This was the kind of game that, decades ago, the Dolphins would win, and in recent years have usually found a way to lose. It featured a penalty yards total that at one time would have been considered blasphemous by most Dolphin fans. From 1975-93, under Don Shula, the Dolphins were the NFL's least penalized team. Miami was a long, long way from that on Sunday, racking up a whopping 81 yards on eleven infractions over the course of the game. Particularly galling was the insistence of the officials on repeatedly flagging the Dolphins for offsides and neutral zone violations virtually every time there was movement at the line of scrimmage prior to the snap when the Chargers were on offense. Indeed, San Diego was called for a false start only once the entire game, late in the second half. On at least one occasion, the Miami player in question had clearly gotten back behind the line of scrimmage before the snap, yet was whistled for a neutral zone violation anyway. We've been watching NFL games for more than forty years, and this was far and away the most egregious example of one sided officiating we've seen, and this would have been apparent to even the most impartial observer.
Dolphin quarterback Ryan Tannehill's 130.6 rating was the second highest of his career, and his 18 yard scramble picked up a crucial first down, but Miami's offense sputtered for much of the afternoon, once again going three-and-out far too many times for a team that has expended as many high draft picks on its offense as have the Dolphins. It was clear from the outset that if Miami was to win this game, they would have to win it on defense, and after a bruising contest that at times resembled a twelve round fight, that's exactly what they did. Veteran San Diego quarterback Phillip Rivers traded punches with Tannehill throughout the game, but the Dolphins were able to throw one more haymaker than the Chargers were. The knockout blow came with just 1:01 remaining in the game and the Chargers driving for what would have been the winning field goal. But on 1st and 10 near midfield, while the rest of Miami's front seven mounted an all out blitz against Rivers, middle linebacker Kiko Alonso dropped into the left flat, and when the San Diego QB threw quickly to the hot receiver to avoid the pass rush, Alonso plucked the ball out of the air and raced sixty yards for the game winning score.
Miami's defense intercepted Rivers four times on the afternoon, twice by fast developing second year corner Tony Lippett, whose pick in the end zone thwarted one San Diego scoring drive. The other starting corner Byron Maxwell, stopped another Chargers drive deep in Miami territory with an interception of his own, and the Dolphins also sacked Rivers three times. On a day when, between the Chargers and the officials, it looked like Miami was going to have trouble pulling the game out, the Dolphin defense simply wouldn't let them lose.