Here are some of the top takeaways from the Miami Dolphins’ victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers at Hard Rock Stadium:
Starting fast (for a change)
Having a lead at the end of the first quarter is a good thing, something the Dolphins experienced Sunday against Pittsburgh for the second time this season. The Dolphins’ opening-drive touchdown against the Steelers marked the first time they scored a touchdown on their first possession, and also marked the most points they’ve had in a first quarter this season.
The Dolphins’ previous opening possessions resulted in two field goals (New England and Cincinnati), two punts (Buffalo and Minnesota), an interception (vs. Baltimore) and a safety (vs. New York Jets). The Dolphins’ 13-0 first quarter lead marked their highest-scoring first quarter this season and only the second time they’ve ended the first quarter with a lead this season. They led New England (3-0), trailed Baltimore (7-0), Cincinnati (7-3) and the Jets (5-0), and were tied with Buffalo (7-7) and Minnesota (0-0). — Chris Perkins
Secondary can’t stay healthy
The injury bug hit the defensive backs once again as safety Brandon Jones (knee) left the game late in the third quarter with an apparent left leg injury. Cornerbacks Keion Crossen (knee) and Kader Kohou (oblique) were seen on the field going through pregame workouts but both were inactive, meaning the Dolphins were already down a starter (Needham) and a key contributor and part-time starter (Kohou). And you know cornerback Byron Jones (Achilles) has been out all season.
Brandon Jones was replaced by a combination of Verone McKinley and Clayton Fejedelem, the latter making a key third-down stop early in the fourth quarter. The McKinley-Jevon Holland duo reunited a pair that was together at Oregon. Cornerbacks Xavien Howard and Noah Igbinoghene started the game with cornerback Justin Bethel coming on for the nickel (five defensive backs) package. Bethel had an interception in the first quarter.
The Dolphins won the turnover battle, 3-0. That’s worth celebrating. The Dolphins entered the Steelers game at minus-5 for the season, and minus-7 during the past three games. Igbinoghene had the game-winning interception at the Dolphins’ 1-yard line with 18 seconds left. Holland had what appeared to be the game-clinching interception with 2:57 remaining, picking off a Kenny Pickett pass that was intended for Diontae Johnson. Bethel had an interception in the first quarter for the Dolphins’ second interception of the season and first since Holland in the opener against New England.
Brian Flores, the ex-Dolphins coach, appears on field before game
We saw ‘Flo’ keep his Dolphins reunion low key. He briefly chatted with kicker Jason Sanders, dapped up NFL Network reporter Cameron Wolfe, talked to quarterbacks coach Darrell Bevell and did a walk-and-talk with Kim Bokamper, the former Dolphins defensive standout and current sideline reporter. Flores, who also spoke briefly with Igbinoghene, was on the field about two hours before kickoff and still wearing pants and a sports coach.
Pass protection (and no pass rush)
The Dolphins kept Tagovailoa upright with good pass protection, something that hasn’t been a common occurrence. Tagoaviloa wasn’t sacked and was hardly touched. This is big news. The Dolphins allowed eight sacks and 29 quarterback hits the past two games. The return of left tackle Terron Armstead, the team’s best offensive lineman, helped solidify things. Beyond that, however, the rest of the line — left guard Liam Eichenberg, center Connor Williams, right guard Robert Hunt and right tackle Brandon Shell — did well in its 1-on-1 assignments. And let’s not forget running backs Chase Edmonds and Raheem Mostert and tight ends Mike Gesicki, Hunter Long and Durham Smythe.
The Dolphins cleaned up the penalty problem, at least for one game. They had five penalties for 30 yards against Pittsburgh. They had 21 penalties for 199 yards the previous two games. The Dolphins started out poorly with two penalties for 15 yards in the opening five and a half minutes. But they put a lid on things and played a disciplined game.
AFC East is no joke
The division-leading Buffalo Bills had a bye and are still atop the AFC East with a 5-1 record. But the Dolphins won and are now 4-3. The Jets defeated Denver, 16-9, and are now a respectable 5-2 (4-0 on the road), and poised to make a run at a wild-card spot. In a downer for Jets fans, however, running back Breece Hall might have sustained a torn ACL. Still, the AFC East is looking pretty good. New England (3-3) hosts Chicago on Monday Night Football. If the Patriots win every team in the division will have a winning record.
