It wasn’t always pretty. The Dolphins don’t care. The best pass of the day, for either side, might have been thrown by punter Matt Haak. The Dolphins don’t care.
Their playoff march moves on while the Patriots playoff streak ends.
Dolphins 22, Patriots 12.
Here are 10 thoughts on the game:
1. Stat of the Game I: The Dolphins ran 40 times for 250 yards. It was a season high on both counts. It was the first time Salvon Ahmed ran 23 times for 122 yards. Matt Breida had 12 carries for 86 yards. In a season about development, the offensive line had seemed lagging in that department. So here’s a game that might get circled. With limited receivers healthy, they bullied the bullies. The key drive was at the end end. New England just kicked a field goal to pull within 15-12. The Dolphins got the ball with more than nine minutes left. The idea was to run the ball and run down the clock. Well, the Dolphins had a 10-play, 74-yard drive for a touchdown and that took 5:50 off the clock. It made it two-score game with 3:17 left. Mission accomplished. The Patriots entered the day ranked 22nd against the rush so this was a place to attack, especially with the Dolphins limited in receivers. (One note: Rookie guard Solomon Kindley was taken off the field with an apparent leg injury.)
2. Playoff update: The Dolphins are in if they win out. Meaning if they beat a Vegas team that’s lost four of its past five and a Buffalo team that clinched the AFC East and might not be playing for anything in the finale (with a one-week break before the playoffs). In other words, winning out seems a very possible idea. As far as other teams in the playoff running:
* Indianapolis (10-4) beat Houston (the good news is the draft pick)
* Baltimore (9-5) beat Jacksonville.
* Cleveland (9-5) plays the New York Giants on Sunday night.
3. Stat of the Game II: 25-6. That’s now Bill Belichick’s record against rookie quarterbacks in his career. Yes, this was a limited Dolphins offense with Devante Parker, MIke Gesicki and Jakeen Grant out injured. Tua had a chance in the first quarter before a mistake that led to a goal-line interceptions (see below). Belichick kept changing the day on Tua: From dropping eight back to blitzing constantly. Anything to keep him mentally uncomfortable. But the Dolphins didn’t ride Tua. They rode defense and ....
4. The Dolphins defense had three sacks, a turnover, gave up 12 points and had to make Dolphins fans enjoy watching Belichick having to deal with awful quarterback play. And Cam Newton is awful. He can’t throw more than 10 yards. Newton completed 17 of 27 passes for 209 yards and no touchdowns. He had a miniscule 4.4-yard per attempt average in the first half (finishing 7.7). His decision-making was as suspect as his throws. James White, a favorite out of the backfield for Tom Brady, had one catch for 21 yards. How does it feel not to have a quarterback? Well, the Patriots were officially booted out of the playoff race for the first time since 2008 (when Brady was hurt).
5. You’ve seen Dolphins coaches get high marks for a disciplined and opportunistic team. The creativity counts, too. It’s rare you see new twists to common plays. In the first half, Tagovailoa went in shotgun formation. Malcolm Perry came in motion and ... stopped under center. Quick snap. Perry sneak. First down. (Alabama evidently used the play against Florida on Saturday - so the word is out). Then, on the 2-point conversion attempt, Tua threw down the line to Isaiah Ford, who was out to the left. Ford caught the ball and lateraled to Bowden, who was coming behind him and ran with the ball into the end zone. And then ...
5. OK, that Haack pass. On fourth down, the fake punt had him throwing 14 yards to Grugier-Hill for a first down at he New England 30-yard line. On a day the offense is doing nothing, that’s a play that can swing a day. Tweet! Grugier-Hill didn’t report as an eligible receiver and thus was flagged for being an ineligible receiver downfield. It was the second time in three weeks a great special-teams fake has been negated by players not reporting. Two weeks ago, Sanders ran in a fake field goal but Christian Wilkins didn’t report. Give special-teams coach Danny Crossman big credit for drawing up these plays ... but evidently a particular message isn’t getting across. It was the hook-and-lateral at the goal-line.
6. Xavien Howard didn’t get his 10th interception of the year. He also returned a fumble for a touchdown that was called back (the ball hit Christian Wilkins while he was out of bounds). Howard, though, made his impact felt. When Newton completed his first medium/long pass to Jakobi Meyers for 20 yards. Howard immediately punched it out and the Dolphins recovered at the Patriots’ 47-yard line. As it turned out, the offense couldn’t do anything with it from there. But put it in the portfolio for Defensive Player of the Year.
7. Houston lost to the Colts, meaning they fell to 4-10, meaning the Dolphins draft pick (courtesy of the Laremy Tunsil trade) could be moving up. It entered Sunday at a seventh pick in the draft. Houston ends with games against Cincinnati and Tennessee.
9. For a while, it looked like the opening drive would cost the Dolphins. As it was, it got folded into showing what was coming this game. Fiffteen plays, 95 yards, nine minutes, 11 seconds - zero points. Well, that’s at least the drive that told much of the story of two offenses that had trouble scoring. For the first 14 plays of this first-quarter drive, Tua completed all six passes to four receivers for 51 yards. Ahmed had five carries for 27 yards. Matt Breida had three carries for 17 yards. It was flawless in an offense that’s a bunch of singles hitters. And then the 15th play at the Patriots 2-yard line. Tua had a chance to run in the ball.He stepped up in the pocket and got him from behind by Chase Winovich as he threw. The ball went right to Patriots cornerback JC Jackson for the interception. Former Dolphins GM Randy Mueller tweeted: “That’s one thing that botthers me about Tua. In a crowded pocket he is small and gets ostled easy - he’s not the same.”
10. Next week: Dolphins at Las Vegas. What looked to a be a tough closing schedule a month ago has lightened up in good part because Vegas has lost four of its past five games. It lost its quarterback, Derek Carr, with a groin injury in the most recent loss to the Los Angeles Chargers, too. Marcus Mariota looks to start, meaning the game will get big ratings in Hawaii with both quarterbacks from the island state.