Miami Dolphins boost playoff chances with win over Saints on MNF

December 28, 2021
Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa throws a pass against the Saints.
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With two more wins, the Miami Dolphins would complete the improbable rise.

Miami won its seventh consecutive game, thrashing the New Orleans Saints, 20-3, on “Monday Night Football” at the Superdome.

The result was never in question.

Miami’s defense was utterly dominant. Fourth-string Saints quarterback Ian Book never stood a chance.

New Orleans entered the game with 22 players on the NFL’s COVID-19 list.

It was an impossible task.

Miami (8-7) would be in the NFL playoffs if the season ended Monday night.

If the Dolphins can win at Tennessee and at home against the Patriots, they will complete one of the greatest regular-season finishes in NFL history. 

Miami is the first team to ever have seven straight losses and seven straight wins in the same season. Why not the Dolphins?

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TUA’S SIGNIFICANT STRETCH

Before the game, Pro Football Hall of Famer Steve Young said on ESPN that he believes Tua Tagovailoa can be a “good” and “stabilizing” quarterback.

Young added: “Can he be great? I don’t know.”

That’s what the Dolphins hope to find out over the final three games of the season.

The stakes are raised. The defensive competition is much better.

In this game, Tagovailoa had his moments, but was not “great.”

Tagovailoa made a poor decision and a poor throw on a ball that was intercepted in the third quarter. He stepped up nicely into the pocket but forced a deep ball to Mack Hollins that was overthrown. Tua had Jaylen Waddle open.

Conversely, Tua later struck on a 40-yard pass play to Hollins that set up a touchdown run (technically a 1-yard pass) by Waddle for a 17-3 lead.

Look, the Dolphins offensive formula has been to limit mistakes and play to the strength of the team, which is the defense.

But Tagovailoa entered the game with only nine passing plays that resulted in gains of 30 or more yards all season, and four passing plays of more than 40 yards.

When the Dolphins make the eventual decision they will need to make about Tagovailoa, they will ponder this important factor: Does he have the arm to drive the ball down the field as often as is required of a championship quarterback?

In this game, Tua completed 73 percent of his passes and posted a 93.1 rating. He averaged 7.6 yards per attempt, a number boosted by the big throw to Hollins.

OFFENSIVE LINE WOES

The Dolphins had been makings some small steps in the right direction along the offensive line, particularly in pass protection.

Enter Cameron Jordan. And Marcus Davenport.

The Saints have some beasts along the defensive front and as could easily have been forecast, they gave Miami’s offensive line problems.

In the first half, Liam Eichenberg and Austin Jackson were each involved in a sack of Tua Tagovailoa. Later in the half, Jesse Davis was beaten for a sack.

Also in the first half, Eichenberg, Jackson and Michael Deiter were all called for holding. 

The Dolphins were able to gain a small bit of offensive traction against subpar opponents, but sledding against New Orleans, Tennessee and New England always figured to be more of a challenge.

WADDLE, WADDLE

If and when Jaylen Waddle breaks Anquan Boldin’s record of 101 catches as a rookie, I propose he do the “Waddle Waddle” celebration, regardless of its a touchdown.

Most observers feel the “Waddle Waddle” should be reserved for touchdowns, but it says here that an abbreviated version of the maneuver should even be permitted for certain key third-down conversions.

Time after time after time, Tagovailoa went to Waddle on third down and he came through. Waddle had 10 catches for 92 yards.

Looks, Ja’Marr Chase and Kyle Pitts are Pro Bowlers as rookies.

And Waddle’s former teammate, DeVonta Smith, is having a very good season for the Eagles. But it cannot be said that drafting Waddle at 6 was a mistake. Instead, it can be said that moving down to 12 and back up to 6 from 3 was the right move.

Waddle is now second only to Boldin, and on pace to break his record.

Now, if Miami can only find a way to hit Waddle on a few deeper passes. And if Waddle can find a way to break a short slant for say, a 70-yard gain. It just hasn’t happened yet.

DOMINANT DEFENSE CONTINUES

Look, the Dolphins were facing the Saints’ fourth-string quarterback, Ian Book.

But they were as dominant as expected.

Miami defensive coordinator Josh Boyer did a nice job of mixing blitzes with what appeared to be blitzes and instead resulted in dropping defenders.

Emmanuel Ogbah and Jerome Baker picked up first-half sacks. So too did Xavien Howard and Raekwon Davis (half sack apiece). In the third quarter, it was Brandon Jones with yet another sack.

By midway through the fourth quarter, the Dolphins had racked up eight sacks.

The biggest defensive play of the first half was turned in by cornerback Nik Needham, who intercepted Book for a Pick 6 touchdown on Book’s first drive. A tipped pass by Andrew Van Ginkel contributed to the interception.

Ogbah is an unrestricted free agent after this season. The Dolphins will want to re-sign him. Needham, one of the lowest players on Miami and an absolute gem of a signing as an unrestricted free agent, is a restricted free agent.

It seems there is no way Miami lets Needham get away.

New Orleans began this game 0-for-12 on third down. Through three quarters, they had a total of 7 first downs. There was never a feeling they were in any way a threat.

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