As time expired in this Christmas Eve showdown, Miami Dolphins kicker Jason Sanders drilled a 29-yard field goal to give the Miami Dolphins a much-needed two-point victory over a dangerous and desperate Dallas Cowboys football team. There were some impressive, explosive plays, but this was a victory fueled by the Miami Dolphins’ hard-nosed playoff-style football. They protected the football, played solid defense, and ran it when they needed to. You never know when (or if) they’ll need to win a shootout, but this formula could win them plenty of games down the stretch.
Let’s break down how they controlled this game from start to finish and won their first game against a playoff caliber team in 2023.
Clean, Playoff Caliber Football
Since turning the football over three time against the Tennessee Titans and losing to an inferior team on Monday Night Football, the Miami Dolphins have played exceptionally clean football. Against the Jets and then the Cowboys, the Dolphins haven’t registered a single turnover and have leaned on their strong defense to fuel these two consecutive victories. The running game wasn’t a huge part of their offense in either game until they needed to pound the rock at the end of this one.
The Dolphins came into this game missing four of their five starting offensive linemen and were facing one of the best pass rush units in the entire league. Tua was only sacked one time and got rid of the football lighting quick (registering a 2.07 time to to throw per PFF). We saw Tagovailoa miss some more of his typically routine throws, but he was on when they needed him to be.
Here is the final game-winning drive for the Dolphins. Outside of the one throw where Tua had to get rid of it early, it was a perfectly called and executed drive right when they needed it. Winning football. #FinsUp pic.twitter.com/wUXyFigK4T— George Forder (@GeorgeForder3) December 26, 2023
The growth of this team and offense is most evident when watching their game winning drive. Mike McDaniel called a perfect series here and the offense executed at an almost flawless level. Think about all the pressure this team has faced and how big it was for them to win this game.... and they executed this drive like they could do it in their sleep with almost an entire unit of backup offensive linemen. If Miami continues to win into the month of January, this might be a drive we look back at as their turning point.
Defensive Line Stepping Up
Since the return of Jalen Ramsey, this secondary has played at such a high level. Even while missing Jevon Holland, Xavien Howard, and DeShon Elliot they completely shut down the Jets passing attack. Against the Cowboys (one of the most high-powered offenses in the NFL), they showed some vulnerabilities. The Cowboys worked to isolate Elliot in coverage and were able to take advantage of that matchup. Shutdown corners Xavien Howard and Jalen Ramsey even gave up some big completions (Ramsey was on Cooks when he caught the TD that gave Dallas a late lead).
On a day where their secondary had some hiccups, the defensive line/pass rush dominated this game and threw the Cowboys passing attack out of rhythm. This defensive line is playing at an exceptionally high level. #FinsUp pic.twitter.com/UcyEDGGoME— George Forder (@GeorgeForder3) December 26, 2023
On a day when the Secondary struggled at times against a great offense, the defensive line played one of their best games of the season. Andrew Van Ginkel paced the unit with 9 pressures, with Bradley Chubb just behind him at 6 (per PFF). Star Dallas tackle Tyron Smith didn’t play, but they were productive from all over the front seven sacking Dak Prescott 4 times and pressuring him on 50% of his dropbacks. When Jaelan Phillips went down there was concern that this unit would struggle down the stretch, but both Chubb and Van Ginkel have stepped up to fill his shoes. This unit is playing at a championship level right now.
This was the Miami Dolphins’ first signature win (first of many, hopefully) of the 2023/2024 season. They finally got to play a true playoff level football team at home and made the most of their opportunity. It’s also worth mentioning that this was a Dallas team coming off one of their most embarrassing loses of the season. The Cowboys had extra motivation and gave Miami their best... and it wasn’t enough.
The Dolphins played clean football and kept their quarterback upright by getting the football out quickly. The defense has developed into one of the best in the NFL and should be able to help them win games down the stretch and into the playoffs. The biggest addition that they should get in the next week or two is Jevon Holland, who was playing as well as any one in the NFL before suffering two MCL sprains earlier in the season. On the flipside of that, Miami is unfortunately not likely to see Jaylen Waddle until the playoffs (at the earliest) after he sprained his ankle in this one.
It was a huge victory, but there wont be too much time for this team to celebrate. They’ll take on a Ravens team next that just got done beating up on a scary 49ers squad. A win next weekend will clinch the AFC East and put them in the drivers seat for the #1 seed in the AFC. With the postseason already secured, these Miami Dolphins are going to be setting their sights higher than any Dolphins team has in decades.