A pair of late interceptions clinched the Miami Dolphins win over the Pittsburgh Steelers in a low-scoring, defensive battle on Sunday.
There were many storylines surrounding this primetime matchup, including Tua Tagovailoa’s highly anticipated return after missing the last three games due to injury. Miami was also celebrating the 50th anniversary of the “Perfect Season,” when the Dolphins became the only team to go 17-0 and win the Super Bowl. Finally, former Dolphins’ coach Brian Flores and safety Minkah Fitzpatrick were returning to Miami for the first time since joining the Steelers.
Miami ultimately willed its way to a win, snapping a three-game losing streak in the process. The Dolphins improved to 4-3 on the season and remain undefeated in games that Tagovailoa finishes.
Here are three takeaways from Sunday’s win:
The Dolphins are a different team with Tua running the offense
The hype for Sunday’s game built up immensely when it was announced Tagovailoa would return to play Pittsburgh after suffering a brutal concussion in Week 4. The Dolphins’ franchise quarterback was looking to get back to the MVP-like form he showed in the first three weeks of the season.
Tagovailoa’s return was not picture-perfect, but the third-year man showed leadership and poise even though he didn’t put up eye-popping numbers. The former Alabama star finished the game completing 21 of his 35 passes for 261 yards and a touchdown. Additionally, Tagovialoa rushed the ball four times for 15 yards and did not shy away from contact despite the recent injuries.
The Dolphins started the game by scoring on their first three possessions but significantly slowed down their production as the first half continued. The team would go on to kick another field goal before halftime but would fail to score again after this.
Sixteen points is not an ideal total, but getting the win in a gritty game after losing three straight should get the Dolphins back on track.
Mike McDaniel received positive contributions from his star receiver duo of Jaylen Waddle and Tyreek Hill, who finished the game with four receptions for 88 yards and seven receptions for 72 yards, respectively. Additionally, Raheem Mostert bounced back after a subpar performance last week with 16 carries for 79 yards and a receiving touchdown on the opening drive.
It will be interesting to see if the offensive chemistry can return to the point we saw at the beginning of the season. At this point, the offense has had to adjust to playing with three different quarterbacks due to the injuries the team has faced this year. With Tagovailoa back healthy and playing with the starters again, fans should expect a better performance next week against the Detroit Lions.
Miami’s defense is legit
The Dolphins’ defense has already had multiple statement performances this season, however, this game may trump them all. Miami’s offensive struggles, particularly in the second half, oftentimes would have been enough to lose a close game like this. Luckily, Jevon Holland and company did not allow this to happen.
Despite losing three straight games, Miami’s defense has played well — never mind the final results. This week, the defense took matters into their own hands as the offense struggled in the second half.
The defense would ultimately finish with three turnovers, two coming in key moments during the 4th quarter. The Dolphins’ secondary was all over rookie quarterback Kenny Pickett, who was constantly being pressured and forced to make some tough throws. Jaelan Phillips was a catalyst for the relentless Miami pass rush as he finished the game with four tackles four assists and 1.5 sacks.
Miami was also dominant in stopping the run, holding second-year running back Najee Harris to just 3.8 yards per carry on 17 attempts.
The three interceptions came from Holland, Justin Bethel and Noah Igbinoghene – whose acrobatic takeaway with under 20 seconds remaining sealed the victory.
Although all-pro cornerback Xavien Howard did not join the fun with an interception of his own, he played one of his best games this season by shutting down any receiver the Steelers put in front of him.
Miami’s defense did have some poor possessions, but making big plays was ultimately the deciding factor. The unit should feel confident heading into next week’s battle after allowing just 10 points in Sunday’s victory.
Mike McDaniel is still learning how to manage a game
One of the low points of Sunday’s win was some of the decision-making by first-time head coach McDaniel.
McDaniel has been impressive in his first stint as a head coach, but not perfect by any means. The former offensive coordinator made a critical error following Holland’s interception late in the fourth quarter. At this point, the Steelers’ defense had imposed its will on Miami and forced the Dolphins to punt on four straight possessions.
With just under three minutes left in the game, and Pittsburgh sitting on only two timeouts, Miami could have very easily milked the clock and not allowed for a late comeback. McDaniel elected to run the ball on first and second down, forcing the Steelers to burn their last two timeouts to stop the clock.
The Dolphins were faced with a 3rd and 3 with 2:41 left. A first down would keep the clock running and essentially end the game. McDaniel made the mistake of calling a passing play that was nearly intercepted, but even so, the clock had now stopped and Miami was forced to punt the ball back for one last Steelers possession.
Luckily for McDaniel, Igbinoghene’s interception stopped Pittsburgh’s last-ditch effort to steal the game. Had the Steelers gone on to score and win the game, the mood around the team and McDaniel would be much different right now. Thankfully, McDaniel learned his lesson in a win and hopefully will not make a similar mistake again.
The Dolphins will look to build off Sunday’s win as they prepare to take on the Lions next Sunday, Oct. 30 at 1 p.m.
Detroit has struggled this season, currently sitting at the bottom of the league with a 1-5 record. To make matters worse, Detriot was embarrassed this past weekend with a 24-6 loss to the Dallas Cowboys. Veteran quarterback Jared Goff has struggled since being traded from the Los Angeles Rams and threw two interceptions last week.
Miami’s defense could be in for another big week, but should not take this game lightly. Despite the Lions’ recent struggles, they did manage to put up 45 points in a loss earlier this season.
The Dolphins will travel to Ford Field in Detriot and the game will be broadcast on CBS4 in South Florida.