The indomitable fighting spirit. That’s one of the main takeaways from the Dolphins’ spectacular come-from-behind 42-38 victory at Baltimore on Sunday.
It would have been easy for the Dolphins to fold many times in the second half, or even in the first half. They didn’t. They showed it’s never over for this team, even on the road, even against all odds, even against NFL reality and history.
The Dolphins gave up a 103-yard kickoff return touchdown on the game’s first play.
They trailed, 28-7, at halftime, a time when Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa had thrown two interceptions and Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson had a perfect 158.3 passer rating and three touchdown passes.
They trailed, 35-14, entering the fourth quarter.
Still, there was no quit.
There was only a fighting spirit.
“You talk about what it takes to do something like that,” coach Mike McDaniel said, “it’s an entire team of the right type of people.”
The Dolphins, according to ESPN, are the first team to win a game when trailing by 21 points in the fourth quarter since the New York Giants in 2010. Since that time teams were 0-711 when trailing by 21 or more in the fourth quarter.
“They had a spirited effort,” McDaniel said of his team.
It was a historic comeback, one of the most memorable wins in franchise history.
And it was largely because the Dolphins never quit.
“I would say the resiliency of our team had shown coming out of halftime with that big lead that they had,” Tagovailoa said.
Tagovailoa never quit.
But things were slogging through unexpected problems.
All Pro cornerback Xavien Howard, who was uncharacteristically burned for a 75-yard touchdown, dropped a potential pick-six that would have tied the game at 35.
The Dolphins’ swarming defense, which dominated and confused the Ravens last year with blitzes in a 22-10 win, didn’t record a sack all day despite an early diet of blitzes.
Still, they didn’t quit.
“We basically had to play perfect complementary football to make a comeback like that,” McDaniel said.
Dolphins star wide receiver Tyreek Hill, arguably their best player, had to go to the locker room and get treatment for muscle cramps in the third quarter.
“If I quit, the whole team quits,” Hill said. “That’s just my mindset.”
He returned, and balled with fourth-quarter touchdown receptions of 48 and 60 yards.
Hill ended with 11 receptions for 190 yards and two touchdowns.
Fellow wide receiver Jaylen Waddle had 11 receptions for 171 yards and two touchdowns.
Three of their four touchdowns came in the game’s final 7:47.
Tagovailoa ended with six touchdown passes, tying a franchise record established by Hall of Famers Bob Griese and Dan Marino, with four of those coming in the fourth quarter.
The Dolphins defense?
It only allowed three points in the fourth quarter and made a crucial fourth-down stop — Elandon Roberts and Trey Flowers stopped Jackson for a one-yard loss on fourth-and-1 — to open the door for the comeback.
Yeah, a Dolphins defense that got pushed around for three quarters tapped into its fighting spirit, allowing the offense to continue doing the same.
And let’s credit McDaniel, too.
He could have over-coached, yelled, screamed, raised hell. But he didn’t.
“I just challenged them to say, ‘Who cares what the score is? It’s about how we play football together,’ ” he said.
Almost an entire season remains. It’s way too early to make definitive conclusions.
But McDaniel already seems to know his team fairly well.
And his style seems to fit this team.
In his first two games he beat the GOAT, New England coach Bill Belichick, then he went on the road and had a historic fourth-quarter comeback victory against another Super Bowl winning coach in John Harbaugh.
Perhaps most importantly, however, he showed he coaches a team with an indomitable fighting spirit, and he knows how to tap into that spirit.
“We’ll never quit,” Hill said.