Jason Sanders and the Miami Dolphins eventually squeaked by the Cincinnati Bengals in what felt like a trap game early on Sunday, 19-7, to kick off a three-game homestand and remain in control of the No. 6 seed in the AFC Playoff race. Additionally, Miami improved to 8-4, its best start since 2003.
Little rhythm in the first half filled with uncharacteristic ejections filled the spotlight in the game, however, has tempers flared between the clubs in what is turning into a rivalry between Miami and Cincinnati (2-9-1). But, for the second straight season in Hard Rock Stadium, the Dolphins emerged victoriously.
“I think things started to click starting towards the end of the first half. And then second half, we kind of knew what we wanted to do going into the second half,” Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa said. “I’d say the only thing that was different was our tempo (after halftime). We just got on the ball, and then we played.”
Dolphins Muster Just Two Field Goals in First Half, Howard Notches League-Leading Eighth Interception
After Miami failed on a blitz in the first quarter resulting in a 72-yard catch-and-run strike to Bengals’ wide receiver Tyler Boyd, the Dolphins were chasing points until the third quarter.
Although Sanders connected from 25 and 48 yards out for the only other scores of the half between the two teams to make it just a one-point game at the half, the half was all but dull.
Cincinnati QB Brandon Allen made the mistake many NFL QBs have made this season in targeting Dolphins cornerback Xavien Howard. Howard intercepted Allen for his league-leading eighth INT of the season.
Altercations Between Teams Start With Howard, Boyd
But, he got in an altercation with Boyd later in the half and both were thrown out for fighting. While Boyd threw most of the punches, the referees attempted to set a tone for the game and threw out both participants.
The message was not received.
Bengals’ Mike Thomas Took Cheap Shots Jakeem Grant, Start Melee
Grant took two shots to the chest on two separate punt returns, and on the second, he remained down on the field for around 15 seconds before getting up, creating a bench-clearing brawl.
Head coach Brian Flores first went to assess Grant but then charged to the Bengals sideline with choice words. This then cleared Cincinnati’s bench, resulting in multiple punches thrown between coaches and players.
“Today I would say emotions got the best of us in some instances, myself included,” Flores said. “Games in this league are chippy. This is a competitive league. Players, coaches, everyone is competitive. We want competitive people in our building, so at times it can get chippy, but we have to keep our composure. We’ve got to keep our poise. We can’t do anything that will lead to the detriment of our team.”
Three More Ejections Follow, Flores Takes Ownership
The Dolphins would then be without WRs DeVante Parker and Mack Hollins for most of the final quarter, while the Bengals would be without safety Shawn Williams. Thomas, who initially started the targeting, was not thrown out of the game, however, despite the league office getting involved. Grant would also stay in the game after and feature as Miami’s No. 1 receiver for the quarter.
“The people in this organization, they’re very important to me. I’m going to try to protect everyone here – players, coaches. But there’s a way to do that,” Flores said. “There’s a better way to do that, and, again, like I said, unfortunately, this is one of the things that I don’t like. (But) our team went out there, played a good game against a tough opponent, won the game, played well in all three phases (and) really played well.”
Dolphins Play for Teammates, Have Strong Second Half
The Dolphins proved to be too much to close out the game, however, forcing two punts and getting a second interception to seal the deal.
Tagovailoa also connected with tight end Mike Gesicki for Miami’s only TD in the third quarter to take the lead and it never looked back. The strike made it 13-7 and was also the Dolphins’ first lead in the game. Gesicki led all receivers with nine catches for 88 yards and the TD.
“I think that we were able to kind of catch them in some personnel and some calls that they weren’t ready for,” Gesicki said. “But ultimately, that goes back up to coaching, and they did a great job getting calls in quick, and then the offensive line did a great job getting Tua time. And Tua just went out there and threw it to the open guy.”
Gaskin Returns After Month-Long Absence, Eclipses 100 All-Purpose Yards
To help the Dolphins in the game, they finally got running back Myles Gaskin back after missing a month of action due to a sprained MCL. The timing couldn’t be better as Miami placed RB Matt Breida, who was expected to start the game, on the COVID-19 list on Friday and were already without backs Salvon Ahmed (shoulder) and DeAndre Washington (hamstring).
If Flores’ plan was to feature the running game, then he executed it nearly to perfection. Gaskin returned to Sunday’s game and finished with 21 carries for 90 rushing yards, averaging 4.3 yards per carry. Flores and Gaskin no doubt recognized Cincinnati gave up an average of 134.5 yards per game (29th in the NFL) on the ground and tried to exploit it the best they could. Gaskin also added 51 yards through the air, eclipsing that 134.5-total-yard mark.
Tagovailoa Continues to Grow, Offensive Line Makes Changes
Growing pains are still going to be expected of Tagovailoa, as he has only made five starts in his young NFL career. But, despite the ugly win, he has moved to 4-1 as the Dolphins’ starter and has tossed seven TDs in the span and no INTs.
One of the biggest surprises on Sunday was the improved play of the offensive line and Tagovailoa. Flores and the coaching staff elected to bench tackle Jesse Davis for Robert Hunt and start three rookie lineman. Despite the move, Miami allowed no sacks. Tagovailoa finished 26-for-39 for 296 yards and the one TD.
“I think it’s not just with Mike (Gesicki), although I do believe Mike had a great game. He’s made a good amount of contested catches. He made some amazing catches. But I think it’s with everyone. Whoever I see is open, that’s who I’m going to try to give the ball to. Mike put himself in the position to be open most of the game, and so I tried to give him an opportunity and he did what he did,” Tagovailoa said about his growing rapport with receivers.
Cincinnati Limited in Production
For Cincinnati, Allen went 11-for-19 for 153 yards with one TD and one INT before taking a big hit from defensive end Shaq Lawson that knocked him out of the game in the fourth quarter. QB Ryan Finley came in and went 6-for-7 for 40 yards and an INT.
The Dolphins’ run defense finally showed up Sunday. They limited starting Bengals back Giovani Bernard to 2.5 YPC and just 30 yards on 12 carries. Boyd also finished as Cincinnati’s leading receiver with his one catch for 72 yards before his early ejection.
Miami will next host the Kansas City Chiefs next Sunday in what could be flexed to the NFL’s national 1 p.m. eastern CBS game. Commentators Jim Nantz and Tony Romo are already assigned to the game.
Other Important Game Notes:
Jason Sanders’ four made field goals now give him a 28-for-29 mark on the year and his made extra point keeps him perfect at 27-for-27.
– 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.