Feeling great? And healthy?
That’s what matters now. The Dolphins’ easy Monday night win over New Orleans, 20-3, kept their second-half streak going and underlined how a season can be ruined by a COVID test right now.
Here are 10 thoughts on the game:
1. Stat of the game: 21 Saints players were out due to COVID restrictions. Here’s a legitimate question: Why wasn’t this game postponed? Cleveland had 22 players out with the virus and its game was suspended two days (from a Saturday to Monday). Was it the fact it was already at Monday night game? Would the Saints have gotten players back for a Tuesday game? I’m not sure there was a good answer here, but this s a competitive embarrassment for the league with one team without nearly half its players. Especially against a good Dolphins defense, the Saints had no chance playing their fourth-string quarterback and a patchwork offensive line. The defensive front seven had no reserves. The Saints were signing players Monday just to fill out the 45-man roster. They had one (1) player inactive for the game rather than the requisite list of seven practice players. This was a gift from the league to the Dolphins that the game was played. If it had been the other way around, the Dolphins fans would be irate. As it is, it as just the league that should be embarrassed playing a game like thati.
2. The Dolphins defense is giving up 12.8 points on this seven-game win streak. It was a mismatch against the beleaguered Saints on Monday. The Saints didn’t get a first down until 18 minutes into the game. They had a minimalist’s 104 yards of total offense through three quarters. They were 0-12 on third-down conversions (and 1 of 2 on fourth down). Book was sacked eight times. Look, any team down to its fourth quarterback is in trouble. This defense has eaten up backup or rookie quarterbacks on this win streak (Joe Flacco, Mike Glennon, Tyrod Taylor, Zach Wilson, Cam Newton). They also played well vs. a good quarterback in Lamar Jackson. Next up: Ryan Tannehill.
3. The AFC playoff standings are simple: Win out and the Dolphins are in the playoffs. That’s a challenge at Tennessee and home against New England when they have playoff money riding on the games, too. Here’s the playoff standings right now:
1. Kansas CIty 11-4;
2. Tennessee 10-5;
3. Cincinnati 9-6;
4.. Buffalo 9-6;
5. Indianapolis 9-6;
6. New England 9-6;
7. Dolphins 8-7.
Of course, Las Vegas, Baltimore and the Los Angeles Chargers are at 8-7, too. Win out and the Dolphins keep their tie-breaker edge and the Dolphins are in the playoffs.
4. Play of the game: Andrew Van Ginkel tips Book’s second pass and the line and Nik Needham returns it for a pick-6 to put the Dolphins up, 7-0. It was cute how the Monday Night Football announcers kept repeating Saints coach Sean Payton wasn’t worried about Book, a rookie fourth-round pick who had never thrown a pass this season. But seriously. It was up to the Dolphins defense to set the tone of this game and they did it right from the opening series.
5. Jalen Waddle keeps adding to his big rookie season. He caught 10 passes for 92 yards. The rest of the Dolphins receivers: Nine passes for 106 yards. Offensive coordinator George Godsey keeps finding ways to get Waddle open — and Waddle keeps getting open. There was a flea-flicker. There was the 1-yard pass for a touchdown where he took a pitch while coming across the line. He has 96 catches this year. The rookie record is Anquan Boldin’s 101 catches.
6. Now for some bad news, same as the old news: It was like playing whack-a-mole watching the Dolphins offensive line play Monday against a strong New Orleans defensive line. Jesse Davis yielded a sack. Liam Eichenberg and Austin Jackson teamed up to yield a sack. Jackson, Austin Reiter and Robert Hunt had holding penalties. This was against a very good Saints defensive line that had no reserves in the game and a linebacking corps that was missing its top two linebackers.
7. The final play of the first half was as bad an outcome as the Dolphins could get. It’s third-and-2 at the Saints 32 with 27 seconds left. This offense has done nothing all night. Run the ball or have a quick pass this offense is known for, right? Instead, Tua drops back deep, has his short receiver covered (the Saints were playing press coverage all game) and looks for help. Meanwhile, Davis is asked to block Cam Jordan one-on-one. Running back Duke Johnson runs by without so much as a chip. Jordan beats Davis, sacks Tua and a 50-yard field goal attempt becomes a 59-yard field goal attempt. This was a game where three points is gold. All year the Dolphins have been the most conservative offense around. This was a situation that begged to continue that and take the three possible points. Dumb, dumb, dumb.
8. No team has lost seven straight games and won seven straight games in the same season. At least until now. The Dolphins last had a seven-game win streak in 1985.
9. Yeah, I tweeted it an hour before kickoff when the final rosters were in and the Saints were, in fact, COVID-decimated: “This is the easiest game of the Dolphins season. They’re playing well. New Orleans is down more than a third of its roster, including top 3 QB s, best offensive linemen, best defensive player and a top safety. It signed two players off the street today to help tonight. Blowout.”
The threats. The taunts. And the general sick feeling by Dolphins fans who were scared of “jinxes” or somehow feared players adopting this idea. Jinxes. Let’s talk about Santa Claus if you also believe in jinxes. Let me say it again: This was the easiest win of the season. The only question was how the Saints got three points off the Dolphins.
10. Next week: Dolphins at Tennessee. The season is one the line and it’s the first meeting with old friend Ryan Tannehill, the former Dolphins quarterback. Think he’d like to win this one? Tennessee is 10-5 and currently has the No. 2 seed behind Kansas City. And Tannehill? Well, there’s that 10-5 record, his 27th-ranked passer rating of 84.5 and his 12th-rated QBR by ESPN’s measure of 52.9. He was great with running back Derrick Henry. Without Henry? Well, he still led the Titans to a comeback Sunday over San Francisco. Bottom-line: This is a tough game for the Dolphins on the road against a good team wanting a win to improve its playoff chances.