The Dolphins handled New England fairly easily in Sunday’s season opener at Hard Rock Stadium, further raising expectations for the season. Coach Mike McDaniel, quarterback Tua Tagovailoa, and wide receiver Tyreek Hill, the ones who caused the most curiosity coming in, were all good.
The Dolphins showed resilience and quality depth at times, the latter in the secondary and offensive line, and controlled the game the entire day. It was a strong showing and perhaps a sign of things to come.
Here are some more takeaways from the season opener against the Patriots:
Dolphins rookie coach Mike McDaniel had a good debut
His players were prepared, and rarely appeared surprised by anything thrown their way from New England coach Bill Belichick, known for his gameday trickery. McDaniel, who was calling plays for the first time, showed diversity and creativity. The moment wasn’t too big for McDaniel and that bodes well for the season. — Chris Perkins
Dolphins have now won four consecutive games over New England, and five of the past six
In other words, the Dolphins have owned the Patriots recently. Quarterback Tua Tagovailoa is now 4-0 against Belichick. There was no evidence that Belichick helped his team by practicing at Palm Beach Atlantic University since Wednesday, or that he hurt his team by having Matt Patricia and Joe Judge splitting offensive coordinator duties.
Patriots went at nickel/slot defensive back Nik Needham on the game’s first play and got a 9-yard gain
But it was the last time it happened that way. Miami’s defensive back depth answered the call, which is impressive considering it was without starting cornerback Byron Jones (leg), backup cornerback Noah Igbinoghene (inactive) and safety Eric Rowe (inactive). Rookie cornerback Kader Kohou made his debut and had a tackle and a big fumble-causing hit. Overall it was a nice showing for the secondary. New England quarterback Mac Jones ended with a harmless 21 for 30 for 213 yards, one touchdown and one interception.
Miami’s playmaking defense answered the call
New England learned a hard lesson by throwing at All Pro cornerback Xavien Howard in the end zone in the first quarter. Howard tipped the pass in the air and safety Jevon Holland caught it and returned it 31 yards to the Dolphins’ 28-yard line. In the fourth quarter Kohou had a hit that caused a fumble and linebacker Jaelan Phillips recovered. Miami finished with one interception, two recovered fumbles, two sacks, six passes defended, four tackles for loss, and three quarterback hits.
Quarterback Tua Tagovailoa, 23 for 33, 270 yards, one touchdown, no interceptions (104.4 passer rating) was mostly good all day when it came to decision-making, accuracy and patience
It was mostly a short and intermediate passing game, which is fine. The key is Tagovailoa got the ball to wide receivers Hill and Jaylen Waddle in places where they could get YAC (yards after catch). Tagovailoa didn’t throw deep often but he went deep to fullback Alec Ingold in the first quarter. The ball was slightly overthrown but Hill appeared to be double covered. It was a good choice by Tagovailoa to recognize the coverage matchup and go for it.
Safety Jevon Holland was deep to return the two first half punts for the Dolphins
The first was a fair catch at the 6-yard line and the second one was downed at the 8-yard line by New England special teams ace Matthew Slater. During the practice week McDaniel said he wouldn’t hesitate to use wide receivers Hill and/or Waddle as punt returner. Running back Raheem Mostert was deep for the Dolphins’ only kickoff return. By the way, credit punter Thomas Morstead for field-flipping punts, three of which were inside the 20-yard line. He averaged 45.8 yards per punt and his longest was 58 yards. The Dolphins’ special teams had a good day.
The offensive line had a promising showing
Right tackle Austin Jackson went down with an ankle injury early in the second quarter and was replaced by Greg Little. Then in the third quarter Little went down. Miami shifted right guard Robert Hunt to right tackle and inserted Robert Jones at right guard. Little returned in the third quarter. But in the fourth quarter left tackle Terron Armstead was sidelined and left guard Liam Eichenberg took his place. The offensive line showed good versatility and depth in all situations. But the offensive line allowed three sacks and the run game was sluggish so there are areas for immediate improvement. But overall it was a good start.
Dolphins’ defense did well at limiting significant plays, but two self-inflicted errors led to a Patriots touchdown in the third quarter
The Dolphins had 12 men on field penalty on second-and-4, giving New England a first down at the Dolphins’ 37-yard line. Four plays later on fourth-and-1, Howard was called for illegal contact on an incomplete pass. New England scored five plays later to cut its deficit to 17-7. Overall, however, the defense was solid in execution and discipline.
Miami’s rushing offense didn’t surface much Sunday
The Dolphins finished with 65 yards on 23 carries. Chase Edmonds had 12 carries for 25 yards and Mostert had five carries for 16 yards. Coach McDaniel puts an emphasis on the run game so perhaps there will be tweaks before next week’s game at Baltimore.
Patriots fans are usually loud and proud at Hard Rock Stadium, but that didn’t seem to be the case Sunday
The Dolphins, of course, have sold out their season ticket allotment for the first time, and that might be a factor, But Patriots fans seemed to have a smaller presence than in recent years and they definitely weren’t loud. Good job by the Dolphins, and Dolphins fans.
Tua Tagovailoa went to a very defense-aided 4-0 against the Patriots
In his four games against Belichick and the Patriots, Tagovailoa has never lost, but his offense’s scoring output has been meager, with only 18.0 points a game. Meanwhile, the defense in those games has held New England to a paltry 14.8 points a game, and has added two touchdowns of their own. — Steve Svekis
Mike Gesicki hasn’t produced at nearly the same level since his 2020 shoulder injury
The Dolphins tight end/wide receiver is still trying to get back to the level of production he had established late in the 2020 season, when he sustained a ugly-looking shoulder injury in Miami’s 33-27 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs on Dec. 13, 2020. In the 19 games he had played up until the play, which forced him to miss the following week’s game, Gesicki had pulled in 11 touchdowns and averaged a robust 13.10 yards per reception (878 in 67 catches). However, in the 20 games afterward, Miami’s franchise-tag player has found the end zone only two times and seen his per-catch average plummet to a pedestrian 10.63 yards (882 yards in 83 receptions)
Mac Jones’ costly turnover issues keep building at Hard Rock Stadium
In his past 17 games, the Patriots’ Mac Jones has 20 turnovers (includes first two in opener), but that number is much worse even at Hard Rock Stadium. In his two career games in Miami Gardens, Jones has four turnovers, two of them for Dolphins touchdowns, and another happening with the Patriots in field goal range.
Miami keeps doing its part to keep Belichick’s road to catching Don Shula as rocky as possible
The loss made Belichick 2-8 the past decade in Miami Gardens, and keeps the six-time Super Bowl champion coach 26 wins from tying Don Shula atop the all-time wins list.
On deck: At Baltimore Ravens, M&T Bank Stadium, Sunday at 1 p.m.
The Dolphins head to a franchise house of horrors for Week 2. Miami is 0-4 all-time at Baltimore’s M&T Bank Stadium, and the results haven’t been close, getting progressively worse in each matchup (losing by seven in 2005, 16 in 2010, 32 in 2016 and 40 in 2017). The one silver lining is that Brian Flores’ defense gained a bunch of confidence last season when it locked down then-MVP candidate Lamar Jackson and the Ravens to 10 points, while tacking on a Howard pick-six, as Miami won by 12 points for the second straight win in what would grow to a seven-game win streak.