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20 things we learned in Miami Dolphins’ 33-24 win over New England Patriots

The Miami Dolphins aren’t advancing to the playoffs, but at least the team won’t have a sour taste in their mouth for the entire offseason.

The Dolphins’ 33-24 victory over the New England Patriots, which produced the first series sweep of the Patriots in 20 years, allowed Miami to finish the 2021 season with a 9-8 record.

That’s right, the same Dolphins team that began 1-7 won eight of the season’s final nine games and ended the season as winners.

Here are some more takeaways from the season finale against the Patriots.

Dolphins deliver back-to-back winning seasons

Miami’s season-ending win over the Patriots provided the Dolphins the franchise’s first back-to-back winning seasons since 2002-03, when a Dave Wannstedt-led Dolphins team finished 9-7 in 2002 and followed it up with a 10-6 season in 2003. What does this mean for the Dolphins? Hard to say outside of the fact Brian Flores coached a resilient team, which started out the year 1-7 and rebounded by winning eight of its final nine games. But who knows where this leads considering Wannstedt’s team then went 4-12 the next season, and he was fired at midseason. — Omar Kelly

First sweep of Patriots in 20 years

It had been 20 years since the Dolphins swept the Patriots. But since the departure of Tom Brady these Patriots don’t seem so scary. In fact, the Dolphins have won three straight, including this season’s series sweep. And coincidentally, or not, Tua Tagovailoa owns a 3-0 record against New England in his two seasons of games against the Patriots. Tagovailoa didn’t have impressive stats Sunday (109 passing yards and one touchdown), but his first down run late in the fourth quarter in the game’s final two minutes sealed the win.

Jaylen Waddle sets NFL rookie record

Waddle set the NFL rookie record for receptions with a 7-yard touchdown catch from Tagovailoa. Waddle, who finished the season with 104 receptions for 1,015 yards also became the 11th Dolphins player to pull down 1,000 yards in a season. He’s the second Dolphins receiver with 100 or more receptions in a season, joining Jarvis Landry, who achieved that feat twice. Waddle tied Myles Gaskin for the team lead with seven touchdowns.

Duke Johnson delivers another 100-yard rushing game

Johnson delivered his second 100-yard rushing performance for the Dolphins in his fifth game with the team since being added around midseason and called up from the practice squad three weeks ago. Johnson, who finished the game with 117 rushing yards and a touchdown on 25 carries, has been quite a pleasant surprise for Miami. The Dolphins need to seriously consider re-signing him this offseason because he was the only player who made the run game salvageable this season.

Mike Gesicki shines in unique role

Gesicki pulled down two passes for 22 yards, which allowed him to finish the season second on the team with 73 receptions for 780 yards. Gesicki exceeded all his career highs exception touchdowns in his unique role in Miami’s offense, where he’s worked more as a receiver than he has a tight end. Now the Dolphins have a tough decision to make on Gesicki this offseason considering he’ll become an unrestricted free agent if a deal doesn’t get done between now and the start of free agency in March.

Xavien Howard produces second defensive score

Xavien Howard pulled down his fifth interception of the season, and returned it for his second touchdown of the year in the first quarter. Howard’s 27 interceptions since he entered the league in 2016 are the most in the NFL in that span. It was the second pick-six of Howard’s career. He also had one on Dec. 3, 2017 vs. Denver.

Trent Brown should be on Miami’s shopping list

Dolphins should be taking a long and hard look at Patriots right tackle Brown, who will become an unrestricted free agent when the Pats’ season is over. The 6-foot-7, 380-pound offensive lineman is an eclipse on the football field, and would be the ideal addition to protect Tua Tagovailoa’s blindside. The 28-year-old had the potential to earn $9 million this season if he hit a weight clause in his deal. New England lowered his salary by $6 million when they acquired him from the Raiders last offseason, but Brown shortened his deal by one year so he can hit free agency this coming offseason.

