As the exodus of the Miami Dolphins’ offensive line via the medical tent left few able bodies up front, it was clear what was needed.
The Miami defense needed to make some plays to lend a hand and fend off the New England Patriots on Sunday at Hard Rock Stadium.
Cornerback Jalen Ramsey, in his much-anticipated Dolphins debut, delivered as hoped with a key interception late in the first half that kept Miami on course for a 31-17 win and a season sweep of the Patriots.
The first sweep of an AFC East opponent since Mike McDaniel became the Dolphins coach kept Miami in first place in the division at 6-2 going into next week’s showdown with the Kansas City Chiefs in Germany.
Certainly an ideal time to add a six-time Pro Bowl corner going into that matchup.
Ramsey beats recovery forecast by more than a month
With Xavien Holland and Jevon Holland missing Sunday due to injuries, Ramsey’s presence was a big boost to the Dolphins secondary.
Miami’s major offseason acquisition had to wait nearly half the season to show the difference he can make after injuring his left meniscus on the second day of training camp in July. His return to action was at least a month sooner than the most optimistic forecasts for his recovery from surgery.
Ramsey made it back 94 days after what he said was a full repair of his damaged meniscus.
“They told me late December. I wanted to beat that at least by a month,” Ramsey said. “It got to a certain point where I kind of circled this game. …. When I put my mind on certain things I just go all out.”
The veteran, who won a Super Bowl with the L.A. Rams, made it clear that it was a group effort that got him back on the field, praising Dr. John Uribe who performed the surgery as well as the trainers, weight training staff and everyone involved in his rehab.
Ramsey called his interception
But once back on the field, he wasn’t messing around. In fact, he predicted the interception in his first game back.
Patriots quarterback Mac Jones didn’t target Ramsey until late in the half. When he did he probably regretted it.
The Patriots were driving to a potential tying touchdown when he read a sideline route for Kendrick Bourne. Ramsey hung back, then jumped the pass for the interception at the Miami 10 and returned it 49 yards before stepping out of bounds.
“I should have scored. I’ve got to find a way to do that,” he said.
The Dolphins cashed in the turnover for a field goal and a 17-7 lead at the half.
McDaniel joked, “He totally disappointed me. He told me he was gonna come back and have a pick six, not a pick field goal.”
Ramsey inspires Dolphins teammates
Ramsey also forced a fumble on running play, though the Patriots retained possession.
His impact on the team drew effusive praise from his teammates.
“It was awesome to have Jalen out there,” quarterback Tua Tagovailoa said. “It was one of the coolest walk-outs I’ve seen here when he walked out through the smoke. Then he topped it off with an interception. The hype is real when it comes to someone like Jalen Ramsey.”
Ramsey revealed that he suffered the injury while locking up with superstar receiver Tyreek Hill in practice.
Hill called Ramsey “next level. … It’s dope to see him back doing it already, like forcing fumbles and just locking down the whole side. I like that. It’s dope to see it. For him to add that to his story, it’s even better. That makes it even better.”
As usual, the Miami offense did much of the heavy lifting despite more injury setbacks to the O-line, which included right guard Robert Hunt (hamstring) and left tackle Kendall Lamm (abdomen) exiting in the first half.
Lamm, himself filling in for Terron Armstead, returned in the second half. But right tackle Austin Jackson was the only regular in action.
Dolphins offense back on track
Tagovailoa threw touchdown passes to Hill, Cedrick Wilson Jr. and Jaylen Waddle. He finished 30 of 45 for 324 yards, including a 42-yard TD to Hill.
Hill had eight catches for 112 yards, Waddle had seven for 121.
It was a solid bounce-back effort after last week’s 31-17 loss to Philadelphia.
But Ramsey’s interception was one of several keys plays by the defense in one of the most impactful games for Vic Fangio’s unit, which limited New England to 218 total yards and 1-of-9 third-down conversions. They sacked Jones three times.
A fumble by Raheem Mostert on the opening possession of the second half set up New England at the Miami 19. But the defense forced a three-and-out, with Christian Wilkins’ sack on third down making the Patriots settle for a field goal.
