The Dolphins win their second in a row by going into Indianapolis and upsetting the Colts. Bye-bye, Tua Tagovailoa?
INDIANAPOLIS — The Dolphins had FitzMagic and defense on their side.
The Indianapolis Colts were banking on a backup quarterback who threw three interceptions.
Put them together and it adds up to this: A Dolphins team fighting to escape the winless column not long ago suddenly is on a two-game winning streak. Meaning the Tank for Tua watch may well be dead in Miami.
The Dolphins beat the Colts 16-12 Sunday after sweating out a last-gasp drive by the Colts.
In the end, the clinching play was made by Nik Needham, whose hit on Eric Ebron forced the tight end to catch Brian Hoyer’s fourth-down pass short of the first-down marker, on the Miami 8-yard line with 40 seconds left.
The Dolphins earlier took a 10-0 lead on the strength of Ryan Fitzpatrick’s 11-yard dash for the only touchdown of the game.
Takeways from the victory:
* Sanders comes through: Jason Sanders entered this game with five misses on the season after failing only twice as a rookie last year.
The Dolphins twice passed up chances to let him kick long field goals Sunday, but with less than six minutes left, they didn’t have a choice.
They sent Sanders in and he came through, making a 48-yard field goal with 5:45 left to put Miami back up, 13-12.
How ironic that the difference at that point was a missed extra point by Adam Vinatieri, the legendary Colts kicker.
Sanders came back to make another 48-yarder, with 3:31 left, for a four-point lead.
* Second-half woes continue: When this season is over, Flores and his staff must devote time to figuring out why this team struggles in the second half.
The Dolphins entered this game having been outscored in the second half by 111 points. Despite leading 10-0 at halftime Sunday, they made the second half an adventure before pulling this one out.
It wasn’t until early in the fourth quarter that the Dolphins even picked up a first down in the half.
Normally when things are going so far south late in games, it’s because teams are out of shape. But anyone who showed up to training camp in July would seriously question if that’s the problem. You don’t go as hard as these guys do, in triple-digit heat indexes, and come out on the other side out of shape.
Is it psychological? The result of having so many young players who get caught up in the moment?
Whatever it is, the Dolphins need to solve it — and in a hurry.
* Defense tightens up: Four games into the season, the Dolphins were allowing an average of 40.8 points per game.
After stopping the Jets last week in a 27-14 victory, the Dolphins’ defense put together its most dominant performance Sunday, holding Indy scoreless in the first half and making life so miserable on Hoyer, the fill in for Jacoby Brissett, that Hoyer was booed off the field several times early.
Safeties Steven Parker and Bobby McCain came up big. After the Colts had driven to the Miami 9 on their first series, Hoyer appeared to hit Ebron with a touchdown pass … except Parker managed to squeeze his right arm between Ebron and the ball and rip it out of Ebron’s grasp before he could complete the process of catching it. Touchback.
McCain’s interception also directly impacted the scoreboard. McCain grabbed an overthrow by Hoyer and returned it 32 yards to the Indy 12 in the second quarter. It took only three plays for the Dolphins to hit the end zone via an 11-yard run by Ryan Fitzpatrick.
Credit also goes to linebacker Vince Biegel, who on two consecutive plays made life miserable on Hoyer, pressuring him before chasing him down on a fourth-and-2 scramble just shy of the chains.
Jerome Baker had a sack/strip against Hoyer, but the Colts recovered.
And Needham, evidently inspired by Parker, made a similar pick late to protect Miami’s 13-12 lead.
Bottom line: The Dolphins are conceding 21 points over the past five games.
* Nothing left to prove? That’s what Kalen Ballage defiantly declared last week.
Sunday, on an offense that can’t afford misfires, Ballage had his share of them.
In fact, by halftime Ballage had recorded seven plays of zero or negative yards. Most were rushing plays, but Ballage also went backward when catching balls from Ryan Fitzpatrick.
In another era, under a recent Dolphins coach (ahem), that many negative plays earned one running back (Jay Ajayi) a ticket out of town and another back (Kenyan Drake) plenty of time on the bench.
Unfortunately for Brian Flores, he doesn’t have that option.
* The all-important draft outlook: This was a great weekend for Bengals fans with their eyes on the top overall pick.
The Bengals are showing every sign of being the league’s worst team, getting clobbered by MVP candidate Lamar Jackson and the Baltimore Ravens 49-13 to drop to 0-9 and remain the only winless team.
With the exception of Washington (1-8 and on a bye), the Bengals put daylight between themselves and the other contenders.
The Jets (2-7) beat the Giants 34-27 in what you could call the Battle of the Meadowlands but what might be better called The Which Coach Gets Fired Bowl. Sorry, Pat Shurmur (he’s 2-8).
The Falcons (2-7) went into New Orleans and upset the Saints 26-9.
@gunnerhalTo sign up for a free Dolphins newsletter, click here.