Here are some of the top takeaways from the Miami Dolphins’ 23-21 loss to the New England Patriots at Gillette Stadium on Sunday:
Teddy Bridgewater has ups and downs, then exits
Dolphins quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, starting in place of Tua Tagovailoa (concussion), left the game in the third quarter with an apparent injury to his right (throwing) hand. Bridgewater, whose improvised touchdown pass to running back Raheem Mostert gave the Dolphins a 14-7 lead in the third quarter, ended 12 of 19 for 161 yards, one touchdown, one interception (a pick-6) and a 85.7 passer rating. No, Bridgewater wasn’t good. But he gave his team a chance to win despite throwing that interception that was returned for a touchdown on his final play. The Dolphins (8-8) trailed 16-14 when Bridgewater left, and rookie Skylar Thompson took over to finish the game. By the way, wide receiver Cedrick Wilson Jr. was the Dolphins’ third quarterback. — Chris Perkins
Skylar Thompson struggles
Thompson, the rookie seventh-round pick from Kansas State, ended ended 12 of 21 for 104 yards, one touchdown, one interception and a 66.4 passer rating. Thompson had his troubles after entering the game for Bridgewater late in the third quarter. For example, on a second-and-7 at the Dolphins’ 38-yard line Thompson threw a short, off-target pass to fullback Alec Ingold, who was essentially playing one-handed considering he wore a cast on his right hand to protect a broken thumb. Thompson should have run for the first down. The Dolphins ended up punting on that possession. But it’s tough to blame Thompson, who made one start this season (Minnesota) but didn’t finish the game due to hitting his hand on the helmet of a defensive player, much like the injury that put Bridgewater out of Sunday’s game.
That Dolphins player was right to have concerns
He was right. The other day I told you about a Dolphins player, despite the doldrums of the past few weeks, addressing Miami still having a chance to make the playoffs. “I’ll hold my tongue,” the player said. Perhaps he had insight into the injury situation that caused Pro Bowl left tackle Terron Armstead (toe, pectoral, knee, hip) and Pro Bowl cornerback Xavien Howard (knee), in addition to Tagovailoa (concussion), to miss the game due to injuries. Whatever the case, the Dolphins struggled mightily and don’t appear to have much offensively beyond wide receiver Tyreek Hill (four receptions, 55 yards; one carry, 2 yards, one touchdown).
Tyreek Hill is Dolphins’ offense … Period.
Hill, the Dolphins’ MVP this season and Pro Bowl selection, had a 2-yard rushing touchdown in the second quarter to tie the game at 7. It’s becoming apparent Hill is the Dolphins offense. Hill entered the Patriots game with a franchise-record 113 receptions for a franchise-record 1,632 yards. New England limited his role Sunday and guess what? The Dolphins struggled to score touchdowns. Yes, they have wide receiver Jaylen Waddle, tight end Mike Gesicki and running backs Raheem Mostert and Jeff Wilson Jr. But you know what? Those guys had 19 combined touchdowns before the Patriots game and now they have 21 combined. And you saw how Tagovailoa struggled the previous four games. If Tyreek doesn’t do it for this offense, it doesn’t get done. Apparently, New England coach Bill Belichick got that memo.
Christian Wilkins, Superman
Defensive tackle Christian Wilkins, who had six tackles Sunday, continued his excellent season against the Patriots. His 92 tackles for the year are the most by a defensive lineman in the past decade, according to the Dolphins. Wilkins, the 2019 first-round pick from Clemson, is in the final year of his contract and due for a big payday next season.
The offensive line was a mess, but played well
The Dolphins’ offensive line, which allowed two sacks, turned in an admirable performance. The offensive line, which was facing fierce pass rushers in Matthew Judon (15.5 sacks, second in the NFL) and Josh Uche (11.5 sacks, tied for 10th), started without Armstead, its best player, and then lost his replacement, Kendall Lamm, for the second half. Greg Little played left tackle for the second half. On top of that, left guard Liam Eichenberg was returning to the starting lineup for the first time in eight games after being sidelined with a knee injury. Yet the combination of center Connor Williams, Eichenberg, Lamm/Little, right guard Robert Hunt and right tackle Brandon Shell played well enough to win despite their fourth-quarter protection issues. Hats off to those guys, offensive coordinator Frank Smith and offensive line coach Matt Applebaum.
