For a fourth consecutive week, the Miami Dolphins had a starting quarterback make an exit.
And for a third consecutive game, the Dolphins lost.
Rookie third-string quarterback Skylar Thompson never returned after he was escorted into the locker room by a trainer in the second quarter against the Minnesota Vikings, and a game that was offensively challenged for much of Sunday at Hard Rock Stadium, nearly saw fireworks late.
But the Dolphins fell short of their shot at a comeback behind backup quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, and Miami Central High alum Dalvin Cook delivered the final blow, a 53-yard touchdown run, to sink his hometown team, 24-16.
“It’s disappointing,” Dolphins coach Mike McDaniel said. “Guys put a lot into this game.”
Miami (3-3) has lost three consecutive games after starting the season 3-0. Minnesota (5-1) continues to roll as the leader in the NFC North.
Cook’s 53-yard scamper with 3:15 remaining essentially put the score out of reach, putting the Vikings up, 24-10. It came two plays after a costly Jaylen Waddle fumble for Miami with the offense driving while the Dolphins were within 6.
“Playing in my hometown is always important, but at this point in my career, I just want to win,” said Cook of a touchdown that was reminiscent of his winning score as a freshman with Florida State in the same building against the Miami Hurricanes in 2014. “I want to bring something bigger to Minnesota than it’s ever seen before.”
The Dolphins got to within a score on tight end Mike Gesicki’s second touchdown with 1:24 left, but they couldn’t recover the ensuing onside kick.
Bridgewater, playing against the team that drafted him in the first round in 2014, went 23 of 34 for 329 yards — 237 of which came in the fourth quarter — with two touchdowns and two interceptions. Tyreek Hill had 177 yards on 12 receptions, and Waddle went for 129 yards on six catches — but with the key fumble lost that preceded Cook’s touchdown, halting Miami’s chances at a comeback.
“I tried to make a play. Ball came out. They recovered it,” Waddle said. “I wish I had that one back, but it comes with the game.”
The Dolphins defense held the Vikings to 11 three-and-outs. Outside of Minnesota’s four scoring drives and the final kneel-downs, every series was a three-and out. The Vikings were held to 234 total yards.
Minnesota, though, won the turnover battle, 3-0.
“The No. 1 indicator in wins and losses has been — and forever, always will be — turnovers,” McDaniel said. “When you’re minus-3, you got to be pretty epic in other ways to try to come out on top. We just didn’t have that, really.”
Cousins was 20 of 30 for 175 yards and two touchdowns. Jefferson had six catches for 107 yards, and most of Cook’s 77 rushing yards came on the 53-yard touchdown.
Thompson’s exit was caused by a hit from Vikings linebacker Jordan Hicks on a third-down pass. He injured the thumb on his right, throwing hand. Bridgewater entered for Thompson, who was initially questionable to return but never did as he was seen back on the sideline during the second half.
“He wasn’t physically capable of coming back in,” coach Mike McDaniel said. “The biggest issue is that he didn’t have the strength holding the ball, which is an issue when you’re trying to throw it.”
Bridgewater and Dolphins No. 1 quarterback Tua Tagovailoa had to clear concussion protocol this past week, and both were cleared on Saturday.
With Tagovailoa returning from a serious concussion sustained on Sept. 29 in the loss to the Cincinnati Bengals, McDaniel decided to keep him inactive Sunday. Bridgewater, who had to clear protocol without ever being diagnosed with a concussion because he was ruled out of last week’s loss at the New York Jets due to a stumble, was kept available by McDaniel for backup duties. McDaniel attributed starting Thompson over Bridgewater to having the full week of practice.
Before Bridgewater’s exit on Oct. 9 at the Jets and Tagovailoa on the Thursday night game against the Bengals, Tagovailoa also left the Sept. 25 home win over the Buffalo Bills momentarily. His controversial clearance to return in the second half was what sparked enhanced protocols by the NFL and Players Association that resulted in Bridgewater’s disqualification after one offensive play at New York.
Down, 16-10, deep in the fourth quarter Sunday, Miami squandered an opportunity to get closer when Waddle fumbled, with Vikings safety Camryn Bynum recovering with 4:15 left. It came two plays before Cook’s sealing touchdown run.
Thompson was 7 of 13 for 89 yards at the time of his departure. With Bridgewater at quarterback, Miami broke a scoreless tie with Minnesota in the middle of the second period. A 44-yard field goal from Jason Sanders put the Dolphins ahead, 3-0.
Minnesota scored with 2:32 remaining in the first half when quarterback Kirk Cousins found tight end Irv Smith Jr. for a 1-yard touchdown. A 24-yard catch and run by star receiver Justin Jefferson set the Vikings up for the short score.
The Vikings added a Greg Joseph field goal on the final play of the first half after Bridgewater was intercepted by safety Harrison Smith on a pass that got to Waddle but was dropped. Jefferson drew a pass interference on cornerback Noah Igbinoghene to get Minnesota in range for the field goal.
The Vikings extended the lead again early in the fourth, with Cousins finding Adam Thielen in the back of the end zone against cornerback Xavien Howard for a 2-yard score. They only increased the advantage, however, to 16-3 because of a missed extra point.
It looked like Miami could make Minnesota pay when it inched closer to make it a one-possession game on a 4-yard touchdown pass from Bridgewater to Gesicki before the Waddle fumble on the ensuing drive following a defensive stop.
Gesicki, after his first touchdown Sunday, took another shot at the “Griddy” dance that he received flak for in Miami’s Week 2 win at the Baltimore Ravens. An improved version, it still wasn’t quite up to standard.
“I promise I’m done,” Gesicki tweeted postgame. “I’ll leave it up to the professionals for sure. Only around the house from here on out.”
Thompson had impressive moments early, but the Dolphins could not come up with points on their first two drives. First, a sack knocked them out of field-goal range. On the second possession, multiple big plays were wiped away by penalties. Two holding calls, an ineligible man downfield, an offensive pass interference and a false start accounted for five penalties for 36 yards on the series.
“It was a flag fest,” said McDaniel as the Dolphins finished with 10 penalties for 97 yards. “When I watch the film, I’m anticipating players potentially doing too much, which is a very common thing. When you lose a couple of games in a row, you start to press.”
Miami came close to scoring defensively in the first quarter. Edge defender Trey Flowers hit Cousins in the end zone, but Cousins just got an incomplete pass off with his body nearly horizontal.
While the defense had another game where it didn’t force a turnover, Elandon Roberts had 1 1/2 sacks, splitting one with Jaelan Phillips, and Raekwon Davis had the first full sack of his career. The Vikings had six sacks against a Miami offensive line with backups at both tackle spots in Greg Little and Brandon Shell.
The Dolphins stay at home next week for a Sunday night meeting with the Steelers where former coach Brian Flores returns to Hard Rock Stadium as Pittsburgh defensive analyst and the undefeated 1972 team will be honored.