The Dolphins joined six other road teams on the Week 1 NFL landscape to kick off the 2021 season with a victory. It's just one game and there are 16 more to go, but the Dolphins stand alone atop the AFC East standings through the first weekend. The win made it two straight over rival New England and three of five since Brian Flores' 2019 arrival.
We'll get to the three takeaways from the victory, but first a reminder.
If you haven't do so already, download the latest edition of the Drive Time Podcast with Travis Wingfield as we cover the takeaways, position-by-position standouts, and much more from the white-knuckle 17-16 win in Foxboro.
1. Win the Red Zone
In a league full of the world's most gifted athletes, slim margins are the norm. And within those tightly contested games, a handful of plays often make up the difference between the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat.
The Miami offense converted both of its red zone drives into seven points while the defense limiting New England to one touchdown and 16 total points on four trips into the most critical area of the field.
Give the Dolphins' staff credit for the play sequencing and ball distribution on the second -- and ultimately, game-winning -- touchdown march. On that possession, after a 30-yard pass from Tua Tagovailoa to DeVante Parker, Myles Gaskin picked up 12 through the air, then 15 on the ground. Then, Miami dialed up the Wildcat formation for two plays with Salvon Ahmed (eight yards) and Malcolm Brown (four yards) as the triggermen. Finally, Tagovailoa found Jaylen Waddle for his first career touchdown on a play action bootleg in which Waddle went in return motion and dove for the pylon.
Defensively, Jevon Holland's second quarter tackle (and forced fumble), Nik Needham's tight coverage in the fourth and Xavien Howard's forced fumble and recovery helped the Dolphins defense get off the field on third downs inside the red zone. Emmanuel Ogbah helped force an incompletion with a QB hit on another series that stalled at the 24-yard-line.
2. Explosive Plays
Margins in tightly contested games can often be found in the explosive plays and the Dolphins had six such snaps Sunday (20-plus-yard passes and 10-plus-yard runs). On those six plays (two 15-yard runs by Gaskin, 36- and 30-yard strikes from Tagovailoa to Waddle and Parker, another 10 from Gaskin and 23 more from Tagovailoa to Parker), the Dolphins piled up 129 yards.
Each of those explosive plays occurred within Miami scoring drives.
3. Third Down Corrections
While Miami extended its NFL-best takeaway streak to 23 games, the No. 1 third down defense from a year ago has to make some corrections. The Patriots converted 68.8 percent of their third downs. Bill Belichick entered Sunday with a perfect 38-0 record when New England converted at least 60.1 percent of their third downs.
The Dolphins put heat on New England quarterback Mac Jones to the tune of 23 QB pressures, but there are opportunities for improvement.
"We tried to take it one play at a time," Flores said. "That's the mentality our team has. Good play, bad play, just move on to the next play. A lot of corrections to make defensively. They were able to kind of make some plays, keep drives going, pick up third downs. We would have them in some second and longer situations, a penalty or, man, there is one where we get a sack but there was a penalty on it. Felt like every time we got a chance to get off the field they made a play or we had a mistake. That's what happens in a division game against good teams. They make plays, too."
The Dolphins return to Hard Rock Stadium for their home kickoff vs. the Bills next Sunday, kicking off at 1pm. For tickets, visit Ticketmaster.com.