The Miami Dolphins (6-3) continued their ascent in the AFC with a solid win over the Los Angeles Chargers (2-7). The victory marked Miami’s fifth-straight and propelled them to the 6-seed in the conference.
Touted as a duel between two rookie quarterbacks, the Dolphins signal-caller played an efficient game, whereas his counterpart made a critical error in the fourth quarter. The win over the Chargers puts Miami at 6-3 for the first time since 2001. The five-game win streak is the longest for the franchise since 2016, when they won six-in-a-row.
Here’s a look at five takeaways from the Dolphins win over the Chargers.
Dolphins’ Tagovailoa Steady in Win Over Chargers
In a game where pundits pit Tua Tagovailoa versus Justin Herbert, Tagovailoa came out on top. Football analysts have lauded Herbert for his statistical prowess thus far, but that’s led to very little winning for the Chargers. Miami, meanwhile, saw their rookie quarterback led them to yet another victory.
Tagovailoa’s now 3-0 as a starter and is the first rookie in Dolphins history to win his first three starts. He finished 15-for-25 for 169 yards and two touchdowns. His back-to-back games with two touchdown passes tie him for the third-longest streak of multiple touchdown pass games by a Dolphins rookie quarterback.
Tagovailoa’s the only rookie QB in Dolphins history to not throw an interception in his first three starts. And he’s one of only two quarterbacks in the Super Bowl era (Philadelphia’s Carson Wentz the other) to win all three of his first career starts and not throw an interception.
Tagovailoa also registered the first tackle of his career after a botched snap from Ted Karras led to a fumble. The young signal-caller’s moxie and confidence continue to grow with each start. He’s been accurate and adept at fitting passes into tight windows. It’s clear he has the confidence of the coaching staff and the team.
Ogbah Continues His Great Play
Emmanuel Ogbah’s been great. He sacked Herbert on the opening play of the fourth quarter. The sack was Ogbah’s eighth of the season and gave him six consecutive games with a full sack. His eight sacks are tied for fourth in the NFL. The six-game sack streak for Ogbah is tied for the second-longest in Dolphins history, trailing just Jason Taylor’s eight-game streak in 2002.
Ogbah also had two passes defensed, including one pass tipped on a fourth-and-1 in the fourth quarter that forced a turnover on downs.
His continued productivity has elevated this Dolphins defense. The pressure players like Ogbah generate helps the team’s secondary. It was clearly evident in Xavien Howard’s fourth quarter interception of Herbert. With that interception, the Dolphins defense has now registered at least one turnover in each of the last 15 games.
Dolphins Special Teams Elite in Win Over Chargers
The first big play of the day came from Miami’s Special Teams. Andrew Van Ginkel got free rushing up the middle and blocked LA’s punt. Jamal Perry recovered the fumble on the one-yard line. It was the first blocked punt by the Dolphins since Brandon Bolden got one on November 11, 2018 at Green Bay.
In addition to that play, punter Matt Haack pinned the Chargers at the five-yard line, flipping field position in a tightening game. Haack is fifth in the league in punts inside-the-20 (17) and eighth in net punt average (42.9). Against the Rams, Haack pinned five punts inside the 20. It was his sixth career game with at least five punts inside the 20, which is a Dolphins record.
Jakeem Grant also helped the team flip field position with his punt returns. His 294 punt return yards lead the NFL. His 14.7 punt return average stands as third-best and he leads the NFL with three punt returns of over 20 yards.
Grant surpassed Tommy Vigorito (830) for fifth place in Dolphins history in all-time career punt return yardage. Grant now has 883 career punt return yards.
Jason Sanders, meanwhile, remains one of the best kickers in the league and arguably the best kicker in Dolphins history. Sanders saw his streak of 20 consecutive makes snapped in this one, but he did net three field goals. His 20 makes are tied for second-most in the NFL so far. His .952 average on field goals is also second-best.
Sanders’ five makes from 50-yards or longer stand as second-most this season. He is 23-for-23 on point-after attempts.
Jakeem Grant Emerges as Offensive Weapon
When the Dolphins lost Preston Williams to the injured reserve, there were questions surrounding who would fill the void. Miami had several options, but Grant stood out on Sunday
Grant caught a three-yard touchdown pass in the first quarter to give Miami a 14-0 lead. It was Grant’s first touchdown reception since he had two in a game on September 23, 2018 versus Oakland. Grant led the Dolphins in receiving on Sunday with four receptions for 43 yards.
His ability to create separation on his routes makes him a reliable go-to for Tagovailoa. In his three starts, Tagovailoa has targeted Grant 12 times, which matches the amount of targets Grant received from Fitzpatrick through the first six games of the season.
Grant’s game-breaking speed adds a layer previously absent from this offense. While they’ve yet to incorporate it, Grant is regularly in pre-snap motion, indicating a jet-sweep could be part of the offensive game plan moving forward.
Dolphins in Prime Position for Playoff Push After Win Over Chargers
The AFC East playoff picture remains a logjam after Week 10. Thanks to Kyler Murray’s Hail Mary heave against Buffalo, Miami stands within 0.5 game of the Bills with seven games to go. A win next week in Denver would pull the Dolphins even with Buffalo because the Bills are on their bye.
The Dolphins currently hold the 6-seed in the AFC standings, one of six teams to sport a 6-3 record. Miami holds the tiebreaker over the Titans and Ravens based on best win percentage in conference games. The division tiebreaker keeps the Dolphins ahead of Cleveland (Baltimore wins tie break over Cleveland based on head-to-head win percentage).
The Colts lead the AFC South. Miami trails the Raiders in the standings because Las Vegas sports a better conference win percentage. The Dolphins travel to Vegas in Week 16.
According to Tankathon.com, the Dolphins sport the 12th-easiest remaining slate of games, based on strength of schedule. Miami final seven opponents have a combined .477 winning percentage. The Bills, meanwhile, face a slightly tougher slate, as their final six opponents have a .509 winning percentage.
Three of the other teams vying for an AFC playoff spots hold easier roads ahead: Baltimore (.461), Cleveland (.445) and Las Vegas (.444).
What this means is, Miami needs to win the games in which they are favored and knock off, at the very least, the Raiders in Week 16. The Week 17 matchup against the Bills could very well be for the AFC East division title.
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