The Miami Dolphins wasted no time on Sunday rolling with their “team ball” and “next man up” mentality, taking the lead in the game’s opening minutes and using their No. 5 running back to begin the season as their starter, and leading rusher in the game, to put away the Los Angeles Chargers 29-21 for their fifth straight win.
“I think we have a mentally tough team. I think that this team knows that it’s important, it’s a week-to-week league, how we prepare, how we practice, how we walkthrough is a direct correlation to how we play. I think they understand that,” Miami head coach Brian Flores said. “This is a hungry group, they fight for each other, it’s important to them, they’re competitive, so they work at it and we’re seeing the fruits of that labor out on the field.
Dolphins Special Teams Set Up Opening Score Just Minutes In
After a three-and-out drive that saw the Chargers (2-7) go backwards to begin the game, linebacker Andrew Van Ginkel took advantage of a bobbled snap from LA punter Ty Long to get the special teams block. Corner back Jamal Perry recovered the ball at the Chargers’ one-yard line to set up RB Salvon Ahmed to punch it in to give him first score of the season and Miami (6-3) an early 7-0 lead in the game’s opening three minutes.
Ahmed earned his first start, in what was presumed to be a committee approach with fellow backs Patrick Laird and DeAndre Washington, but it didn’t turn out that way. Ahmed got 21 carries to Laird’s and Washington’s two a piece. He finished with 85 yards on the ground (90 total) and averaged four yards per carry in the absence of RB Matt Breida who was ruled out as a game time decision with a hamstring injury.
“I think that everyone’s been working really hard. We’ve placed an emphasis on the run game. We’ve been not where we want to be throughout the start of this year; but heading into the second half of the year, we really want to emphasize it and I think everyone had their best game in the run game,” center Ted Karras said. “Salvon (Ahmed) had a great game and everyone did their job, and it was a great unit effort and team effort to win this game.”
Miami Pulls Off 80-Plus Yard Drive Due Largely In-Part to Jakeem Grant
Following Ahmed’s early score, the Dolphins forced another LA punt, this time clean, on the Chargers’ next possession.
Starting on its own 12-yard line, Miami used a big play early in the drive, a 23-yard pass completion from quarterback Tua Tagovailoa to tight end Mike Gesicki to get out from deep in its own territory. Following a penalty, Tagovailoa found wide receiver Jakeem Grant for a 13-yard gain to quickly move the Dolphins close to midfield. Ahmed then pulled off an 18-yard run before Tagovailoa found Grant for a 15-yard gain to move Miami into the LA red zone.
A few plays later Tagovailoa looked to find No. 1 WR DeVante Parker for the score, and it was ruled a touchdown on the field, but after review, it was ruled out of bounds. No matter though, as Tagovailoa regrouped and went to Mr. Reliable Grant from the drive for the three-yard score to put Miami up 14-0.
Grant entered the game as the No. 2 WR with WR Preston Williams on IR for at least three games.
“Like I’ve been saying, I’m a receiver before a returner, and my number was called today. That’s what I did. I went out there and showed them that I’m not just a returner, I’m a receiver too. I’m a total package,” Grant said. “All week coach (Flores) has been telling me to sit in that zone, it’s going to be wide open. All you got to do is just sit there and Tua is going to find you and that’s exactly what I did.”
Fumbled Snap Kills All of Miami’s Momentum
A fumbled snap to begin the second quarter from Karras set up LA’s first score midway through the second quarter to cut the Dolphins lead in half.
The Chargers’ started the scoring drive on Miami’s 37 and converted two fourth-down tries on the drive, including the eventual fourth-and-goal QB-keep for the score for rookie Justin Herbert.
“I take a lot of precautions with kind of moisture management. It was a long drive and it slipped out of my hand again,” Karras said. “And when something like that happens, it’s devastating and you look at guys in the eye that count on you and it hurts you in the deepest part of your being that you let people down. And I’m really glad we rallied.”
Finally, Miami made it a 10-point game again before the end of the half by tacking on a 50-yard Jason Sanders field goal.
