The way the Miami Dolphins started off defensively Sunday in Detroit, it looked like any offensive drive that didn’t result in a touchdown would be enough to sink them against the Lions.
The Dolphins surrendered touchdowns on their first three defensive series. It got a little better deeper into the first half; they allowed field goals on the next two.
But after that, a shutout of Detroit in the second half. After accumulating 326 total yards of offense in the first half, the Lions were held to 67 after halftime.
“If you get guys that keep playing, you can survive a barrage of jabs to the chin,” Dolphins coach Mike McDaniel said. “Keep your head down and just keep chopping wood and eventually our style of play will come out.”
In the second half, Miami forced Detroit into a pair of punts after the Dolphins came out blazing offensively with back-to-back touchdown drives. In the fourth quarter, the Lions took a deep shot on fourth-and-1 from the Miami 35-yard line and couldn’t connect with quarterback Jared Goff looking for Josh Reynolds. Detroit never saw the ball again after turning it over on downs.
“It was just players coming together, saying we got to go out there, do it ourselves, play harder, play faster and make plays,” said cornerback Kader Kohou, who started opposite Xavien Howard in his return from an oblique injury and was in coverage on the fourth-down stop. “We didn’t do a lot of big adjustments. We didn’t need to.”
Added outside linebacker Jaelan Phillips: “We kind of regrouped, refocused at halftime, and we finally got back to what we are as a defense.”
Among five Lions plays that went for 20-plus yards in the first half, Goff had a 58-yard pass to tight end T.J. Hockenson and a 43-yarder to wide receiver Kalif Raymond for 43 on the first play of the second quarter.
“We were really shooting ourselves in the foot,” said undrafted rookie Verone McKinley, who was up from the practice squad for the third time this season and started Sunday. “They did some good things, of course, but for us, just missed tackles, a couple of penalties, things like that that we could correct.”
Adjustments played a role in the turnaround at halftime, but they didn’t tell the whole story.
“There was some adjustments, yes,” McDaniel said. “More than anything, we have a lot of pride from guys on that side of the ball, players and coaches included, and they projected their frustration in the appropriate manner.”
It also helped that Miami’s two touchdown drives to start the second half were each in excess of five minutes. Detroit only had three possessions in the second half.
Dolphins left guard Liam Eichenberg exited Sunday’s game with 12 seconds left in the third quarter due to a knee injury. It occurred on tight end Mike Gesicki’s decisive touchdown that gave Miami its first and only lead.
Eichenberg appeared to have another player roll up under him blocking for quarterback Tua Tagovailoa to deliver the touchdown strike. He was assisted by two trainers onto a cart and driven off the playing field. The second-year blocker out of Notre Dame was ruled out shortly thereafter.
“He was playing really well, so that was disappointing for sure and heart goes out to him,” McDaniel said. “We’ll be getting some information back [Monday] as to the severity of that.”
Said center Connor Williams: “Heartbreak. He works his tail off, does everything you can ask of him. It was heartbreaking.”
Robert Jones came in for Eichenberg for the final two drives of the afternoon.
“I hate that it had to come like that,” Jones said. “I pray and hope that Liam’s good and he can come back to play. … Still a lot to improve on. Went out here, tried my best. I feel like I did OK. I just got to keep working, keep improving and keep being focused.”
Added left tackle Terron Armstead of Jones’ play: “Rob did extremely well. No surprise at all. He’s definitely ready, capable of filling in.”
Rowe inactive, McKinley starts
Miami had a surprise healthy scratch among its five inactives Sunday. Safety Eric Rowe was held out, despite not having an injury designation going into Sunday and with the Dolphins short at his position with Brandon Jones on injured reserve.
Pregame, Rowe tweeted, “I’m just as shocked too…”
According to the CBS broadcast, the decision by Miami coach Mike McDaniel had to do with lack of special teams contributions that Rowe provides. The Dolphins started undrafted rookie Verone McKinley, a practice-squad elevation for the third time this season against the Lions, opposite Jevon Holland.
“We’ve done it before, and to be able to do it in the NFL is like a dream come true for both of us,” said McKinley, who was college teammates with Holland at Oregon. “We’re excited to build on it. We kind of have that chemistry already. We watch a lot of film together. We do a lot of stuff together off the field. It just starts to translate.”
Mostly, McKinley played as the deep safety.
“We got to do a lot of different things,” McKinley said. “For me, being that security blanket, letting him showcase the type of player he is and me be able to play off of him.”
The Dolphins had cornerback Xavien Howard and Emmanuel Ogbah play after they entered questionable with groin and back injuries, respectively. Howard had two tackles. Ogbah didn’t have one but got a hit on Goff.
Other Dolphins inactives were wide receiver River Cracraft, who was ruled out with a neck injury on Saturday, quarterback Skylar Thompson, running back Myles Gaskin and wide receiver Erik Ezukanma.
The Dolphins went through a third consecutive Sunday where offensive lineman Austin Jackson did not play since returning to practice from his ankle injury. Jackson’s 21-day window to be activated off injured reserve is approaching this week. He practiced on Oct. 12 and 13 but has not been seen on the practice field since. If he doesn’t get activated, he must spend the season on IR. Brandon Shell remains Miami’s starting right tackle on Sunday in Detroit.
South Florida connections
Lions kicker Michael Badgley is the Miami Hurricanes’ all-time leader in points scored (403). Their kick returner, Maurice Alexander, is an FIU grad who played high school football for Miami Booker T. Washington and Homestead High.
Among on-field guests on Sunday at Ford Field, in addition to Lions Hall of Fame running back Barry Sanders, were Bennie Blades, the great UM and Lions defensive back, and Stephen Tulloch, a Detroit linebacker from Miami who attended Killian High.
The Lions also have Miami Northwestern High grad and defensive lineman Demetrius Taylor on the active roster and former American Heritage High linebacker James Houston, who was coached in high school by Dolphins defensive assistant Patrick Surtain, on the practice squad. Detroit also has former Broward County high school football coach Wayne Blair as a defensive quality control assistant.
— Sanders was honored at halftime of Sunday’s game at Ford Field, where the franchise announced it was building a statue outside the stadium for the Lions legend. Sanders also took part in the pregame coin toss.