Undrafted rookie starts first NFL game

The season finale is an odd time to pull the plug on Jesse Davis, who had been struggling as the Dolphins’ starting right tackle most of the season. But that’s exactly what the Dolphins did when they started Robert Jones, an undrafted rookie from Middle Tennessee State. Jones is a player they’ve had a high opinion of since coaching him at the Senior Bowl last year. Jones missed the fourth quarter because of an injury and Davis finished out the game.

Max protection at end of half

If there was ever more evidence that the entire offensive line needs to be rebuilt, it was the final play of the first half. With 11 seconds left on the game clock the Dolphins decided to max protect on third-and-1 from New England’s 44-yard line. As a result, the Dolphins sent three receivers out to be covered by six defenders and Tagovailoa ended up gaining 1-yard on a scramble. It was a horrible way to botch a scoring opportunity, but the Dolphins had taken so many bad sacks in those situations I’m certain offensive coordinator George Godsey was trying to prevent a disastrous play.

Christian Wilkins leads NFL D-linemen in tackles

Christian Wilkins finished Sunday’s game against New England with seven tackles, which allowed him to finish the season as the NFL’s leading tackler for a defensive lineman. He came into the game trailing Pittsburgh’s Cameron Heyward, who finished the season with 89 earlier in the day, and contributed his seven tackles and one sack. Wilkins’ breakout year, which included 4.5 sacks, virtually ensures that the Dolphins will be picking up the fifth-year option on his contract this May, which will guarantee him $10 million in 2023.

What can be done to make Tua Tagovailoa an impact quarterback after the first series of a game?

The numbers read like a misprint. In the 12 starts that Tua Tagovailoa made this season, his passer rating was a first-team All-Pro-level 115.2 (47 of 56 for 412 yards, three touchdown passes and no interceptions) on Miami’s first drives. But, after that, it was like his carriage turned into a pumpkin, as his passer rating for the rest of his season plummeted to a well-below NFL average 87.5 (216 of 322 for 2,241 yards, 13 touchdown passes and all 10 of his interceptions). — Steve Svekis

It had been 20 years since Dolphins had a half-dozen non-offensive touchdowns

Sam Eguavoen’s season-ending fumble-recovery touchdown marked the sixth touchdown scored by the defense or special teams. The last time the Dolphins piled up that many was in 2001 when Dave Wannstedt’s crew piled up seven of them. This year, Xavien Howard scored twice and Elandon Roberts, Justin Coleman, Nik Needham and Eguavoen tacked on one house call each.

Can Dolphins’ run game play against Bill Belichick at home EVERY week?

For the second year in a row, Miami rumbled to its best running performance of the season against the New England Patriots at Hard Rock Stadium. In 2020, the Dolphins, seemingly out of nowhere, ran on the Pats at HRS for their highest output of the season (250) 27% higher than New England’s previous worst number for the year (197), and 187% more than Miami’s output vs. NE in the 2020 opener (87). The Pats entered that game allowing 1,612 run yards on 366 carries for a 4.40 per-carry average. This year? Miami, led by Duke Johnson’s 117 yards, tore through the Patriots for an also-season-best 195 yards. The Patriots’ run defense isn’t as good as it was last year, allowing 2,103 rushing yards on 464 carries for 4.53 yards a carry, but anytime you pound a Belichick defense is a good day.

Tagovailoa staggered his snap count to great benefit

Tua showed a wonderful wrinkle in the offense’s two touchdown drives. As a likely product of his youth, one thing that has jumped out on Tua’s video is the snap coming to him immediately on first “hut” without fail. The Patriots looked like they had picked up on that when the Dolphins quarterback, on Miami’s first possession, called hut, and the snap didn’t some up immediately. Patriots defensive tackle Carl Davis Jr. crashed across the line for a rare encroachment flag by a Miami opponent this year, keeping that touchdown drive oiled. Then, late in the third quarter, Tua executed it again, drawing Deatrich Wise.

