7:22 PM ET
Cameron WolfeESPN Staff Writer
- Covered the Broncos for two seasons with the Denver Post
- Graduate of the University of Houston
- A native of Jackson, Miss.
MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. — There’s something special brewing in South Florida.
A 29-21 Miami Dolphins win over the Los Angeles Chargers was the latest example of a young team consistently playing complementary football for the first time in a long time. It’s a team its fans can believe in, and the playoffs become a more realistic goal every week.
An exciting rookie quarterback with an ability to make premier throws. A playmaking defense and special-teams group that always seems to make the game-changing play. A coach in Brian Flores who, along with his assistants, seems to always get the most out of his personnel.
The 6-3 Dolphins are on a five-game winning streak, and it’s their best record through nine games since 2001. It was an efficient, relatively mistake-free day for Tagovailoa, who outplayed the Chargers’ rookie Justin Herbert, earning the one-up in their first head-to-head battle. But Sunday’s game showed how the Dolphins win as a team.
Tagovailoa didn’t need to carry his team to victory. He didn’t light it up with superstar, 300-yard-plus passing days like Herbert and Cincinnati’s Joe Burrow have done this year, but he continues to enjoy fruits they haven’t consistently tasted: winning. Through three games, Tagovailoa has more wins (three) than both Herbert (two) and Burrow (two).
An Andrew Van Ginkel blocked punt got the party started quickly, leading to a 1-yard Salvon Ahmed touchdown. An interception from Xavien Howard halted a potential Chargers comeback. The Dolphins held the Chargers to 273 yards and Herbert to just 187 yards passing.
QB breakdown: Tagovailoa went 15-of-25 for 169 yards, two touchdowns and zero interceptions. But he was the quarterback who didn’t make the big mistake and he continues to flash superstar potential, particularly when offensive coordinator Chan Gailey gets him on the move.
The Dolphins have set Tagovailoa up for success, from seamless playcalling from Gailey to the focus of having him be the point guard of the team rather than the superstar. It’s what Tagovailoa does best, and it seems like the best is still yet to come for both the rookie quarterback and this team.
Pivotal play: It was third-and-12 early in the fourth quarter with the Chargers around midfield, down six points hoping to take the lead when Herbert made the mistake of challenging Howard with a pass to receiver Mike Williams. Howard, maybe the NFL’s best ball hawk, jumped the route for his fifth interception of the season. The Dolphins took that short field for a touchdown drive that put them up two scores after a Tagovailoa-to-Durham Smythe short reception.
Howard, back healthy, looks like one of the best cornerbacks in football again. He allows the Dolphins to play consistent man-to-man coverage, which in turn lets them be the aggressive, blitz-happy team that has driven quarterbacks crazy. The Dolphins now have at least one takeaway in 15 consecutive games.
Buy on a breakout performance: I’m buying on Ahmed continuing to be a key contributor and potentially securing the Dolphins starting running back role even when Myles Gaskin returns from injured reserve with his knee sprain. Ahmed looked spry and quick, maximizing the openings he had in the running game.
In his first NFL start, Ahmed had 85 rushing yards on 21 carries and a touchdown. That’s the second-best performance from a Dolphins back this season. (Gaskin had 91 rushing yards against the New York Jets.) The Dolphins have gotten little from veteran backs Jordan Howard and Matt Breida, but they’ve had some success developing unheralded ones, and Ahmed could be the latest.