Inclement Weather Leads to Broken Record
It is no secret that you, your grandma, your dog, heck even your grandmas dog were all excited for the start of the NFL season. No matter what your excitement level was I’m not sure if anyone was prepared for the football game turned marathon that was the Tennessee Titans at Miami Dolphins on Sunday.
In what was the longest recorded game since the AFL/NFL merger, the Miami Dolphins were ultimately able to hold off the Titans by a score of 27-20 after what ended up being a seven hour and eight minute debacle caused by two different heavy lightning delays in the area.
For Dolphins fans, a bizarre opening weekend is nothing new. We all remember last year’s opener getting cancelled due to a hurricane. This caused the team to miss out on their bye week in 2017. Nonetheless, Quarterback Ryan Tannehill was back on the field for his first action since 2016. Despite Mother Nature trying to rain on the Dolphins parade, they were able to come away with a hard fought and most unusual victory.
Meeting Their Match
The two teams ended up almost mirroring each other in many team stat categories by the end of this one. The time of possession for each team was within one minute of each other, and there was just a three-yard difference in total penalty yards.
The Titans offense was able to muster up 336 yards of total offense, compared to the 342 yards put up by the Dolphins offense. The Dolphins defense was able to force one more turnover, but the Titans defense also held Miami to an ugly two out of ten on third down conversions. These two teams were very evenly matched across the board. I believe that both will be in the race for a playoff spot come later in the year.
The Injury Bug Didn’t Bite the Dolphins This Time
For the Titans, the long weather delays and the loss might not even be the biggest of their worries. Three injuries occurred to arguably the three best players on Tennessee’s offense. Marcus Mariota (elbow), Taylor Lewan (concussion) and Delanie Walker (fractured ankle) were all lost at one point or another. This has got to have Titans fans everywhere pushing the panic button.
While it’s unknown just how serious Mariota’s injury is, there is a serious chance of Lewan missing time with his concussion. Walker was lost for the year in what was one of the more gruesome injuries you will see, as his ankle was rolled up on after a reception.
Blaine Gabbert came into the game in relief of Mariota. He was less than impressive, completing just 50 percent of his passes for 117 yards and 1 interception. By the time Gabbert entered the game, Tennessee was already playing from behind. This was partially in part to two interceptions thrown by Mariota. In the end it was just too much for the backup to overcome. Even when he was able to tie the game at 10-10, speedy Dolphins returner Jakeem Grant took the ensuing kickoff 102 yards to the house for the immediate regaining of the lead.
However, Grant wasn’t the only Dolphins player making explosive plays, as Ryan Tannehill and Kenny Stills rekindled their chemistry. Stills finished the day with four receptions for 104 yards and two touchdowns. The duo was able to connect on a twelve-yard touchdown pass in the second quarter to put Miami ahead 7-3 before the first weather delay.
In the third quarter Stills embarrassed Titans corner Malcolm Butler on a go route. Tannehill was able to drop the ball directly into the breadbasket for a 75-yard touchdown strike. This play was eerily similar to the ball he dropped against Seattle in the team’s season opener at Seattle in 2016.
That play was by far the best throw of the day for Tannehill. It was arguably one of the best in his career given weather circumstances and the return from injury. The quarterback did have to work through some kinks though, as he did throw two interceptions of his own. However, he ultimately finished the day with an efficient stat line and more importantly, the victory.
Spreading the Wealth
He spread the ball out all across the field as well, as five different Dolphins players finished with at least three receptions. Ultimately, Tannehill completed 20 of 28 passes for 230 yards, 2 touchdowns and 2 interceptions. Tannehill and the receivers are building chemistry early, and minus a couple small mistakes that can be ironed out he was very efficient and smart with the football.
The running game looked solid as well, with veteran Frank Gore leading the way with 61 yards rushing on a 6.8 yards per carry average. He and Kenyan Drake combined for 109 total rush yards on 23 carries behind a good but not great performance from the offensive line as penalties are still an issue to be worked through.
Overall for Adam Gase and the Dolphins it was a good start to the season and there were many promising aspects to build on. Special teams was a strong point, as Jakeem Grant returned a kickoff 102 yards for a touchdown, rookie kicker Jason Sanders nailed both field goal attempts and all three extra points, and even the punter Matt Haack gets some love for his 53.8 yard average on his four punts.
While things got a little sloppy in the fourth quarter for both teams, Miami’s defense was able to force three turnovers. The turnovers were all interceptions, including one from Kiko Alonso and two from the most underrated safety in the NFL, Reshad Jones. First round pick Minkah Fitzpatrick also impressed, recording a pass breakup and 4 tackles.
His most impressive play of the day came on a 4th down stop where he made a clean open field tackle on Corey Davis to give the Dolphins offense the ball back. He read the play and attacked it beautifully. It was not what you would expect from a rookie in a clutch situation.
Next up for the Miami Dolphins will be the first road trip and divisional game of the season as they will travel to the Meadowlands to take on rookie quarterback Sam Darnold and the Jets. Facing a rookie quarterback on a short week is typically something defenses long for, but Darnold is built differently. The Detroit Lions found that out the hard way on Monday Night Football in the rookie quarterback’s debut.
There is no need to explain the importance of divisional games, especially when the schedule is as back loaded as the Miami’s this year. Getting off to a 2-0 start would be a huge confidence builder going forward for this team.