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Miami Dolphins: Takeaways from 20-3 victory over New York Jets

Hal Habib
Palm Beach Post

The Dolphins showed that when you’re lining up without your starting backfield, it’s a good idea to be playing the league’s worst team.

Without Tua Tagovailoa, inactive with a thumb injury, the Dolphins turned to Ryan Fitzpatrick against the winless New York Jets on Sunday.

Fitzpatrick threw two touchdown passes in a 20-3 victory, but it wasn’t a trademark piece of FitzMagic that got the Dolphins back in the win column.

It was the defense, which held the Jets out of the end zone for the second time this season. In fact, Miami’s defense gave up just three points to New York in two meetings this year.

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Nik Needham had an interception, Elandon Roberts had a huge fourth-down stop and Xavien Howard was Xavien Howard, to name just a few major contributors to a balanced effort by Miami’s defense.

The Jets’ primary weapon turned out to be former Dolphin Frank Gore, who rushed 18 times for a season-high 74 yards.

With the victory, the Dolphins improved to 7-4 entering next weekend’s home game against the Joe Burrow-less Cincinnati Bengals. The Jets are 0-11 and continue to lead the Trevor Lawrence sweepstakes.

Here are five takeaways:

The defense won this one

Miami’s offense did its best to hand the Jets an opening.

Miami’s defense bailed out the offense, stuffing the Jets twice after lost fumbles.

After Matt Breida lost a fumble in the third quarter, the Jets went three-and-out. The Jets went for a quick strike right after that turnover, with Sam Darnold firing one into the end zone for Denzel Mims, but Xavien Howard broke it up.

Then, Patrick Laird lost a fumble on the Miami 26, setting up an equally emphatic stop. The Jets went for it on fourth-and-1 but Gore hit a brick wall named Elandon Roberts.

Howard wasn’t done, adding a fourth-quarter interception for his league-leading seventh.

The Dolphins' Elandon Roberts, left, celebrates a stop with teammates during the second half Sunday against the New York Jets in East Rutherford, N.J.

Where was the running game?

Myles Gaskin is on injured reserve.

Salvon Ahmed’s shoulder wouldn’t let him go.

We get that. Still, the Dolphins traded for Matt Breida during the draft thinking he could help the running game. They were forced to start him against the Jets, but still didn’t trust him to carry the load, all but abandoning the running game.

Just as they appeared to remind themselves of a ground game in the third quarter, Breida lost a fumble to linebacker Harvey Langi. It wasn’t even a monster hit that jarred the ball loose, either.

The Dolphins then turned to Laird … who fumbled away the ball on the next series.

Breida carried just eight times for 36 yards. D'Andre Washington came on late with 49 yards to make the Dolphins' output look semi-respectable 104 rushing yards and a 4.2 average, but nothing was working on the ground for most of the day.

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The Dolphins' Mike Gesicki, center, celebrates his touchdown during the first half Sunday against the New York Jets.

Seeing red

Challenges by each head coach presented interesting talking points in the first half.

First, Jets coach Adam Gase challenged a call of a completion from Fitzpatrick to DeVante Parker for 19 yards. Both live and on replay, it appeared Parker had control of the ball for a millisecond as he and Javelin Guidry hit the ground.

Upon further review: Call upheld, a decision that CBS analyst and retired referee Gene Steratore correctly disputed.

Late in the half, a scramble of 4 yards by Sam Darnold on third-and-3 was challenged by Brian Flores. He too lost.

Live and via replay, it was clearly a close call and the biggest benefit might merely have denied a Jets a first down at midfield but given a chance to convert a fourth-and-1.

Gase’s challenge was worth it and failed, raising the weekly question of what’s a catch?

Flores’ challenge was questionable and probably not worth burning one of your two challenges.

Consistency counts I

Christian Wilkins, fresh off the COVID-19 list, chased down Darnold in the third quarter, forcing Darnold to throw on the run.

He should have thrown it away.

Instead, Darnold hit Needham between the ’4’ and the ‘0’ for a gift interception. Although it didn’t lead to points — the Dolphins nearly coughed it up on a Fitzpatrick fumble recovered by Jesse Davis — it marked the 17th consecutive game in which the Dolphins have had a takeaway. A remarkable streak that is responsible for plenty of Dolphins points this year, even if this one did not.

Consistency counts II

Jason Sanders makes it look ridiculously easy.

After kicking a 54-yard field goal to get the Dolphins on the scoreboard, Sanders was called upon from 51 yards. It wasn’t just good — it was inch-perfect down the middle, his 10th consecutive successful kick from 50-plus yards.

If the Dolphins aren’t sending royalty checks to Darren Rizzi, their former special teams coordinator who discovered Sanders, they need to start.