The Miami Dolphins left Gillette Stadium with a 17-16 win over the New England Patriots on Sunday, starting the 2021 season with a win and moving into the extremely early lead in the AFC East. It was not a perfect game, though as Miami head coach Brian Flores said after the game, no one has ever played a perfect game. There are things the Dolphins need to improve, but there are a lot of things that should excite the fans for the season ahead of us.
Tonight, we take a look at some of the top performances from the game, as well as some of the areas where the Dolphins can look to improve before next week’s game. If Miami can clean up some of these stock down areas, while continuing to see these stock up performances, they have a chance next week to start the year 2-0, with both wins coming from inside the AFC East.
Stock up: Jaylen Waddle, wide receiver - Welcome to the NFL, rookie. In his first regular-season game, Waddle was explosive and looked like he had great chemistry with quarterback Tua Tagovailoa. He tallied four receptions for 61 yards and a touchdown during the game, though it could have been more if he had not had an ugly drop on a third-down pass in the second quarter.
Stock down: Injuries - Really, this is just a look at the loss of Raekwon Davis in the middle of the Dolphins’ defensive line. The 6-foot-7, 330-pound nose tackle is a huge (no pun intended) part of the Miami defense, eating up offensive linemen and creating space for the rest of the defense to attack. After a scary injury to his knee, Davis returned to the sideline, wearing a brace, where he stayed the rest of the game, despite still being dressed and appearing ready to go back in the game. Maybe it was a precaution that made Miami keep their 2020 second-round pick on the sidelines, but this is not an injury Miami can really afford.
Stock up: Xavien Howard, cornerback - If you came into this game thinking Howard was a one-year wonder or got his interceptions last year in “garbage” time (as I was told last week heading into this game), Sunday’s contest should tell you how the NFL feels about Howard. The Patriots never challenged Miami’s All-Pro cornerback. Mac Jones just never even looked toward the receiver Howard was covering. And yet Howard had, perhaps, the most impactful defensive play of the game, forcing a Damien Harris fumble late in the game and then recovering it to lock down the win for Miami.
Stock down: Run defense - The Patriots clearly wanted to establish the run to take pressure off Mac Jones in his first career start, and the Dolphins seemingly cooperated. Damien Harris picked up 100 yards on 23 carries, with the team as a whole running for 125 yards on 30 attempts, giving them a 4.2 yards per carry average. In comparison, Miami was only able to pick up 74 yards on 23 carries for a 3.2 yard per carry average. The defense needs to step up and shut down the run. The injury to Raekwon Davis is a part of why they struggled against the run at times.
Stock up: Eric Rowe, safety - Rowe seemed to be everywhere on Sunday. He was second on the team with nine tackles (trailing linebacker Jerome Baker’s 12 tackles). He recorded a forced fumble, creating the first takeaway for the Dolphins, firing up a defense that feasts on turnovers.
Stock down: Noah Igbinoghene, cornerback - There were two notable names on the inactive list for the Dolphins on Sunday. Wide receiver Preston Williams was not a surprise, given he was questionable for the game and has a lingering foot injury. Igbinoghene’s inclusion on the list though continues an unfortunate downfall for a player who was a first-round pick just a year ago. He is still just 21 years old, so there is plenty of time for him to develop and grow into an NFL cornerback, but his stock clearly is headed down as he did not dress for Sunday’s game.