The Miami Dolphins came away with the win in the first of their back-to-back California games on Sunday with a 31-24 victory over the San Diego Chargers. Things did not always go right for the Dolphins, but once again, they plugged away at the Chargers until things started to open up, and they found a way to win. They are now a game over .500, still firmly in the AFC playoff picture, and even, surprisingly, in the hunt for the AFC East division title.
There were a lot of good things that happened on Sunday. There were some bad and some ugly, as well. Each week, we break down the Dolphins’ most recent performance using those three categories. What were the good, the bad, and the ugly for yesterday’s game?
The Chiefs and Broncos coming back to win their games, meaning Miami could not gain on them in the Wildcard chase.
Okay, that may not be exactly the “breakdown.” But, that is about how it feels after that game. It really was a fun game to watch, with the Dolphins and Chargers both featuring defenses that did not want to budge early, while the respective offenses were trying to get their running games started. The second half turned into a back-and-forth, fast-paced contest, with both the running games and the passing attacks from both teams opening up.
Let’s get to the actual breakdown, shall we?
- DeVante Parker - The Dolphins’ 2015 first-round pick suddenly looks like a first-round talent coming into his own. He picked up 103 yards on five catches on Sunday, and could have had more if another long pass was not called back due to a penalty. He has been battling a hamstring issue all season, but it looked like he was finally 100 percent this week, and he was a constant target for quarterback Ryan Tannehill.
- Jarvis Landry - While Parker was putting up the long receptions, Landry was again the most consistent receiver for Miami, catching all six passes thrown his way, totaling 53 yards. He was not always available when Tannehill needed to find someone, but that is more about the Chargers doing a good job in keeping him covered than anything else. A week after the Dolphins did not go to Landry much, the team clearly wanted to get him involved and it was good to see.
- Ryan Tannehill - 17-for-24 for 240 yards with 2 touchdowns, a 130.6 passer rating and a 93.5 QBR. Add in three carries for 16 yards, including a key 3rd-and-11, 18-yard gain when he escaped a sack, rolled right, looked for a receiver, found no one, realized Landry was pulling the two defenders away and he ran for the first down. This was among the best games we have seen from Tannehill, and it again comes from the team giving him good protection and receivers coming through for him. It is almost like he is a good quarterback who needed time to develop and a chance to play behind a good offensive line.
- Cameron Wake - Three tackles, with two sacks - which was really three sacks, but two of them were split with Andre Branch and Ndamukong Suh. Wake was again a beast on the defensive line, pushing him to 7.0 sacks on the season and into a tie for eighth in the league. How explosive was Wake on Sunday? He was offsides twice - on the same play. He jumped offsides, managed to jump back, reset, and then jumped again before the flag was pulled. If Wake can continue to perform like this the rest of the year, opposing quarterbacks could be in trouble all year.
- Tony Lippett - The wide-receiver-turned-cornerback had his best game of his two-year career on Sunday, leading the team with seven tackles and recording two interceptions. His picks stopped the threat the Dolphins were facing after a muffed punt gave the Chargers the ball at the Miami five-yard line. His second pick ended the game, taking away any chance the Chargers had of making a comeback. It was not always perfect for Lippett, but it was clearly good.
- Earl Mitchell - Welcome back, Mitchell. After sitting out the past eight weeks due to a preseason calf injury that re-occurred in Week 1, Mitchell returned to the playing field and showed that he still is a force from the defensive tackle position for Miami. He seemed to be in the backfield a lot and he recorded four tackles, with two tackles for a loss.
- Kiko Alonso - The Dolphins’ middle linebacker continues to be a solid addition to the roster and the top linebacker on the club. He also turned into a playmaker on Sunday, picking off a pass late in the game to turn what looked to be a Chargers game winning drive into a pick-six to win the game for Miami. After the game, Alonso said it was the first defensive touchdown he has ever scored, at any level of football, and he picked the perfect time for it to happen.
- Byron Maxwell - The other two players to intercept a pass are on the list, so Maxwell should also make the list. He recorded five tackles along with two passes defensed and the interception. Like Lippett, it was not always perfect, but he was really good when he needed to be.
- Mario Williams - Williams definitely deserves to be recognized this week. He was a force in the pass rush, recording 0.5 sacks and about 42 quarterback hurries (that may be an unofficial count, but hey, why not?). He was also good against the run, setting the edge and forcing Melvin Gordon back inside. Definitely the best game Williams has had as a member of the Dolphins.
- Laremy Tunsil - The Dolphins’ rookie left guard looked really good as a left tackle when Branden Albert had to miss part of the second- and third-quarters due to injury. The Dolphins were still able to pick up good yardage on the ground and the pass protection did not seem to suffer. That is a good sign for the Dolphins moving into the future.
- Branden Albert - The Dolphins’ left tackle fought through injury and returned to the game with a cast on his hand and arm. He played fine with the injury and he continued to solidify the offensive line when he returned.
- Matt Darr - Yes, the punter makes the list. He averaged 51.6 yards per punt on Sunday, routinely flipping the field any time he was asked to kick the ball.
- Jakeem Grant - Grant dropped two punts, losing one, and he fumbled a kickoff return. It was not a good show for the rookie, but it did not end up hurting the Dolphins in the long run (in large part due to Lippett). Head coach Adam Gase already confirmed Grant will still be the team’s returner next week, so there does not seem to be any long-term repercussions for the bad moments he had, but it definitely was worthy of the bad this week.
- The secondary - Confused? Lippett and Maxwell both appear in the good, but the secondary as a whole is in the bad. That is pretty much how it was on Sunday. As it says above, it was not always perfect for the two cornerbacks, and when it was not, it was bad. If Miami only rushed four and kept downfield crowded, the Chargers seemed to struggle, but if there were five or more pass rushers coming after Rivers - and they did not get to him with either a sack or forcing him to throw away the pass - the secondary was carved up. Luckily for Miami, the pass rush often got to Rivers, so the damage was held in check.
- Branden Albert - Albert was good in this game, but the injury is bad. A dislocated wrist, even though he came back to keep playing, is something that could linger - and I am sure it did not feel good on Sunday, nor does it probably feel good today. Albert did struggle with Melvin Ingram some of the time on Sunday, and he allowed the only sack of the game on Tannehill, but it was not a bad game for Albert - just the injury was bad.
- Penalties - I was frustrated with the referees just as most Dolphins fans were (check out our Facebook page if you want to see exactly how frustrated), but the penalties that were called on Miami were often worthy of the calls. Maybe some of the holding penalties on the secondary were ones that could be overlooked, but as a whole, Miami committed 11 (accepted) penalties for 81 yards. That is way too many and the team has to fix the issues if they are going to continue to make a run toward the playoffs. At some point, free yardage to an opponent is going to bite the Dolphins.