Miami Dolphins give New England a taste of their own medicine

The Miami Dolphins came away with a huge win on Sunday.

Paths cross often in the National Football League. The Miami Dolphins beat the New England Patriots 27-24 on Sunday. A bunch of former Patriots coaches had their fingerprints all over the victory.

Let’s start with the head coach. Brian Flores began his career with the Patriots in 2004 as a scouting assistant. He then worked his way up the ranks over the course of the next decade. He was named the linebackers coach in 2016 and served that role until last year. Now, he gets to preside over an entire team.

On Sunday, the Miami Dolphins showed the type of toughness that has been a trademark of New England over the years. There is no doubt that Flores has put his stamp on this team, and it showed. Much like New England has done over the years, the Dolphins fought hard. They never gave up, and they played until the final whistle. You always hear about the New England Patriots mantra “Do your job.” The Dolphins did that on Sunday.

New England connections key in Miami Dolphins victory

Offensive coordinator Chad O’ Shea did a great job in terms of game planning He let Ryan Fitzpatrick do whatever he wanted while getting the receivers involved. Furthermore, he did a great job of keeping the New England corners on their toes.  Fitzpatrick passed for 320 yards and a touchdown. The leading receiver for Miami was Devante Parker. He had another tremendous day, catching eight passes for 137 yards. A 28-yard snag was his longest of the afternoon.

Dave DeGuglielmo was the other coach of note on Sunday. A Lexington, Massachusetts native,he was the Patriots offensive line coach from 2014-2015.  His offensive line did a great job of protecting Ryan Fitzpatrick. The Patriots often sent three pass-rushers towards Fitzpatrick. This was in an effort to get more cornerbacks on the field and prevent big plays in the passing game. The offensive line held up nicely for the Dolphins, shutting the three-man rush down. Fitzpatrick was only sacked twice for 13 yards.

Eric Rowe also managed to get the last laugh on New England. He recorded a pick-six that set the tone for the defense early. He is certainly making his three-year $18 million extension seem like the right move. Truthfully, it was the right move before this game. Sunday just proved that. He had a really great day for the secondary, and was a steadfast presence.

As the Miami Dolphins look to build their team, this was a signature win. It’s not easy to be New England in Foxboro. Florez and his staff did that emphatically. Good times may be ahead for the Miami Dolphins. Sunday certainly  proved that.

Coach Flores and players on the Miami Dolphins voice frustration following loss to Jets

In a game that meant little outside of draft position, Miami’s coach Brian Flores was fuming following Sunday’s 22-21 loss to the New York Jets.

Jets kicker Sam Ficken converted a game-winning field goal as time expired, but it was a play leading up to the kick that had Flores irate.

To make matters worst, the pass interference wasn’t called on the field, but was reviewed and reversed.

Flores didn’t want to answer questions about the call when speaking to the media. As we saw during the game, he was quite animated after discovering the no-call was reversed.

“It’s a tough call,” quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick said. “We had guys step up. Pat Laird made some nice plays and Isaiah made some nice plays. Those are the things I try to focus on as the positives for us and the things we did well and maybe some of the things we could have done better. We obviously scratched and clawed our way back into that game and it would have been a nice one to win.”

Jason Sanders converted a franchise-record seven field goals in the loss. However, if Miami had found the end zone at least once, the call would’ve been a non-factor.

I think we’re all disappointed,” Fitzpatrick added. “We’re just disappointed in losing the football game. There’s a lot of emotions that go into that.”

Nik Needham finished with four tackles, two passes defended and was in coverage for the game-changing call.

“Honestly it’s trash,” Needham said of the call. “We lost on a call. It’s trash. I’m not going to lie.”

Despite low expectations, it is clear that the Dolphins were never trying to “tank” the season away.

“Any loss is tough to swallow,” Flores said.  “So, this is no different than any other loss. They’re all tough to swallow. Our guys played hard and I’m proud of the way they work. It’s a tough one.”