Running game resurfaces
The Dolphins ended up rushing for 111 yards on 27 carries, their second-best total of the season behind the 137 yards against the New York Jets. Raheem Mostert led the way with 79 yards on 16 carries. The Dolphins had 66 yards rushing on 12 carries at halftime. That would have been the fifth-best rushing total for the Dolphins this season, trailing only the 65 yards in the opener against New England and the 41 yards against Buffalo. It would have been just behind the 73 yards against Minnesota. The running game isn’t a finished product. Chase Edmonds couldn’t convert on a fourth-and-3 from the Steelers 14-yard line. But the running game did enough for a victory.
Tua was living dangerously
Pittsburgh dropped at least three potential interceptions with safety Terrell Edmunds having a couple. That means Tagovailoa, who missed the past two games while in concussion protocol, must be living right. Tagovailoa now has nine touchdowns and three interceptions for the season. Tagovailoa ended 21-for-35 passing for 261 yards, one touchdown and no interceptions and a 92.7 passer rating. But keep an eye on those near-interceptions.
Special teams clean things up
Kicker Jason Sanders was 3 for 3 on field goals, and punter Thomas Morstead punted six times for an average of 42.7 yards per punt, including four punts inside the 20-yard line. Beyond that, the Dolphins didn’t make any of the absent-minded special teams plays that have plagued them the past four games. Wide receiver Cedrick Wilson made his debut at punt returner with one return for 1 yard. Even the snapshots of bad things turned out well. When Bethel missed a tackle on a punt return and ended up on the ground on his belly, Morstead ran all the way down the field to pat him on the back and help him to his feet.
Some of Mike McDaniel’s game management in home games has been, um, interesting
At fourth-and-3!!! — from easy field goal range — to take a two-score lead in the second half against a rookie quarterback, McDaniel went for it? And called a Chase Edmonds dive play? Coach McDaniel continued a pattern of inexplicable moments in game management while on the Hard Rock Stadium sideline. In the season opener against the Patriots, with 1:11 left and the Dolphins ahead 20-7 and in field goal range, McDaniel called for a roll left by Tua Tagovailoa, apparently giving the quarterback the option to throw, which the lefty did, throwing across the field incomplete. The coaching on the play had to be simple: Do not throw the ball, and do not go out if bounds. With the Patriots having one timeout left, the play was to run the ball twice — or even kneel twice, leaving a fourth-down play with 25 seconds left in the game and the Pats out of timeouts.
Against the Bills, the Dolphins faced a third-and-11 at their own 1, up 21-17 with the Bills having no timeouts remaining with 1:40 left. Getting a game-clinching first down was no longer in play. The call should have been a dive play. Then, punt with under a minute left. Basic. Instead, the Bills not only got the “Butt Punt” for a safety, but got the ball back with 1:25 left. The defense did an excellent job to prevent a winning field goal attempt after an exceptional Thomas Morstead safety punt, as Buffalo was at Miami’s 41 when time expired. But, with 40 fewer seconds, the Bills would have had no chance.
Then, against the Vikings, McDaniel, down 24-16 went for a two-point conversion with 1:24 left. It was an odd call, especially with a backup quarterback playing and a running game that has sleep-walked through the games at Hard Rock Stadium this season. Additionally, entering Week 6, on two-point conversion tries with 1:24 or less left in games since the beginning of 2021, the NFL had been a horrific 4 for 25 (16.0% success rate). If the Dolphins had gotten the game to overtime 24-24, the momentum and crowd would have been roaring in their favor. Just kick the points in that circumstance. Jevon Holland and Noah Igbinoghene bailed him out on Sunday night, but, really, a weird pattern. — Steve Svekis
The penalties are vastly different, depending on whether Terron Armstead is out there
It is probably no huge shock that the Dolphins becoming a flag-infested mess coincided with Terron Armstead missing game time with his painful toe injury. Before the play where Armstead exited in the first quarter of the Jets game on Oct. 9, the Dolphins were averaging 5.82 penalties per 60 minutes average penalties per game with 35.2 yards with those flags. Afterward? The dirty-laundry hindrance has flown up to 10.13 penalties per, with almost triple digits in yards (99.2). So, with him back, how did it shake out? The Dolphins had five on Sunday night.
Finally, the interception drought ended!
The amount of playing time since the Dolphins’ first interception of the season, 5:08 into the season opener against the New England Patriots stretched to 365 minutes and 13 seconds before Justin Bethel hauled in a Kenny Pickett overthrow down the left sideline as Chase Claypool clipped feet with Bethel and fell. It was the longest such dry stretch without a pick in a single season since the 386:19 in 2011. And, then, Jevon Holland and Noah Igbinoghene had huge interceptions in the final minutes.
