By Abraham Gutierrez
Heading into Week 13, the Miami Dolphins (5-7) and the Denver Broncos (3-9) had combined for 12 consecutive losses, meaning something had to give between the lines at Hard Rock Stadium. Luckily, the Fins wouldn’t play down to the level of its competition, dispatching the Broncos in dominant fashion to come away with a much-needed 35-9 victory.
The win snapped the Dolphins’ five-game skid, as Miami improves to 5-7 on the 2017 NFL season. Meanwhile, Denver’s woes continue with the Broncos having now lost eight straight decisions to drop to 3-9 with four games remaining.
“Anytime you win in this league—it’s never easy, a lot of work goes into it—I know those guys have been working hard trying to try to find a way to win one game,” said Fins head coach Adam Gase. “They did a great job all week long. They were grinding through five loses and found a way today.”
Offensively, Miami tallied 15 first downs (10 passes, 4 rushes and a penalty), 367 total yards (145 rushing yards and 222 passing yards), went 4-for-14 on third-down situations and turned the ball over three times (two picks and fumble lost). Going up against one of the premier defenses in the league, the offensive line stepped up to the challenge, allowing just two sacks.
Their efforts gave quarterback Jay Cutler (18-31, 235 yards, 2 TDs, 2 INTs, 76.7 QBR) ample time to find open targets and enabled running back Kenyan Drake (23 carries, 120 yards, TD) to have a career-day and set the tone.
“He’s tough between the tackles, he’s a good-size guy for a running back and he will deliver the blow as much as any running back that I’ve been around,” Gase said when asked to assess Drake’s performance. “I think the one thing that we are just going to consistently work on throughout practice is making sure that his ball security is good, I thought he did a great job today.”
Aside from a costly fumble, wide receiver Kenny Stills (5 catches, 98 yards, TD, FL) had a solid outing. That was also the case for Mr. Reliable, fellow wideout Jarvis Landry (5 catches, 62 yards) and tight end Julius Thomas (3 catches, 20 yards, TD), who was a factor on the victory.
On the opposite side of the rock, the Fins caught a bit of a break by hosting one of the worst offenses in pro football. As a unit, Miami’s defense surrendered 14 first downs (10 passes, 3 rushes and a penalty), 270 total yards (103 rushing yards, 167 passing yards) and almost pitched a shutout in third-down situations by limiting the Broncos to a single conversion in 12 attempts.
The Dolphins “D” also came away with three interceptions (including a pick-six), two safeties, three sacks and helped Miami’s offense dominate the time-of-possession battle, 34 minutes and 21 seconds versus Denver’s 26 minutes and one second.
Second-year cornerback Xavien Howard had his fingerprints all over this win, as he came away with a pair of interceptions, one which he took to the house, as well as five passes defended and a tackle.
“It was a lot of fun,” said Cameron Wake after the game. “Whenever you’re making plays and guys are getting excited and celebrating, that energy is contagious from one guy to the next. That’s the way you want things to be.
“The only way to do that is to play complementary football and that contagious emotion and big-play mentality is on everybody from special teams, offense to defense. If you want to call it a party, we can party.”
Other NFL Week 13 defensive standouts for the Dolphins included safety T.J. McDonald (2 tackles, INT, PD), defensive tackle Jordan Phillips (2 tackles, 1 sack, PD), cornerback Bobby McCain (3 tackles, 1 sack 3 PD), defensive end Andre Branch (1 tackle, 1 sack) and linebacker Lawrence Timmons (6 tackles, PD).
Special Teams: A+
It was certainly a fun, productive day to be part of Miami’s special teams unit, as there was no shortage of Pro-Bowl-caliber plays all around and for four quarters. Kicker Cody Parkey (1-on-1 on field goals, 4-for-4 on PATs for 7 points and successful onside kick) was once again perfect, punter Matt Haack (9 punts for an average of 42.9 yards, 7 inside Denver’s 20-yard line and a long boot of 56 yards) continued his stellar play, and return-man Jakeem Grant (2 kick returns for 37 yards and 4 punt returns for 61 yards) did his part in the field-position battle.
“We expect that from our special teams,” Gase explained. “We’ve invested a lot of time. We’ve invested a lot of our resources to that area and we want to be dominant on special teams. We’ve been talking about it all year.”
There’s no question that Gase and his staff did a tremendous job of not only preparing this team to beat the Broncos, but also not underestimating or taking them lightly. The Dolphins won this contest going away and were able to (somewhat) limit the amount of pre-snap penalties (7 flags for 85 yards), which have been—among other issues—a huge Achilles Heel all season.
However, there were a few questionable calls that simply cannot go by without note. In particular, Miami’s decision to continue to throw the football—leading to turnovers—even in situations where chewing clock might have been the best course of action.
Another call that’s sure to create lots of chatter around the league was Gase’s decision to go for an onside kick with a pretty hefty lead. Miami would go on to recover, which would lead to some Broncos players taking matters into their own hands and retaliating in the ensuing drive.
“Just playing 60 minutes,” Gase said when asked why he opted to go for an onside kick even with a comfortable lead. “We’re not going to slow down, I don’t care what the score is.”
Up Next: Dolphins Host Patriots on Monday Night Football
For the second time in three weeks, the Dolphins will have to contend with Tom Brady and the reigning Super Bowl champion New England Patriots (10-2). New England is coming off a Week 13 win against the Buffalo Bills (6-6). This AFC East showdown is scheduled for Monday night at 8:30 p.m. ET from Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens, Florida.