Dolphins displaying true ‘next man up’ mentality

One of the key philosophies of the New England Patriots for the past decade has been their ability to take backup players and make them play like starters. Whoever takes the place of the injured player has to provide the same level of play. Teams in the NFL look for that “next man up” mentality year in and year out. Only some actually manage to find it. However, it seems that the 2019 Miami Dolphins are on their way to putting it all together in that regard.

Observe what Miami has endured this season in the injury department. Even after trading a vast majority of their best players, those who remain on the team still are not contributing due to circumstances beyond their control. They are now all on season-ending injured reserve.

  • CB Xavien Howard – Knee
  • WR Jakeem Grant – Ankle
  • WR Preston Williams – ACL
  • SS Reshad Jones – Chest/Ankle
  • FS Bobby McCain – Shoulder

And the list goes on and on from there. As a result, the Dolphins are being forced to call on players who normally wouldn’t even make an NFL roster to take their place. Yet they make it work. They compete week in and week out in spite of their withering roster.

Unfortunately, it got even harder for Miami on Sunday. Both DeVante Parker and Albert Wilson, two of the Dolphins remaining wide receivers, left the Jets game with possible concussions. That left only Allen Hurns, newcomer Mack Hollins, and the returning Isaiah Ford as their wide receivers for the game. Parker is having a career year, so losing him especially hurt.

“It definitely made it a little bit difficult.” Quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick said after the game. “We had guys out there hobbled and giving everything they had. I was proud to be in the huddle with those guys. I know there’s a lot of stuff people won’t see or don’t really care to write about, but there were some guys that really gutted it out today. It was tough sledding in the second half from communications and lining up for us just because of some of the injuries we had.”

But again, while it was tough, it wasn’t impossible. Isaiah Ford responded by playing the best game of his career. The young receiver out of Virginia Tech caught six passes for 92 yards against New York. Obviously, he’s unhappy with the loss. But he’s glad he got a chance to show what he’s capable of.

“I’ve had confidence in myself the entire time that I can play at this level.” Ford said. “I know I can go on the field and help our team win.”

Undoubtedly, it’s good to see players like Ford stepping up. But who could predict the Dolphins would even be in this situation by this point?

“Just when you thought this season couldn’t get any crazier.” Fitzpatrick said. “Isaiah has been on the active (roster) and off, on the practice squad and up and down. He’s worked so hard. He’s a guy we have so much faith in as quarterbacks because whenever anybody has a question, sometimes when coaches have questions, we’ll go back to Isaiah and say, ‘What is this signal? What is this route?’ and he knows everything. I was happy to see him get out there and get an opportunity to catch some balls and really take advantage of it and make the most out of it today.”

In spite of that, Brian Flores admitted that it isn’t easy to compensate for the loss of top players like that.

“It complicates things a lot.” He said. “Obviously, when you go into a game with a specific game plan with guys in mind. When you lose one player at any position, you have a backup for that. When you lose two, that’s when it’s tough … Again, Isaiah Ford stepped in and played well. Mack Hollins who we just got a couple days ago, he stepped in and gave us some good snaps, drew a pass interference penalty. And then our tight end group, they really stepped up for us. So, I thought as a collective group, given the adversity of losing two guys, I thought we battled through it.”

Once again, coaching deserves credit for adapting and helping players shine in bad circumstances. Flores will have a lot of roster turnover come next season, with talent coming from free agency and the draft. But here and now, he has to work with what he has. What he has is not good. However, that’s what “next man up” is all about. The Dolphins are taking players who have far less talent, and bringing it to the wire every game. That alone is a sign of things to come.

Luis Sung has covered the Miami Dolphins for numerous outlets such as Dolphins Wire for six years. Follow him on Twitter: @LuisDSung

Mark Walton

Dolphins waive Mark Walton in light of latest police incident

The Miami Dolphins are spending the 2019 season giving players a chance at redemption. Robert Nkemdiche, a former first round pick, couldn’t show enough to warrant Miami keeping him on the roster. Running back Mark Walton, on the other hand, seemed to be taking everything in stride. He even became the starter over Kalen Ballage.