Linebackers turn in decent performance
The Dolphins’ linebackers, led by Elandon Roberts (10 tackles) and Jerome Baker (six tackles), but including Andrew Van Ginkel, Jaelan Phillips, Melvin Ingram, Chubb, and Duke Riley, have been low-key this season but they turned in a decent performance at New England. Consider how the linebackers’ performance lined up with what linebackers coach Anthony Campanile said happens, on and off the state sheet, when his guys have a good game.
“I think communication certainly is the No. 1 thing that’s not going to obviously appear on the stat sheet,” Campanile said. “But when we’re having a good game, that’s really what it is. You see guys flying around. And I say this a lot, that big plays or positive plays defensively are often executed because of anticipation and being able to take the meeting room to the game.
“And if I have a little bit of an idea or some clarity that, ‘Hey, this is one of two things right here as opposed to one of 10 things,’ I’m going to be able to react a lot faster.”
That’s kind of what happened Sunday as the linebackers played as though they knew what was going to happen before it happened. They played fast and aggressively. Unfortunately, it wasn’t nearly enough for a victory.
Run game appears
The Dolphins ended with 86 yards on 27 carries. They entered the game last in the league in rushing attempts at around 22 per game. In the first half they had 62 yards on 19 carries (3.3 yards per carry), which seemed to set the stage for a strong second half. But things didn’t work out that way. Technically, the Dolphins’ first touchdown, a 2-yarder by Hill, was a run because it was a lateral from Bridgewater. But McDaniel did well to stick with the running game, which kept New England’s defense off balance and also gave Bridgewater and Thompson an opportunity to throw off of play action.
Penalties creeping up again
The Dolphins, who had five penalties for 34 yards in the first half, ended with nine penalties for 71 yards. It was their highest total for penalties and penalty yards since having 10 for 97 yards in a 24-16 loss to Minnesota. The Dolphins, who have stayed in the top half of the league on penalties and yards for much of the season, entered the game sixth in penalties (97) and 14th in penalty yards (763). As an example of how penalties haunted the Dolphins consider the early-fourth quarter exchange when Hill had an illegal shift penalty on a third and 9 that negated an 11-yard gain by Thompson. On the following play, third and 14, Thompson’ pass bounced off Hill’s hands and Jonathan Jones recorded an interception at the Patriots’ 37-yard line. On the flip side, New England had a crucial running into the kicker penalty that allowed the Dolphins to convert a fourth-and-1 and score their only touchdown of the first half. But the Patriots ended with just five penalties for 35 yards.
This team is choking
The Dolphins are choking. They’re now on a five-game losing streak. They entered the Patriots game on a four-game losing streak and fresh off their first winless December since 1993, when they started 9-2, lost their last five, finished 9-7 and missed the playoffs. The Dolphins’ last victory that year was Thanksgiving when Dallas’ Leon Lett jumped on that blocked field goal attempt, the Dolphins recovered the loose ball and won the game on a Pete Stoyanovich 19-yard field goal. The Dolphins’ last victory so far this year is a 30-15 decision against Houston on Nov. 27.
