The Dolphins offense as of late has been defined by its efficiency and ability to execute late-game drives.
While the efficiency wasn’t there for much of Sunday’s game against the New York Giants, quarterback Tua Tagovailoa completed a pair of big third-down throws late in a 20-9 win, the Dolphins’ fifth consecutive victory.
The win puts the Dolphins at 6-7 as they enter their Week 14 bye before a home game against the New York Jets (4-8) with an opportunity to get back to .500 for the first time since Week 2. More importantly, it’s another chance to creep further into the AFC playoff picture, where the team sits 11/2 games back of the seventh seed.
“It’s a love and hate,” linebacker Jerome Baker said of the upcoming bye week. “We’re winning, but we definitely need that week off, yeah. Me personally, I would rather just keep going because we’re hot right now, so at the end of the day we’re professionals, so you have to take the week off and come back and get ready to work.”
Holding a 17-6 lead late, a 51-yard missed field goal by Jason Sanders, his sixth miss of the season, gave the Giants (4-8) life with under nine minutes remaining. A 51-yard field goal by kicker Graham Gano made it a one-score game, 17-9, with under five minutes left.
However, Tagovailoa found wide receiver DeVante Parker, making his return after a four-game absence, on a 16-yard back-shoulder fade on third down. Three plays later, Tagovailoa connected with tight end Mike Gesicki crossing over the middle of the field for another third-down completion. Sanders made a 48-yard field goal to give the Dolphins a two-possession lead with 1:11 left.
“We emphasize a lot of our situational deals throughout practice,” said Tagovailoa, who finished 30-of-41 with 244 yards and two touchdowns. “Whether it’s four-minute, two-minute situations, but there’s a lot of situations that go on in the game having to do with trying to manage the clock whether it’s an end of game or end of half situation.”
It was somewhat of a redeeming possession for the Dolphins offense, which generated two touchdown drives but otherwise finished with under 21 points for the eighth time this season. It was enough, though, with a defensive effort that held a handicapped Giants offense to a season-low nine points. The Dolphins improved to 6-0 this season when the defense allows 17 points or fewer.
“I’m glad we won, but I think there’s a lot of things that we left out there on the field,” said Tagovailoa, who spoke with a measured tone postgame. “A lot of plays that we wish we could have back, but then again, it falls down to the execution of us. It starts with me in the center, and then it being communicated out there. I think we did a pretty good job protecting the ball today though.”
Wide receiver Jaylen Waddle caught nine passes for 90 yards and set the franchise rookie record for receptions, surpassing Jarvis Landry’s 84-catch season in 2014. But afterward, he joked Tagovailoa was “mad at me” for a drop, one of multiple that bogged down drives in a 297-yard performance, the sixth time the offense finished a game with under 300 yards.
It was an effort best described as just good enough for the Dolphins offense, which has been the case at times this season. Through three quarters, the offense had totaled just 183 yards. The Dolphins held a 10-3 lead after two quarters; a 14-play, 89-yard drive that ended with a 5-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Mack Hollins gave the team a slight lead at halftime.
But the Dolphins offense continued to be stuck in neutral for much of the second half. There were more punts (3) than first downs (1) in the third quarter but the team held on to a 10-6 lead heading into the fourth quarter.
The Dolphins extended the lead to 17-6 early in the fourth quarter with a 2-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Isaiah Ford. In a game that included a combined 12 punts, an 11-point lead late proved to be insurmountable for New York.
The Dolphins defense, facing a Giants offense without starting quarterback Daniel Jones and top receivers Kadarius Toney and Sterling Shepard, held New York to 250 total yards and 0-for-1 in the red zone, while the Dolphins offense went 2-for-2 in the red zone. Running back Saquon Barkley, one of few impact players on the field for the Giants, totaled 74 yards on 17 touches.
A first-quarter interception by cornerback Xavien Howard stymied the Giants’ second drive of the game and a pair of sacks from rookie linebacker Jaelan Phillips, who also set a franchise rookie record with 81/2 sacks, single-handily stopped another with consecutive take-downs on a third-quarter drive. The Dolphins offense may have only converted six of 15 third downs but the Giants weren’t far behind, successful on six of their 16 tries.
“They keep the pressure off of us, if you will, offensively,” Tagovailoa said of the defense, “but we want to go down and punch the ball into the end zone, and we got to find better ways to do that. Can’t go three-and-outs to start the second half.”
An hour before the Dolphins embarked on their fifth consecutive victory, tied for the longest streak under coach Brian Flores, the College Football Playoff Selection Committee released its top-four seeds. Unlike college football, the NFL doesn’t reward extra points for quality wins, only wins.
So while some of the Dolphins’ recent victories haven’t had the most aesthetically-pleasing look to them, they count all the same for a team nearing a turnaround from a 1-7 start.
“Guys are obviously banged up obviously after 13 games,” Flores said. “Take a little break, and we’ll obviously self-scout and reassess and try to take a little break. I think we need that.”