But then he got suspended for violating the league’s substance abuse policy. Then on Tuesday, things took a dramatic turn, as Walton found himself in the middle of yet another incident. Mark Walton is charged with aggravated battery of a pregnant woman.

This woman is pregnant with Walton’s child, and she told police that she told Walton of her pregnancy on Sunday.

According to Tom Schad of USA Today Sports, one of Walton’s attorneys stated that the now ex-Dolphins running back cooperated fully with the police. But that doesn’t change what happened, and naturally, Miami released him immediately after hearing of the incident. General manager Chris Grier offered a statement to the public, and nothing more has come from the Dolphins since then.

It’s always sad when a promising young athlete throws their career away due to a lack of self control. Mark Walton’s actions are inexcusable, and it’s no surprise the Dolphins cut ties immediately. Coach Flores wants to create a team-first culture of accountability. Decisions like the one Walton made have no place in Miami, or anywhere else.

Credit the Dolphins for giving Walton a chance to redeem himself. Second chances are needed in this world. However, once the chance has been given, it must be taken.

Luis Sung has covered the Miami Dolphins for numerous outlets such as Dolphins Wire for six years. Follow him on Twitter: @LuisDSung

Nik Needham

Nik Needham coming on strong at CB for Dolphins

Think back to training camp and the preseason. Of all the players that put themselves on display, one of the worst by far was cornerback Nik Needham. Regularly beaten in coverage, missing tackles, it seemed he could no right. Within two weeks, fans were tired of hearing his name. Usually, unless someone is making a big play, the less you a corner’s name, the better. Needham’s name was said a lot.

So, how in the world did an undrafted free agent who didn’t even make the final 53 man roster suddenly become one of Miami’s top defenders?

It starts with understanding the game on a deeper level.

“I think just the understanding of the game, as well as the understanding of the business side of things.” Needham said after Miami’s second loss to Buffalo, in which he spent most of the game shadowing wide receiver John Brown. “It’s not just a fun and games thing anymore … I think I’ve matured a lot, I’ve taken a lot of the information that the other guys and the coaches have gave me and just applied that.”

Once more, we come back to the emphasis that head coach Brian Flores put on developing players in 2019. True, Sunday’s game against Buffalo ended in a loss, but it wasn’t for a lack of trying. Miami’s two wins against the Jets and the Colts came as a result of continued improvement from young players, Needham included. That serves as a testament to Flores and his staff. Taking a band of misfits and making them competitive from week to week.

However, there are still growing pains that comes with this approach. Needham did much better than expected, but he wasn’t perfect. He did allow Brown to break free on a couple of plays, one of which turned into a touchdown.

“Yeah it was Cover 2, but that was my fault. I’ve got to sink a little more. I’ve got to carry John Brown right there and be underneath him a little more and drift inside a little bit, so that was on me for sure.” Needham said. “It’s just a learning process but you’ve got to grow up quick because you don’t want to just be out there messing up all the time and then say ‘Oh, that’s a rookie.’ To me personally, that doesn’t feel good. People saying, ‘It’s alright.’ No, it’s not alright. If I’m out here, I need to be out here performing at my best and at a high level.”

Again, no one expected Nik Needham to be as good as he is right now. They expected his career in the league to be over after the pitiful performance he displayed in preseason. But players who want to succeed find ways to learn from everything, even his opponents. New York Jets WR Demaryius Thomas offered some valuable insight not too long ago, telling the rookie out of UTEP that he could recognize what Needham was going to do on any given play.

That message, along with many others, resonates with Needham. That’s the difference between players who have potential, and players who develop into solid contributors. To some extent, all players have potential, it’s what they do with it that matters. Needham is taking everything in stride, including the recent onslaught of praise he’s receiving. That’s exactly what coach Flores wants from all his players. That’s how he envisions players continue to grow and not stagnate.