Mike McDaniel’s game management has been costly
On the heels of the pivotal Marcedes Lewis debacle last Sunday, where Dolphins coach Mike McDaniel failed to challenge the Packers’ 31-yard pass to the Dolphins’ 7 that was clearly an incompletion off the grass, McDaniel botched a huge sequence early in Foxborough. On what was clearly an obvious 29-yard catch by Tyreek Hill to the New England 27, the officials called him out of bounds before two feet wer e down. Instead of a redeeming red flag, McDaniel was silent. Then, on a carbon-copy 24-yard sideline catch to the Dolphins’ 41 by Tyquan Thornton, McDaniel DID throw the flag, and was obviously rebuffed. Huge sequence. He needs to get MUCH better. — Steve Svekis
Chris Grier played injury-history roulette, and lost big in Foxborough
The Dolphins general manager threw caution to the wind when he selected Tua Tagovailoa, with a 2019 dislocated hip necessitating one of his four surgeries while in college, at No. 5 in the 2020 NFL draft. The Tagovailoa selection came after talented cornerback Xavien Howard, signed to a big contract before the 2019 season, and before huge deals were handed out to tackle Terron Armstead in this offseason and then the pass rusher Bradley Chubb at the trade deadline this season. Tagovailoa has missed nine starts (and chunks of other games) to injury of the 43 games since he was named starter in 2020. Howard has missed 27 games in his seven seasons, Armstead has been out for 41 games in his nine seasons since being named an NFL starter, and Chubb has been unavailable for 25 games, with next Sunday the conclusion of his fifth season. All four of those players missed Sunday’s game.
Talk about losing streaks
The Dolphins entered the 49ers game in Santa Clara having won 10 of their 11 coin flips, deferring each time to receive the second-half kickoff. But how the coin has turned. The Patriots became the fifth consecutive Dolphins opponent to win the coin toss. The first opponent to win the toss had been the Pittsburgh Steelers. So, in games where Miami has won the coin toss, the Dolphins are 7-3. In coin-toss losses? 1-5.
Dolphins’ defense still did its usual good job against Mac Jones
Coming into the Dolphins game, Mac Jones’s offense had averaged 14.3 points a game against Miami. The 17 points Sunday inched that average up to 15.0 a game. Sadly, it wasn’t enough to get Miami’s fifth straight win over Bill Belichick.
Christian Wilkins with yet more plays for non-positive yardage
For the 14th time in the Dolphins’ 16 games, the Pro Bowl snub logged at least one play where the offense was held to no gain or negative yardage with his sack, and then a batted pass. The only two games where Wilkins didn’t have a sack, tackle for loss, pass defensed or tackle for no gain? Both Bills games.
Comparing Tyreek Hill’s 2022 with Ricky Williams’ 2002 and Dan Marino’s 1984
The last time each of the Dolphins’ main offensive yardage records for a season (passing, rushing, receiving) has been broken, it has been by a huge amount. Tyreek Hill who has climbed to 1,687 receiving yards following his 55 yards in Foxborough, is now 298 ahead of Miami’s past record, 1,389 by Mark Clayton in 1984, with one more game left. Clayton’s accomplishment came in the 16-game season of 1984, so this stands as more of an apples-to-apples comparison. Hill’s number is a chunky 21.5% more than the record he broke. Clayton’s 1,389 had broken a record set the year before by Mark Duper (1,003) by 38.5%. And, incredibly, compared with the record-breakers for Dolphins in rushing yards or passing yards, the 38.5% is the smallest figure. When Ricky Williams roared for 1,853 rushing yards in 2002, it broke a mark of 1,258 yards by Delvin Williams in 1978, the league’s first 16-game season. The represented a betterment by 47.4%. Of course Dan Marino’s 5,084 passing yards in 1984 represented the most complete decimation of the previous club mark (Bob Griese’s 2,473 in 1968), more than doubling it (105.6%). Hill would need to finish with at least 237 yards against the Jets (1,924 for the season) to improve upon Clayton’s record by a greater percentage than Clayton beat Duper’s 1,003.
The Belichick-Shula tracker
The Dolphins could not, for the fifth time in a row, push back Bill Belichick’s march toward Dolphins legend Don Shula’s NFL-record 347 wins (328 in the regular season). The Pats win leaves the six-time Super Bowl winner 18 wins from tying Shula.
On deck: New York Jets, Hard Rock Stadium, day and time TBD
The Dolphins haven’t lost at home to the Jets since 2015 … Depending on Teddy Bridgewater’s status next week, the starting-quarterback matchup could be a battle of South Florida high school grads, with Miami Northwestern’s Bridgewater vs. University School’s (Davie) Mike White.