Holland, Howard expected back soon for Miami
Safety, DeShon Elliott, subbing for Holland, delivered a jarring hit on DeVante Parker to prevent a pass reception and knocked the former Dolphins receiver out of the game.
Bradley Chubb had a sack on Jones that kept another Patriots possession from gaining traction.
The Dolphins did allow an 81-yard drive that cut their lead to 24-17 midway through the fourth quarter. At that point Tua and the offense put matters to rest with a 75-yard drive that ended with a 31-yard touchdown pass to a totally uncovered Waddle for a 31-yard TD.
Next week in Germany, a duel of explosive offenses is expected with Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs. Hill said he is looking forward to matching up with his former teammates.
But Ramsey’s triumphant return gives hope for slowing down the explosive Kansas City offense. Particularly if Howard and Holland are able to return and finally unite Miami’s vision of a championship caliber secondary.
Here are some key moments throughout the game:
Dolphins forced a three-and-out on opening possession.
Dolphins’ first possession, Tua completed fourth-and-1 to Waddle. But drive stalled in Patriots’ territory. Chase Claypool was targeted for the first time but didn’t connect.
After getting sacked on second down, Tua threw a bad interception to Kyle Dugger giving New England the ball at the Miami 30. Mac Jones threw a 24-yard touchdown pass to Kendrick Bourne over the middle on third down to take a 7-0 lead. Justin Bethel was badly beaten on the play by Bourne.
Dolphins answered with a 42-yard strike to Tyreek Hill. The Cheetah ran past two defenders on the streak. Fins got the running game going on the drive with Jeff Wilson carrying three times for 19 yards. First notable work of the season for Wilson since returning to action.
It was the seventh time the two have connected on a 40+ yard pass this season. Nobody else in the NFL has more than three.
Tagovailoa scrambled on fourth down as the middle opened up to continue Miami’s next drive. They converted another fourth down on a short pass to Hill to the NE 6.
Right guard Robert Hunt went out with a hamstring injury to his left leg as the beleaguered O-line took another hit. The Dolphins are left with only one starting lineman on offense.
Tua threw 1-yard touchdown pass to Cedrick Wilson Jr. after a pass interference all in the end zone kept the drive alive. Dolphins took a 14-7 lead. 14 plays, 53 yards on a drive lasting 7:25. Two fourth-down conversions and a pass interference kept it going.
Jalen Ramsey, in his first game for the Dolphins, halted a NE bid for a score late in the half with an interception.
eturned 49 yards before stepping out of bounds. He jumped a pass intended for Bourne at the Miami 10.
Left tackle Kendall Lamm went out with a abdomen injury. Kion Smith replaced him as injuries pile up for the patchwork I-line.
Waddle made leaping catch at the NE 16. Sanders made a 30-yard field goal with 29 seconds left in the half.
Mostert fumbled on the exchange from Tua, giving NE the ball at the Miami 19.
Christian Wilkins sacked Jones on third down and the Patriots settled for a 38-yard field goal. Both NE scores have come off turnovers.
Waddle dropped a pass, than caught the next one for a 23-yard gain.
Claypool made his first catch as a Dolphin, 15 yards for a first down on the NE 14. The big-body wide receiver broke some tackles after the catch. Mostert scored two plays later from the 1 for a 24-10 Miami lead. Nine plays, 77 yards on the drive.
Sack by Chubb pushed the Patriots back to their 10.
Quarter ends with Dolphins up 24-10.
Patriots put together a 13 play, 81-yard drive with Jones throwing a 3-yard touchdown pass to JuJu Smith-Schuster to cut the Miami lead to 24-17 with 8:30 remaining.
Somehow Waddle found himself uncovered over the middle for a 31-yard clinching touchdown.
Dolphins 31-17 with 2:43 remaining.
Jaelen Phillips added a sack just before the two-minute warning.
Brandon Jones had two near interceptions in the final two minutes. He got leveled on the second one by JuJu Smith-Schuster, prompting a scuffle between the teams. Smith-Schuster was called for an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty on the play.
Craig Davis has covered South Florida sports and teams, including the Dolphins, for four decades. Follow him on the site formerly known as Twitter @CraigDavisRuns.