average tops Dolphins RBs with at least 15 carries. He averages 72 yards-per-game, which leads the team, and 17 of his 63 carries (26.9 percent) have gone for first downs.
Breida at His Best
The Dolphins finally saw a productive Matt Breida in the lineup on Sunday, too. Breida recorded a season-high 86 yards on 12 carries. His speed and shiftiness seemed like a solid addition for Miami this season, but inconsistent play and opportunity has limited the fourth-year pro.
Against the Patriots, Breida provided a lift Miami had yet to see from him this season. His 7.2 yards-per-carry led the team and may have earned him further opportunity, even if Myles Gaskin returns next week.
Breida sports great speed on the outside and good hands out of the backfield. Although he wasn’t involved in the passing game on Sunday, Breida’s caught 9-of-10 targets tossed his way this season for 96 yards.
Dolphins Defense Dominates in Win over Patriots
Miami extended its league-long takeaway streak to 20 games when Xavien Howard forced a fumble in the third quarter. The fumble stood as the Dolphins’ 26th takeaway this season, most in the league by day’s end. (Pittsburgh has 25 takeaways and is scheduled to play on Monday night.)
Howard’s third quarter play helped flip the momentum of this game and resulted his first forced fumble of the season. He’s now been involved in 10 takeaways for Miami this year (nine interceptions) and is well positioned for a Defensive Player of the Year push.
The Dolphins defense limited New England to just 12 points today, all field goals. It was the third time the Dolphins haven’t allowed a touchdown this season, making Miami just the second defense to accomplish the feat this season.
Miami allows 18.4 points-per-game, just two tenths of a point behind the Steelers for the league lead. The Dolphins rank first in third-down defense (32.5 percent) and are tied for tenth in sacks (37).
Dolphins Youth Movement in Full Effect
Thanks in part to injuries, Miami rolled out a starting lineup that included eight rookies, six on offensive. Per the Elias Sports Bureau, it was the first time a team started six rookies on offense since December of 2018 when Arizona did so. And although Patriots head coach Bill Belichick sported a 20-5 record against rookie quarterbacks, the Dolphins didn’t seem to mind.
The offense started well and drove the ball into the Red Zone before a critical mistake by Tua Tagovailoa resulted in an interception. From there, the offense remained dormant throughout the first half.
But after being held scoreless in the first half for the first time this season, the Dolphins came to life offensively. Tagovailoa led the team on a nine-play, 72-yard drive, capped off by a one-yard touchdown run by Ahmed. Much of the ball movement on that drive came on the ground, behind an offensive line sporting three rookies: Robert Hunt, Austin Jackson and Solomon Kindley.
In the fourth quarter, Miami took the lead for good on a 14-play, 90-yard drive that ended on a three-yard TD run by Tagovailoa. The Dolphins began the drive down 9-7 and added a thrilling two-point conversion to make the score 16-9. Tagovailoa completed 4-of-5 passes for 19 yards in addition to the go-ahead touchdown. It was the second game-winning drive and fourth-quarter comeback of his career.
Tagovailoa rushed for two touchdowns, becoming the fifth quarterback in Dolphins history to have two rushing touchdowns in the same game, the first since Cleo Lemon on October 14, 2007 at Cleveland.
Rookies led the way for Miami against Belichick’s vaunted defense, particularly Tagovailoa at quarterback and Ahmed in the backfield. Rookie receiver Lynn Bowden Jr. led the team with six catches. The future is bright for this franchise.