The Miami Dolphins offense kept cooking. The special teams stepped up. The defense? Well …
Their 35-32 win at Chicago means they’re 6-3 now. They’re alive for the AFC East title with Buffalo losing Sunday.
Here are 10 thoughts on the win:
1. Play of the Game: This was a game of who blinked and Chicago receiver Equanimeous St. Brown dropped a perfect strike from Justin Fields on fourth down that would’ve given the Bears a first down with 1:25 left and still going for the win. It was that kind of offensive day as the score showed. The Dolphins got the ball and the win.
2. Stat of the game: Six red-zone trips by the Dolphins. They were four-of-six on those (Chicago was three-of-four), but the fact they had six trips tells how dominant the Dolphins offense was much of the day. There was only one short one, as the drives into the read zone were: 75, 75, 64, 75, 20 and 68 yards. Tua completed 21 of 30 passs for 302 yards and three touchdowns. Up until the final two drives, his offense was unstoppable.
3. There was only one way for Chicago to win and it was Justin Fields going one-on-11 against the Dolphins defense and winning. He almost did, too. He might not be a dynamic passer, completing 17-of-28 passes for 123 yards. But he ran for 178 yards on 15 carries, including a 61-yard touchdown. His offense frustrated the Dolphins defense, too, and since this is a Dolphins blog we’ll skip Fields right now and talk of this defense. A week ago in Detroit, it couldn’t stop the Lions in the first half before shutting them out the second half. There was a repeat of the first half against Chicago, but not the second half. The Bears kept scoring. And scoring. And even a big trade …
4. Sunday seemed a perfect setting for Bradley Chubb to make his debut after Tuesday’s trade to the Dolphins. Chicago, after all, entered Sunday ranked last in the league in sacks surrendered. They gave up 31 sacks in the first eight games. New England and Dallas got four each the previous two weeks. So … where was Chubb most of the day? Or this Dolphins pass rush? Melvin Ingram had a sack in the fourth quarter and Chubb flushed Fields out of the pocket on third-and-18 earlier in the fourth quarter for an incompletion. But there wasn’t much pressure. Former Dolphins great Kim Bokamper said on the WQAM radio broadcast the Dolphins flashed the “53 Defense” early, evidently getting on board to the 50th Anniversary of the Perfect Season (cue my book on that season, “Still Perfect.”) It’s more likely defensive coordinator Josh Boyer is figuring how to use his newest toy in edge rusher Bradley Chubb. Chubb and Jaelan Phillips at opposite ends at times (Phillips seemed to line up on the wide side). Emmanuel Ogbah and Melvin Ingram line up on one side together. Out of the various looks here was the constant factor: Little pressure. Chubb finished with one tackle.
5. The trade last week paid instant dividends on Sunday? The one for Jeff Wilson Jr. The former San Francisco running back fit right into this offense run by his former offensive coordinator in Mike McDaniel to the point he was the primary back by the second half. Wilson outran a Chicago linebacker into the flat to turn in a 10-yard touchdown pass. He was the Dolphins leading rusher with seven carries for 47 yards (long of 23 yards) through three quarters and two catches for 23 yards. He had more impact in his opening game than the man he replaced, Chase Edmonds, had all season. If this is who he is, it’s a well-used fifth-round pick in the trade.
6. It was a 39-yard reception in the second quarter that put Tyreek Hill over 1,000 yards for the season, but even that number doesn’t measure his full impact. On Sunday’s first series, Hill blew by Chicago’s secondary into the end zone and only a defensive pass interference prevented a touchdown. It resulted in a 32-yard gain on the penalty. Wouldn’t Rule No. 1 in playing the Dolphins be not to let Hill and Jaylen Waddle get behind you? Evidently that’s tougher than even the defenses think. Waddle got deep in the fourth quarter and created a 47-yard pass interference play. Just those two plays agained 79 yards in penalties. For the game, Hill had seven catches for 143 yards and Hill had eight catches for 85 yards.
7. How about that, the special teams made a game-pivoting play. Pick a category and the Dolphins special teams hasn’t excelled. Kickoff returns? Thirty-first. Punt returns? 31st. Detroit even pulled a fake punt last week in what seemed the latest of special-teams plays against them. So it meant something Sunday when Jaelan Phillips put in a strong rush and got a textbook blocked punt in the second quarter. Andrew Van Ginkel picked it up at the Chicago 25 and returned it for a touchdown. Blocked punts are rare – it was only the fourth one of the NFL season. Van Ginkel’s return was also the longest in team history, surpassing Mark Higgs (Mark Higgs?) return of 19 yards in 1990. But …
8. With the chance to go up 24-17 just before half, Jason Sanders missed a 29-yard field goal. Sanders entered the game ranked 25th with a 78.6 percentage. For context, Sanders was 11-for-11 on kicks inside the 50 before Sunday and 0-for-3 on 50 yards or more. So this was his first miss inside the 50 on the season, and it was an ugly miss from the 29. Put this in the bin of plays the Dolphins have gotten away without costing them. Tua’s four dropped interceptions against Pittsurgh are in there. McDaniel’s going for it on fourth down rather than kick the two-score field goal against Pittsburgh are, too. Maybe fortune is smiling on this team?
9. Quick hits:
* Fields’ 61-yard TD run was the longest ever by a Chicago quarterback. Yes, that includes Sid Luckman and Bobby Douglas.
* The Patriots were winning, 16-3, at the 5-yard line and the New England crowd was booing. Tee-hee.
* Aaron Rodgers threw two interceptions inside the Detroit 5-yard line against the defense Tua ripped apart last week. To be fair, every quarterback has ripped apart the Detroit defense until Green Bay.
* The New York Jets beating Buffalo is not just a big upset but keeps the AFC East race open.
10. Cleveland at Dolphins. Cleveland is in 3-5 limbo waiting for Deshaun Watson to return from his suspension. Let’s all thank Roger Goodell, for a lot of reasons, that Watson doesn’t return until the week after playing the Dolphins (against Houston). That means last year’s Dolphins back-up, Jacoby Brissett, starts for the Browns. Brissett is putting up back-up numbers: Seven touchdowns, five interceptions, 86.8 rating.