The Miami Dolphins improved to 8-4 with their win over the Cincinnati Bengals on Sunday. A lackluster first half gave way to a brawling second half. But after managing just six points, the offense came alive in the third quarter.
The win maintained Miami’s position in the AFC playoff race and gave Dolphins fans hope for what’s to come with rookie quarterback Tua Tagovailoa. And while he’ll never admit it, head coach Brian Flores’s heated response to the hit that sparked the brawl also engendered hope and confidence, not only in the fans, but also the players.
Here’s a look at five takeaways from the Dolphins 19-7 win over the Bengals.
Dolphins-Bengals: Despite Ejection, Xavien Howard Remains Elite
In the first quarter, Xavien Howard intercepted a Brandon Allen pass, giving him a career-high eight interceptions this season. Howard became the first Dolphin since 1998 to intercept eight passes in a season. Both Terrell Buckley and Sam Madison had eight picks that year.
He’s now intercepted a pass in four consecutive games, tied for the second-longest streak in Dolphins history. It’s the second time this season he’s picked of a pass in four straight. The team record remains five consecutive games with an interception, and that’s held by cornerback Dick Westmoreland, who did it in 1967. Westmoreland also set the single-season team record of 10 INTs that year.
Howard’s play this season has propelled him into the Defensive Player of the Year conversation. He leads the league in INTs (8), is tied for the league lead in pass breakups (16) and QBs targeting Howard have a passer rating of just 48.9 this season. Great plays in the coming matchup against the Kansas City Chiefs could cement Howard’s DPOY claim.
Up-Tempo Offense Got Going
During Ryan Fitzpatrick’s time at QB this season, the Dolphins called the eighth-most No Huddle plays in the NFL. With Tagovailoa under center, Miami called the seventh-least No Huddle plays. In the second half, though, searching for a spark, the Dolphins offense incorporated the up-tempo style to much success.
According to Three Yards Per Carry podcast host Chris Kouffman, the Dolphins ran 15 No Huddle plays against the Bengals. That’s a major departure from previous games started by Tagovailoa. From Week 8 through the third quarter of Week 11, all with Tagovailoa at QB, the Dolphins ran five No Huddle plays total.
This move to the up tempo helped the Dolphins offense find a much-needed rhythm in the second half. Miami piled up 263 total yards in the second half, more than half of the 406 total yards on the day. Although they only scored 13 points in the second half, the movement and pace provided a tantalizing glimpse at the potential for this group.
Dolphins Defense Dominates (Again) in Win Over Bengals
The Dolphins limited the Bengals to just 196 yards of offense Sunday. It was the fewest yards allowed by a Dolphins defense since Oct. 8, 2017, when Tennessee gained just 188 yards.
Miami’s defense was even more stingy in the second half, surrendering just 25 total yards. It’s the fewest yards allowed in a second half by the Dolphins since at least 2000 and tied for the third-fewest allowed by an NFL team this season.
The Dolphins registered six sacks today, the team’s most in a game since Dec. 23, 2018 vs. Jacksonville. Miami’s 31 sacks this season are tied for 10th in the NFL. It’s the team’s most through its first 12 games of a season since 2014 (33.0).
Kyle Van Noy was particularly disruptive versus the Bengals. He recorded a career-high three sacks, as well as eight solo tackles and three additional QB hits. His tipped pass led to a Nik Needham interception in the fourth.
Interceptions by Howard and Needham pushed the team’s takeaway streak to 18 consecutive games, the longest active streak in the NFL. Miami’s 21 takeaways are second-most this season.
Gesicki and Gaskin Came to Play
The Dolphins have struggled at times to find game-breaking skill position players. The lackluster offense bogs down without those difference makers, but on Sunday, a pair of young performers played a pivotal role in this win.
Mike Gesicki nabbed nine of the the 10 targets that came his way and gained 88 yards in the process. His nine catches tied Randy McMichael’s team record for most tight end receptions in a single game. His 537 receiving yards this season are fourth among tight ends and his 13.8 yards-per-catch rank third. Gesicki’s one-handed grab in the second half provided a highlight-reel moment and if he’s able to develop this positive chemistry with Tagovailoa, the Dolphins really have something.
Myles Gaskin returned to the field for the first time in four weeks during this win over the Bengals. He totaled 141 yards from scrimmage, a season-high for a Dolphins player and a new career-high for him. Gaskin gained 90 yards on 21 carries, good for a 4.3 yards-per-carry average. He also ripped off a 26-yard run, though he did fumble. Gaskin caught both his targets for 51 yards, gaining 39 of those after the catch. He’s clearly the best running back on the roster and it helped the offensive to have him back on the field. He played 71 percent of the offensive snaps in this one.
Tagovailoa Shines in Dolphins Win Over the Bengals
Although the first half left some cause for concern regarding Tua Tagovailoa’s performance, the rookie QB excelled in the second half, helping lead the Dolphins to the comeback win over the Bengals.
Tagovailoa had the most productive game of his career, notching career highs in completions (26) and passing yards (296). His 26 completions tied the Dolphins’ rookie record, which was set by Ryan Tannehill on Sept. 30, 2012 at Arizona.
Tagovailoa improved to 4-1 as a starter and has yet to throw an interception. (He had one called back thanks to a penalty.) He tied a team record for most consecutive starts without an interception, regardless of experience (Jay Fiedler, 2000) and he’s now the third QB in the Super Bowl era to not throw an INT in his first five starts (min. 100 attempts).
Tagovailoa was particularly good against the Bengals’ blitz. He completed 12-of-18 passes for 127 yards and a touchdown against the blitz. He sported pocket presence and maneuverability, particularly on one play where he evaded a free rusher and completed a pass to DeVante Parker in a tight window.
Tagovailoa’s ability to move the offense in the second half provided fans with a glimpse of this team’s potential moving forward. Although he made mistakes (questionable throws, misreads on RPOs), he was able to handle the up-tempo element and was largely on target. Had Jakeem Grant not dropped the perfectly placed bomb in the first half, the game might have unfolded very differently.