Sunday was a rare occasion for the Miami Dolphins this season: They were a substantial favorite and they did what favorites are supposed to do.
The Dolphins put together a workmanlike 20-9 win against the New York Giants in Miami Gardens for a fifth straight win.
After an abysmal start to their season, the Dolphins go into their bye week riding the NFL’s longest winning streak and will have a chance to reach .500 on Dec. 19 when they host the New York Jets.
Here are eight more thoughts from another win at Hard Rock Stadium:
1. Miami gets to the bye week alive. It became clear early the priority for the Dolphins (6-7) on Sunday was going to be simply survive and advance, and get to the bye week with a chance — however slim — of continuing their unlikely run to the playoffs.
Miami entered the weekend with a 9-percent chance to make the 2022 NFL playoffs, according to FiveThirtyEight. The win against the Giants (4-8) boosts the Dolphins chances up to 12 percent.
Next up is the bye and then a meeting with the Jets, another of the NFL’s worst teams. Miami can get to .500 by Christmas, which would give the Dolphins about a 14-percent chance to make the playoffs, depending on other results.
2. The rest of the schedule for the Dolphins is manageable. Road games against the New Orleans Saints and Tennessee Titans, and then a home game against the New England Patriots close out the year. Miami might not be worse than a three-point underdog in any of the three.
3. The Dolphins have to play better than this, though. Miami managed just 298 total yards on 4.4 yards per play against one of the worst teams in the league. It’s not going to cut it when the schedule gets tougher again after Christmas.
At halftime, Tua Tagovailoa only had one completion for more than 12 yards. Even as he finished 30 of 41 for 244 yards and two touchdowns, the quarterback only completed one pass for at least 20 yards.
At one point in the middle of the game, the Dolphins went three-and-out on 4 of 6 drives, and they were stuck at 183 yards and 10 points at the start of the fourth quarter.
4. Still, this identity might just work. Tagovailoa doesn’t have to be much more than this. He has a clear set of strengths and Miami has built the team around it.
As a passer, he’s devastatingly accurate and he topped 70 percent for the third straight game to avoid any devastating moments, and keep the clock chugging. He also converted both of the Dolphins’ red-zone trips into touchdowns, and went 7 of 9 for 87 yards and a touchdown in the fourth quarter to seal the win.
As a game manager, it just might work. Miami is 6-0 when allowing fewer than 20 points and hasn’t allowed 20 points in a game since Halloween.
This current Dolphins roster is built to win with defense and Tagovailoa’s commitment to the conservative actually fits in quite well, especially since Miami doesn’t have the run game a defensive-minded team would usually want. There have even been signs of explosiveness during the winning streak, even if it wasn’t there Sunday.
tua to mack hollins for the touchdown. pic.twitter.com/RodJbONpfB
— josh houtz (@houtz) December 5, 2021
5. Jaylen Waddle fits in perfectly, too. If it wasn’t for this Dolphins identity, would Waddle already have set the franchise’s rookie receptions record?
The star wide receiver caught nine passes for 90 yards Sunday and now has 86 catches this season. He came to the NFL with a reputation as one of the most explosive wideouts in college football and Miami turned him into a possession receiver almost out of necessity, as he has become Tagovailoa’s security blanket and a first-down machine.
Whenever the Dolphins’ offense does tap into its explosiveness, Waddle is usually in the middle of it, too. His 25-yard catch in the fourth quarter was Miami’s only play longer than 20 yards Sunday. Right now, there’s no one more important to this offense than Waddle.
6. DeVante Parker gives him a running mate. The wide receiver, who missed the last four games with a hamstring injury, made multiple sideline catches, including a spectacular toe-tapping grab for a third-down conversion while the Dolphins tried to run out the clock in the fourth quarter.
As good as Waddle and tight end Mike Gesicki are, they do most of their work in the middle of the field. Parker is the only reliable sideline deep threat Miami has right now and will help this offense play better down the stretch.
7. The defense is still the Dolphins’ hope. Frankly, this offense isn’t going to become elite at any point this season. If Miami is going to squeak into the playoffs, it’ll be because of its defense.
Sure, it was playing against Giants backup quarterback Mike Glennon on Sunday, but the Dolphins defense put together another gem, holding the Giants to 250 total yards with an interception and three sacks. Miami hasn’t allowed a 300-yard passer since October and has held four of its last five opponents to less than 300 total yards.
8. Xavien Howard delivers the first blow. It’s hard to know what’s cause and what’s effect, but the Dolphins’ defensive play — and, with it, their season — has turned around as Howard’s season has.
On this winning streak, Howard has two interceptions, three passes defended and one strip-and-score.
The return to a blitz-happy identity is tormenting opposing quarterbacks and, in some ways, Howard is the beneficiary of it, yet he also helps make it possible by allowing the Dolphins to blitz their safeties as much as they want. On Sunday, Howard grabbed his fourth interception of the season when Glennon tried a deep shot and Howard hawked the ball away from Giants wide receiver Darius Slayton to kill a possession in the middle of a defensive struggle.
9. Jaelan Phillips delivers the killing blow. Miami has found its badly needed front-seven star to complement Howard during this winning streak.
Phillips had sacks on back-to-back plays at the end of the third to force the Giants to put and set up the Dolphins for a touchdown to go up 17-6. The linebacker is now up to 8 1/2 sacks this season with at least a half sack in each of the last five games.
10. Does the bye week come at the perfect time? The case against it: Miami is red hot and would like to keep it rolling.
The case for it might be more compelling, though: The Dolphins are so reliant on rookies, most of whom have never played more than 13 games in a season. Waddle, Phillips, safety Jevon Holland and tackle Liam Eichenberg all get a chance to recharge in time for the stretch run.
A playoff push awaits.