Tyreek Hill’s production — no matter the quarterback — has been amazing
After his 72 yards against the Steelers, Hill has (773) yards through seven games, on pace for 1,877 for the 17-game season, enough to crush the Dolphins season receiving-yardage record of 1,389, set by Mark Clayton with Dan Marino throwing him darts in a record-breaking, 16-game 1984. On top of the receiving yards, Hill has also drawn 100 yards in penalties. On a per-60-minutes basis and including penalty yardage, Hill has averaged 204.5 yards per game with Teddy Bridgewater, 106.3 with Tua Tagovailoa and 97.7 with Skylar Thompson. Amazing start to his season.
What were the zebras thinking?
The officials blew a huge call on a pass that could have buried the Steelers 10-0. Tua Tagovailoa hit tight end Mike Gesicki at the sternum in the end zone. However the Steelers defensive back, pulled down one of Gesicki’s hands before the arrival of the ball. Should have been a PI and a first-and-goal at the 1.
If the Bears lose tomorrow, we will have history in the AFC East
The last time the AFC East had all of its teams with winning records through the NFL’s Week 7 was … Never. And, if the Patriots top the Bears on Monday night, that history would be made, with the Buffalo Bills at 5-1, the New York Jets at 5-2, the Dolphins and Patriots at 4-3.
The dropped-interception pixie dust that Tua Tagovailoa had in 2020 is — luckily — back this season
That rookie year, Tagovailoa had nine passes — in only 290 throws, mind you — that hit the hands of defenders, only to be dropped. Four times against the Steelers on Sunday night, Tagovailoa threw passes that hit a Steeler defender in both of his hands but ended up as incomplete passes. This is on the heels of a dropped game-turning pick-six by the Bills’ Matt Milano on Sept. 25, and previously a fourth-quarter throw that was similarly dropped by the Patriots in the opener. Also, the Ravens, when up 35-21, couldn’t get a handle on what would have been a rally-killing tip-ball pick, on a pass Tagovailoa placed right into the hands of intended receiver Jaylen Waddle.
A vast difference in the level of pressure applied on the defense by the teams’ passing games wasn’t as evident Sunday night
Entering Week 7, the Dolphins had the NFL’s third-most yards gained via pass interference, defensive holding and illegal contact with 129 (119 yards in four pass interferences, and five each with a holding and a contact). The team in the No. 1 position was Denver at 161 yards, with 151 coming on, but the Raiders, with only four games played, had 140 yards for a whopping 35 yards a game, ahead of the Broncos’ 32.2 a game. At the other end of the spectrum? Sunday’s opponent, the Steelers had been the beneficiaries of a mere 14 yards, entered Week 7 in the No. 32 position. The Steelers did exceed their weekly average when Noah Ibinoghene was called for illegal contact in the fourth quarter, while the Dolphins receivers drew no such penalties.
Finally, the Dolphins fans saw the Raheem Mostert production from this year’s road games
In the Dolphins’ three road games, Mostert had churned out 282 total yards, while, in the trio at Hard Rock Stadium, he had been limited to 91 total yards. On Sunday night, Mostert logged 109 total yards and the lone Dolphins touchdown.
Was releasing Sony Michel a mistake?
One of the understated reasons the Los Angeles Chargers edged the Denver Broncos on Monday night were the three third-and-1 carries by Michel that each resulted in first downs. Michel salvaged a game that could have been a short-yardage disaster for the Chargers, who were 1 for 4 in their other yard-to-go plays on third and fourth down. Michel pushed the Chargers into a tie for the NFL lead with Tampa Bay (who had three in Week 6) with 16 such conversions. When it comes to conversion percentage, the New Orleans Saints led the NFL with nine conversions in nine tries, the league’s only perfect team in the category. The Dolphins rank tied for 11th with nine conversions, but they have come in 17 tries, and Miami’s .529 success percentage ranks 25th in the NFL. The teams with the fewest were the Texans (4 of 11) and the Bears (4 of 7), and Houston’s .364 conversion percentage is also the league’s worst. The Steelers improved to 8 for 9 in their tries in the first half against the Dolphins.
On deck: At Detroit Lions, Ford Field, Sunday, 1 p.m.
The Lions who fell to 1-5 with Sunday’s loss to the Dallas Cowboys have easily the worst defense the Dolphins have faced this season. Combined with the Dolphins playing the game in Michigan indoors, the conditions will be ripe for the Dolphins to pile up the passing yards and points. … The Dolphins have won all three of Tua Tagovailoa’s starts at an indoor stadium, which Ford Field is.