How are Dolphins going to make Jaylen Waddle more of a threat?

Miami spent two first-round picks to move up from the 12th pick to the sixth to select Alabama wide receiver Jaylen Waddle. Waddle did set an NFL rookie record with 104 catches. But buried underneath that distinction is that Waddle often caught passes as elongated handoffs. Against the Patriots on his five receptions, Waddle averaged catching the Tagovailoa pass a mere 1.6 yards beyond the line of scrimmage. After the catches he averaged 3.8 yards of gain, another bad number. Entering the final week of the season (before those Patriots stats were added), Waddle ranked 91st in the NFL at yards before the grab (YBC) at 5.73 per catch. That number divebombed to 5.53 YBC after the season finale. Waddle’s yards after the catch (YAC) was 4.25 for a similarly putrid 96th NFL ranking. That number also fell in the season finale, to 4.23. This must be fixed, with at least EITHER the distance before the grab, or after lengthening significantly in 2022. Right now, that trade from 12, where Micah Parsons was selected, is no slam-dunk good move.

One thing all three of NFL QBs who attended Alabama have had in common

Tagovailoa, Mac Jones and Jalen Hurts have all suffered in road games. In their careers, Jones has a 97.5 home passer rating, Tua a 95.1 and Hurts an 86.3. But, suiting up in the visitors locker room has been a different story for the Tide trio (Hurts transferred and graduated from Oklahoma). In those games, Jones still leads the pack, but with an 85.4, Hurts follows with an 83.6, and Tagovailoa trails with a meager 82.1. By comparison, the Los Angeles Chargers’ Justin Herbert, who the Dolphins passed on in the 2020 draft and is finishing his second season with a game in Las Vegas on Sunday night, entered the Raiders game with a 96.7 rating at home and a 101.7 away from L.A.

The Bill Belichick Shula-record tracker

Belichick, who turns 70 in April, is still at 321 career wins with the playoffs on deck. He needs 26 victories to tie Don Shula’s record.

Weekly reminder of the greatness of Dan Marino I

Social media was quick to publicize on Saturday that Patrick Mahomes was the second-fastest in NFL history to 150 touchdown passes, behind only Marino. Lest anyone think the two are remotely close, the average of the NFL median passer ratings among starting QBs from 1983 through three non-strike games of 1987 (when Marino set the mark) was 76.0. In the past four seasons, the NFL median average has been a gaudy 92.9. It is so tectonically easier to pass in today’s game.

Offense under Tua Tagovailoa ended up scoring below the average allowed by opposing defenses against rest of the NFL

The Dolphins offense finished off the season with 20 points scored against the Patriots, whose defense had allowed 15.5 points per game in their 15 games against the rest of the NFL. It marked the fifth time in Tagovailoa’s 11 1/2 games the Dolphins offense had put up more points than the average allowed by the opposition in their games against the rest of the NFL. Still, the unit under Tua (yes, it was worse under Jacoby Brissett, as is to be expected from the backup) ended up scoring 19.4 points a game, while the foes’ defenses allowed 22.1 points a game against everyone else.

Weekly reminder of the greatness of Dan Marino II

Johnny Unitas set the NFL record for TD passes with 32 in 1959, the final 12-game season. George Blanda then broke it in 1961 with 36 in a 14-game season (so, per game, Unitas still had the record), and Y.A. Tittle tied it in 1963. The NFL went to 16 games in 1978, and no one threatened Blanda/Tittle’s raw number and, even less so, Unitas’ 2.67 TD passes a game the first six years, with Dan Fouts’ 33 in 1981 as close as anyone got. Then, Danny’s 1984, 48 TD passes and 3.0 a game. Beat the raw number by 33% and the per-game by 12.4% To see Marino play his second season with this defense-decimating rules structure, the production would be inconceivable.


Source: Berkshire mont

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