“You forget about everything you’d done. You forget about the last couple games or you forget about any success you had.” Flores said on Thursday. “I know he’s getting – I don’t know much about social media, but people are saying he’s this or that or (any of that). Your friends, your family, they’re going to congratulate you. That’s great. But if you start listening to all that too much and – I don’t know. Maybe it’s one minute less on one more text and (it’s) one minute less on film. You’ve got to try to put that away and focus on the task at hand.”

Flores didn’t talk much more about it that day, since he felt the need to call out a member of the media for laughing at his statement. Nevertheless, the message was received, and it seems to be working.

Nik Needham is developing faster than anyone could have anticipated. He’s already deflected six passes in six games for Miami, and come away with an interception against the Colts, and nearly another one against Buffalo. Does this mean he can be the clear-cut number two cornerback alongside Xavien Howard next season? That will require much more time to decide. If nothing else, Nik Needham is proving he can be an excellent backup in a young secondary, and he should be considered a success for this new regime. At this point, there’s no telling what his ceiling could be.

Luis Sung has covered the Miami Dolphins for numerous outlets such as Dolphins Wire for six years. Follow him on Twitter: @LuisDSung

John Jenkins

John Jenkins contributing heavily to improved Dolphins defense

Think back to the days of Paul Soliai. He was the last true nose tackle that made an impact on the Miami Dolphins defensive line. His ability to take up space and disrupt rushing lanes is well-remembered. Since his departure, Miami has been searching for someone who can take up that role. The unsung hero doing the dirty work so others can shine. It seems, however, that the search is over, with veteran DT John Jenkins filling the void.

“John (Jenkins) has brought energy, enthusiasm.” Head coach Brian Flores said on Wednesday. “He’s one of those kind of unsung players that no one really knows about, talks about; but I would say our linebackers really enjoy having him in front of them because he takes up some space. He does a lot of the dirty work that – it’s those dirty (work) plays that if you get enough of those contributions from several different players and that’s how you get productive plays and string good plays together. He’s been a big part of, I would say, the improvement defensively. (He is) one of my favorite guys to be honest with you.”

The 30-year old Jenkins isn’t a big playmaker. Since his rookie season with the New Orleans Saints in 2013, Jenkins only has a total of 143 tackles and 2.5 sacks. Not exactly wow-worthy to say the least. But again, Jenkins isn’t meant to make plays. He helps others make plays. Considering the recent emergence of Ohio State alums Raekwon McMillan and Jerome Baker, it seems Jenkins is doing his job well. McMillan has emerged as a premier run-stopping linebacker, and Baker is finding it much easier to both cover receiver and rush the passer through lanes opened by Jenkins’ raw strength and bulk.

And again, Jenkins doesn’t get much credit. When Baker, McMillan or any of the other linebackers jump in and make a flashy play, they receive praise. But that’s just part of the process, as linebacker coach Rob Leonard stated at the beginning of November. He wants the linebackers to take what they do and use as a sign of progress for their development.

“You have to make them see it. You have to make them see what you see in them to get the best version of themselves.” He said. “I’m always trying to paint that picture whether it’s film or just speaking to them as men because that’s where the confidence comes into play. Who you are as a person, who you are as a player – you’re always painting that vision of how I see them so they can fulfill their potential, but they have to believe it. It comes from them.”

That much is true. The linebackers have to perform. But it certainly helps when there’s a big body up front making their lives easier.

However, that doesn’t mean Jenkins is incapable of making plays of his own. Last week against the Indianapolis Colts, Jenkins chased down a running back from behind and brought him down for a loss. That’s not a simple feat for a man his size. Him being a veteran voice in an extremely young locker room just adds an extra bonus.

“He’s got a great energy, great enthusiasm, loves to play the game.” Flores said. “(He is) a guy we really like. We got him after the 53 cut. We were happy to get him. He’s been very productive, but his effort, his energy, his enthusiasm, his leadership – being one of the older guys in that room – that’s shown up in a big way for us and we’re happy to have him.”