Dolphins’ Struggles of Defending TEs Continue
To begin the second half, LA made it interesting, forcing a Dolphins punt and then scoring a TD on its opening half possession to cut the game to three points.
In Miami’s game a week prior it gave up two scores to opposing TEs and it did so again in this one, surrendering a wide-open score to TE Hunter Henry in the back right corner of the end zone from two yards out.
Kalen Ballage Was Angry with Miami and it Showed
The Dolphins were reeling here on the ground. They were struggling with gaping holes in the ground game, especially up the middle, and to former Dolphin-RB Kalen Ballage. Ballage was cut by Miami after averaging a measly 1.8 yards per carry but had a spurt in the second half where he looked rather unstoppable and wound up finishing as LA’s leading rusher with 68 yards.
“(Kalen) Ballage was just hitting it downhill hard and he was hitting the hole hard so props to him. He really came out to play. It’s just something that they got us, but it’s something that we need to fix and to continue to improve on,” Van Ginkel said. “When they’re gaining 8 yards on first down that’s going to be tough to stop, especially when it’s second-and-short and they have the playbook open. It’s something that we need to do a better job on first down, stopping the runs, for sure.”
Xavien Howard IS a Top CB in the NFL – Don’t Forget It.
After getting the ball back, but being unable to convert a first down from the Chargers’ 17, Miami was forced to a field goal where it only took a six-point lead and to put its tired defense back on the field.
However, cornerback Xavien Howard found a spark the Dolphins desperately needed.
“It was a great call from the coaches, made a great play on the ball. It changed the momentum and the offense ended up scoring,” Xavien Howard said. “I feel like I’m just getting better. I want to say, put myself by saying that this is the best football I’ve been playing also. I think it’s probably two years with seven, so I’m (going to) just keep on going, just trying to strive for the best.”
Xavien Howard now has an NFL-leading five interceptions this season.
His turnover set up a misdirection TD from Tagovailoa to TE Durham Smythe to extend the Dolphins’ lead and give them some breathing room. Offensive coordinator Chan Gailey disguised what looked to be a running play for Ahmed, but they rolled out and Tagovailoa found Smythe all alone in the right of the end zone.
“I think (Offensive Coordinator) Chan (Gailey) is just finding ways to put guys in certain areas or certain positions to become successful. We’re trying to put guys defensively in a bind to where we can take advantage of them,” Tagovailoa said.
Jason Sanders Misses First Kick of Year
Miami would score the next points of the game as well, another field goal, but it would come after Sanders’ first miss of the year on the Dolphins’ ensuing drive. Miami’s kicker made a franchise-record 22 in a row before missing the 47-yarder wide right Sunday.
He would make a 49-yarder dead down the middle late in the quarter before Herbert found No. 1 wideout Keenan Allen for the late Chargers TD, but it wasn’t enough as Miami recovered the onside kick attempt and took a knee to end the game.
Grant, Allen Pace Dolphins, Chargers
Grant’s string of catches in the first half led him to be Miami’s leading receiver in the game, hauling in four balls (five targets) for 43 yards and the score. He also averaged 19 yards per return on special teams.
Additionally, eight Dolphins caught passes from Tagovailoa in the game, who went 15-for-25 for 169 yards and two TDs.
For LA it was Allen who finished as its leading receiver with three catches (seven targets) for 39 yards and the score.
Furthermore, seven Chargers caught balls from Herbert on the day, who went 20-for-32 for 187 yards, two TDs and one interception.
“I feel like I’ve always been comfortable with Chan. The only thing is me and him getting on the same page as to why he’s calling a certain play and just the chemistry that we have,” Tagovailoa said. “It’s just a continuous talk leading up to the game. And even with our starters, our drive starters, plays that we want to go out with to start the game, too, it’s a continuous talk.”
Miami will travel out west again to take on the Denver Broncos in week 11 chasing for a tie of the AFC East division lead with the Buffalo Bills (7-3) on bye.
– Kayla Morton is the Managing Editor for Full Press Coverage Miami Dolphins. She is also a co-host on the Full Press Fantasy Podcast. Like and follow on Follow @northdakayla74 Follow @FPC_Dolphins and Facebook.