FOXBOROUGH, MA – The Miami Dolphins marched into New England looking to keep the good times rolling under the lights against a divisional rival. While it wasn’t all sunshine and rainbows, the Dolphins held on and avoided a late surge by the Patriots to win their second straight game by a score of 24-17.
Quarterback Tua Tagovailoa has now improved his record against New England to 5-0 all-time, and the Dolphins continue their recent dominance over the Patriots, winning five out of the last six meetings. Just another chapter in a recent Miami romp of the Boston area that spans all over the sports realm.
Miami’s offense was not perfect, as they took on a defense that gave the Philadelphia Eagles all they could handle the week prior. Still, while the passing game was not on point like it was last week, the running game got a much-needed boost thanks to the work of Raheem Mostert, who ran for 121 yards and two touchdowns.
— Miami Dolphins (@MiamiDolphins) September 19, 2023
Tua still found some success with 249 passing yards and a touchdown of his own.
A lot of people have slept on the Patriots since the beginning of this season because, on paper, they don’t stack well compared to the rest of the AFC, including the Dolphins. But credit has to be given to them.
Despite an 0-2 record, they had opportunities in both games against Miami and Philadelphia to come out on top, but a lackluster offensive line and questionable playcalling left them in the dust.
A Tale of Two Halves
The Dolphins offense came out looking as hot as they did against the Chargers, with 10 straight points on their opening two drives courtesy of a Jason Sanders field goal and an eight-yard rush by Mostert. Thanks to a reliance on the run game, the clock kept flying by and the first quarter was over before you knew it.
After the Pats got their first points on the board, Miami executed a near-perfect two-minute drill in less than a minute and 40 seconds. Eight plays, multiple chunk plays, and a quick pass out to Tyreek Hill in the end zone, and Miami was laughing with a 17-3 lead at halftime.
.@Tua to 🐆 in the end zone? YES. 😎
— Miami Dolphins (@MiamiDolphins) September 18, 2023
It would have been fair to assume that the Dolphins could have rolled away with the win by piling on the points from here on out, but the Patriots defense clamped down and Tua and Miami had a hard time responding. Their first four drives in the second half resulted in a punt, a blocked field goal, another punt, and an interception.
Ultimately, the Fins finally broke through with another touchdown by Mostert – a 43-yard dash to the end zone to give Miami a bit more breathing room. However, on their second-to-last drive with minutes to go, in which any form of points scored could have made it a two-possession lead, a 55-yard field goal by Sanders was missed, wide left, which kept the Pats in the game.
Overall, the Dolphins offense did not adjust to the second-half pressure by New England and Tua himself got sacked multiple times in this game, compared to not getting hit once against Los Angeles. Tyreek couldn’t find separation in the backfield as often as he did against the Bolts, and the woes between Tua and center Connor Williams continued with multiple botched snaps.
Finding New Life on the Ground
While the passing game wasn’t as successful as it was a week prior, Mostert stepped in and had one of his best games as a Dolphin.
Miami’s rushing attack was defined by Mostert’s success. Other running backs including Salvon Ahmed and rookie De’Von Achane barely saw any snaps. Offensive Coordinator Frank Smith and head coach Mike McDaniel obviously felt that Mostert was the better weapon against New England’s defensive line, and he did not disappoint.
.@RMos_8Ball showin' off on SNF 😎
— Miami Dolphins (@MiamiDolphins) September 18, 2023
Aside from the total of 121 yards, Mostert averaged 6.7 yards per carry, with a handful of them coming on first down. This set up the passing game for either quick screens to get another first down in just two plays, or deeper passes that spanned double-digit yards to keep the drive moving and the Patriots’ defense on their toes.
Overall, Miami’s reliance on Mostert was an overwhelmingly positive surprise and a glimpse of what a Dolphins defense with a balanced air and ground attack could look like. It’ll be exciting to see how this evolves over the course of the season, and how they’ll get Ahmed and Achane more involved in the playcalling.
Defense Overcomes Adversity
A big worry leading up to this game was the news that linebacker Jaelan Phillips was out with a back injury suffered in practice in the days leading up to the game. As one of Miami’s backbones in the backfield, it was believed that Mac Jones and the Patriots offense would look to exploit that as hard as possible.
But what they didn’t expect was that Phillips’ replacement, Andrew Van Ginkel, would ball out and have one of HIS best games as a Dolphin, recording six tackles, a sack on Jones, and three hits on the quarterback. He limited New England’s offense to quick passes up the middle because Jones did not have much time in the pocket to formulate big plays.
Ginkel turned out to be the X-factor for the Dolphins defense, which also featured safety Jevon Holland leading all players with 11 tackles, defensive back Xavien Howard saving a potential touchdown with an interception, and four total sacks on Jones.
— NFL (@NFL) September 18, 2023
That being said, the biggest play of the day for Miami’s defense was their final one. With the Patriots going for it on fourth down, former Dolphin Mike Gesicki was tackled short of the line to gain but lateraled the ball back to offensive lineman Cole Strange. He tried to bullrush to the marker, but a sea of white jerseys met him right at the line.
Initially ruled a first down, it was determined by the officials that Strange was brought down inches before the ball could reach the goal line, resulting in a turnover on downs and the win for the Fins. In a game defined by defense, it seemed only fitting that the game was decided by a clutch defensive stop…even if it drew some ire from Patriots fans who felt that Strange crossed the marker.
Final Thoughts on a Revolutionary Ending
If the Chargers game last week felt like an offensive shootout that came down to the wire, this game against New England felt like a war of defense that also happened to come down to the wire.
Miami’s passing game did not look near as good, and a lot of credit has to be given to New England’s defense for limiting Tua and Tyreek. Moving forward, that’s why it pays to have a reliable running game, and Mostert made that very clear.
Defensively, the Dolphins looked great. There were some drives that the Patriots had their way, but ultimately, the Fins only gave up 17 points, which is a fair amount this early on in the season.
I would finally like to see the connection between Williams and Tua improve because these botched snaps are probably the biggest concern for the offense at this point. Defensively, the secondary wasn’t always clicking, but not having Phillips there is a pretty valid excuse.
In any event, a win is a win, and a dub over a divisional rival in their building will always feel good, no matter the outcome.
Miami will FINALLY get to play a game at Hard Rock Stadium on Sunday, September 23rd at 1 p.m. as they host the Denver Broncos.
📸Credit: Miami Dolphins