So what of the future? As it stands, Jenkins is on a 1-year contract worth a mere $800,000, give or take a few. He’s played a little less than 45% of the snaps on defense this season for Miami. Those few snaps, however, have had an undeniable impact. The 2020 offseason is going to be an eventful one for the Dolphins, but some of the talent on the 2019 roster may just stick around. John Jenkins should be a key candidate for retention.

Every team needs that one guy who opens up the way for the rest of the defense. Jenkins may be just what Miami needs, both now and later, to turn the Dolphins defense back into the juggernaut it once was.

Luis Sung has covered the Miami Dolphins for numerous outlets such as Dolphins Wire for six years. Follow him on Twitter: @LuisDSung

Nik Needham shining in his second stint with the Miami Dolphins

Nik Needham spent his college playing career at the University of Texas at El Paso developing his football skills. The cornerback finished with 213 tackles, 13.5 tackles for a loss and three interceptions. He added a school record of 33 passes broken up in 41 career games.

However, that wasn’t enough to land a spot on Miami’s 53-man roster as the Dolphins waived him on Aug. 31, the final day of roster cuts.

“He came in here, worked hard, got cut – we knew the work ethic was there but got cut,” defensive coordinator Patrick Graham said. ” [Josh Boyer, cornerbacks coach, told him] you’re going to have to transform your body. You’re going to have to – in terms of just how important it is to you, that’s a decision you’re going to have make.”

Needham signed to join the practice squad the following day. He earned a spot n the 53-man roster right before Miami’s game against Washington. Since then, the rookie has made the most out his opportunity.

He tallied a team-high nine tackles in Miami’s win over New York. One of those tackles was a sack of quarterback Sam Darnold, the first of Needham’s career. In Sunday’s win over the Colts he added his first-career interception.

Not only did Needham listen to Graham’s advice, but it is quickly paying off.

“He’s starting to see really the fruits of his labor in terms of the success on the field and he knows he still has a long way to go,” Graham said. “This week [against Buffalo] is going to be a huge challenge with the receivers we’re going to see when they play down here from Buffalo. He’s making steps in the right direction.”

Needham has started four of the last five games for the Miami Dolphins. On Sunday he contributed three passes defended against the Colts.

“Nik played well [against the Colts],” coach Brian Flores said on Monday. “We brought him in as a free agent and he did some good things in OTAs and had some struggles like most rookies do in the preseason and wasn’t quite ready, so we put him on the practice squad. It’s part of their journey, I should say. He spent a few weeks on the practice squad. I think getting released and going through that process took him through a little bit of the reality of what the National Football League could be. He’s turned some things around and he’s still got a long way to go, but all of those things play a role in kind of how we performed yesterday and hopefully he continues to do that.”

Needham’s stock has grown over the last few weeks, but his goal is to help the team.

“It just felt good to contribute to the old guys and help get a win,” Needham said. “That is all I am really worried about – I just want to win. It felt great.”

The Dolphins are working to build on a perfect 2-0 record in November.

“I think over the weeks we are just building chemistry and really play for each other,” Needham said. “Game changing plays happen out there and we don’t back down or give up we just go back out there and fight. That’s the main goal every week.”

Miami will look to make it three-straight wins this Sunday. The Dolphins have a divisional match against the Buffalo Bills at Hard Rock Stadium.


The Dolphins' free agent signings fit into coach Brian Flores' scheme. (Tony Capobianco for Five Reasons Sports)

ESPN FPI: Miami has a great shot at the top pick in next year’s draft

According to ESPN’s Football Power Index, the Miami Dolphins have a 70 percent chance at the top pick in the 2020 draft. It is safe to say that 2019 hasn’t been the easiest season for the Miami Dolphins, but the front office, coaching staff and fan base is hoping it will pay off in the end.

Behind them is the winless Bengals, who have a 17 percent chance according to the power index.

However, Cincinnati did just announce the benching of Andy Dalton. The nine-year veteran has nine touchdowns and eight interceptions under center for the Bengals. In fact, he is the first quarterback to lead a team to both a 8-0 and 0-8 start.

