Sunday wasn’t a contest which will be remembered. However, it’s one that puts Miami back on the right track.
Luckily for the Dolphins (7-4), their attempt at bouncing back off a loss at Denver meant taking on a winless Jets (0-11) team. Having played in Week 6, both clubs had a feel for each other coming in.
Still, nothing really changed.
Ryan Fitzpatrick was calling the snaps again – the last time he started was against New York – completing 24 of his 39 passes for 257 yards and two touchdowns. The experienced signal-caller had a clean sheet in terms of committing turnovers, so his outing was everything one could ask for.
On the defensive end, it was almost ideal – three sacks, two interceptions. Quarterback Sam Darnold seemed to put a stamp on his regressing career, while halfback Frank Gore had his best game of the season – 74 yards on 18 carries.
Here are 10 takeaways from Miami’s 20-3 victory:
1. Fitzpatrick was great, but Tua’s still the man. Call it whatever you want, but a win over the Jets won’t change the plan coach Brian Flores instituted back in Miami’s bye-week. Rookie Tua Tagovailoa will remain the starter after sitting out for Week 11 due to a thumb injury.
“If he’s healthy, he’s the guy,” Flores said postgame.
Solving the Fitz-Tua argument is simple: The 17-year-pro was good, but not great. Miami totaled 345 yards, had 22 first–downs, and a 5.5 yards per play average. Although it was far from poor, it wasn’t anything that shines above others.
That’s exactly why the Dolphins went with Tagovailoa in the first place. His outing versus the Arizona Cardinals – 122.3 QB rating, two touchdowns, zero interceptions – was a prime example as to why he’s the right move. A poor road performance versus Denver doesn’t change the fact that Tua can take this time to another level offensively.
Fitz’s ceiling is known. In fact, it was showcased Sunday.
2. DeVante Parker continues making his case as WR1. The gifted wideout was reunited with Fitzpatrick and took full advantage. Parker finished the game with eight catches for a season-high 119 yards (14.9 YPC). He moved into eighth place on the Dolphins’ all-time career wide receivers list; an accolade that simply proves the dominance of Parker.
“DeVante is very special with the 50-50 ball and some of those tough catches,” Fitzpatrick said. “For me, as a quarterback, if teams are going to give us the opportunity to do that, I’m going to give DeVante an opportunity to make the play.”
3. Welcome back to the Playoffs. After defeating the Jets, the 7 – 4 Dolphins are back in the AFC wildcard. Miami holds the No. 6 seed after the Indianapolis Colts and Las Vegas Raiders both lost Sunday.
They have an opportunity to keep their position and possibly rise with next week against the Cincinnati Bengals (2-8-1).
4. The trio of Gesicki-Shaheen-Smythe serves well. Somewhat like the Miami Hurricanes – Brevin Jordan, Will Mallory – the Dolphins’ use of their tight ends makes things so much easier. Gesicki helped put six on the board early on, taking advantage of the smaller defender for an easy competition. He finished the game with two catches for 35 yards.
Durham Smythe had the most catches of the triad, garnering three for 19 yards. First-year Dolphin Adam Shaheen had just one catch for seven yards and a touchdown. It’s the second time Miami had two tight ends score in the same game (Week 6).
5. Xavien Howard is just special. Once again, the one-time Pro Bowler had himself an interception, this time on a pass intended to receiver Breshad Perriman. His seventh of the season and in seven games, Howard joined Sam Madison as the only Dolphin to have that many interceptions in multiple seasons.
He now leads the NFL in interceptions, surpassing New England’s J.C. Jackson (6). In simple terms, Howard was himself Sunday, and that was exactly what was needed for a Miami defense that held the Jets to three points in 60 minutes of action.
6. Jason Sanders keeps his streak alive. With his two field goals Sunday (54-yard, 51-yard), Sanders is now 8-for-8 on the season on kicks that are over 50-yards. He’s now nailed 12 from that range in his career, the most all-time from a kicker three years into their career.
Holding the franchise record for consecutive field goals made, Sanders has proven that he’s worthy of a Pro Bowl bid.
7. Nik Needham getting it done. Along with the rest of Miami’s secondary, Needham played a crucial role in locking down on Sam Darnold and the Jets. He finished the game with five tackles (three solo), along with his first interception of the season and third of his career.
Needham took full advantage of a pressured Darnold who simply gambled on a throw on his right side.
He, along with the rest of the group are continuing to improve as the season progresses.
“We’re growing as a unit. Trusting one another and where we’ll be on the field. Sometimes when we don’t make those plays in practice we’ll get on each other’s a–,” Needham said.
8. Miami makes strides to their rush defense. Last week against Denver featured very poor rush defense on Miami’s end, giving up a total of 189 yards and two touchdowns on 33 attempts. That success was enough to kill the game-clock and ultimately seal an upset victory for Melvin Gordon’s Broncos.
Miami made it a priority to make adjustments against New York.
“It’s no secret we were very disappointed in our run defense a week ago and came out and played good fundamental football and got it right this week,” Elandon Roberts said.
The Jets were held to 87 yards on 23 carries, an average of 3.78 yards per carry. Frank Gore did have a season-high 74 rushing yards, but that’s something Miami was comfortable giving up.
9. DeAndre Washington impressive, while other RB’s fumble. The Dolphins continued their attempt to ignite its running attack Sunday, this time with the help of DeAndre Washington. The five-year pro finished with a team-high 49 yards on 14 carries. He added two receptions for 11 yards, doing everything possible to make a good impression in limited playing time.
The majority of Washington’s rushes came in the fourth quarter, as Miami attempted to kill time on the clock. He did a fair job doing so.
As for the rest of the rushing pack, Matt Breida had 8 carries for 36 yards and Patrick Laird one carry for nine yards. Both Breida and Laird fumbled once.
10. Injury report. Rookie wide receiver Malcolm Perry went down with a chest injury on the first play of Sunday’s game. It’s uncertain what his updated status is.