However,  Ryan Finley is stepping in, a rookie who was drafted in the fourth round of the NFL draft.

Finley will have some help as star receiver A.J. Green is expected to return sooner rather than later for Cincinnati.

Despite a winless first-half of the season, Miami is hoping the Bengals can go on a run and win a handful of games in order to create some distance in the race for the first pick in the draft.

Keep in mind that Dolphins coach Brian Flores has his sights set on wins, not the top pick in the draft. Miami is starting to show signs of a competitive football team, despite the 0-7 record.

The Jets looking like one of the worst teams in the NFL, here are Miami’s “biggest” games remaining on the nine-game schedule:

Jets at Dolphins, Nov. 3; Dolphins at Jets, Dec. 8; Bengals at Dolphins, Dec. 22.

It hasn’t been the easiest season, but with a little luck, Brian Flores and company can continue to show signs that they’re the right crew for the job without ruining Miami’s chance at a top pick.

Miami Dolphins secure draft capital in Aqib Talib trade

The Miami Dolphins made a move on Tuesday.

The Miami Dolphins have made a major move ahead of Tuesday’s trade deadline, and this one should boost the secondary. The Dolphins acquired Aqib Talib from the Los Angeles Rams in exchange for a late-round future draft pick.

If only, he was the Aqib Talib of old. He is currently on IR due to a rib injury. Chances are, he will never see a snap for the Miami Dolphins. Miami basically took on his $4.2 million salary for a fifth-round draft pick.

This is certainly an intriguing move to me. Miami gets an asset that will be used to bolster the team in the future. The fact that they were willing to take on the money portion of things surprises me. However, when you are in a rebuild, the price for a draft pick may be a bit hefty at times.

Miami head coach Brian Flores has already expressed public support for the move. From the sounds of it, Flores hopes to be able to work with Talib. However, there is no denying that the crown jewel in this deal was the draft pick. If the Dolphins can manage to keep Talib around for longer than just this season, that is great. However, I wouldn’t count on it. If Talib walks after the 2019 season, then Miami at least has a draft pick to play with for the future.

It’s intriguing to see all this roster reshuffling. It may seem a little bit tedious right now, but it should put the Miami Dolphins in a better position for the future. Now, the big challenge for the organization will be to make sure that they make the right decisions with these draft picks in the coming years. Again, it is easier said than done. However, I am confident that the organization has done their research. For a rebuild as big as this one, it makes sense to not leave any stone unturned. That certainly was the mindset on Tuesday, as they continue to stockpile resources.

Did Dolphins coach Brian Flores make the right call?

When intentions are unclear, it’s difficult to assess decisions.

Take, for instance, the choice by Miami Dolphins head coach Brian Flores to go for two, rather than tie the game, after his team rallied to within 17-16 against the Washington Redskins with just six seconds left in regulation Sunday. And then the actual play that was called, that seemingly had little chance at success.

While it’s clear this season that ownership and front office are fine with lots and lots of losses, the coaches and players don’t have much to gain by deliberate tanking. Flores, in particular, is trying to show he’s a competent NFL coach. So this has always seemed more about the front office giving him little to work with, and then him attempting to instill the proper principles in whatever personnel he’s been provided.

With all of that said, Flores and his staff (especially the coordinators) have made some odd decisions this season, whether regarding the unconventional utilization of players in particular schemes (outside their comfort zones) or curious play calls. Then, of course, there was the matter of star cornerback Xavien Howard being held out Sunday after practicing all week with a sore knee; that had a direct impact on the game. That may have been a call made above Flores. The two-point conversion was a call made by Flores, and hand-picked offensive coordinator Chad O’Shea.

Was it the correct one?

Well, the throw behind the line of scrimmage to Kenyan Drake didn’t work. And the Redskins won. And the Dolphins lost. Which was bad. Or good. Depends on your perspective.

Here are some of the tweets of the moment:

For more

For more about the Dolphins’ loss, which dropped them 0-5 and kept them in prime position for the upcoming NFL draft, check out Craig Davis’ latest column: