Nine and three.
The Dolphins did as expected with a fun dismantling of Washington, 45-15, to move ahead of Buffalo by three games in the AFC East. This one ended early, as the Dolphins took a 17-0 lead in the first quarter.
1. Game Player: Tyreek Hill. Again. She got behind the Washington defense twice in the first half for touchdown passes of 78 and 60 yards. The first TD came on the Dolphins’ third offensive play of the game on a third-and-2 play. Were you (like me) saying the Dolphins needed to improve their short-yardage game? Coach Mike McDaniel had an answer: run into an empty backfield and have quarterback Tua Tagovailoa throw deep to Hill. Good plan. He had four receptions for 152 yards in the half and added another for 5 yards early in the second half before taking the rest of the day off.
Hill, as I said before, is the league MVP this year. It’s not just that he leads the league with 12 receiving touchdowns. He now has five games with over 150 receiving yards. He now has 1,499 receiving yards with five games remaining, meaning his stated goal of 2,000 yards looks in good shape if he stays healthy.
2. The Dolphins took the number one spot. in the AFC on Sunday, although it will probably only be for a few hours. If Kansas City beats Green Bay on Sunday night and Jacksonville beats Cincinnati on Monday night, the Dolphins would move back into third place. Even with a similar 9-3 record, the Dolphins would lose the first head-to-head game tiebreaker to Kansas City and the third strength of opponents tiebreaker to Jacksonville. The Dolphins moved ahead of Baltimore, which had a bye on Sunday. That playoff seeding could be decided in the Jan. 1 game in Baltimore.
3. How do you replace Jalean Phillips? Andrew Van Ginkel had a pick-6 and a half sack in the first quarter. Emmanuel Ogbah had a sack early in the second quarter. So while Phillips had become a force in the last month before his Achilles injury, the Dolphins’ offensive position is rare for an NFL team. Van Ginkel has become an impactful playmaker this year in Vic Fangio’s defense and had five sacks (four solo) on Sunday. Said that…
4. Linebacker Jerome Baker He suffered a knee injury in the second quarter that was serious enough for several teammates and McDaniel to support him while he was on the field. So for the second week in a row, the Dolphins appear to have lost a starter for the season. First, Phillips. Now, they lost the important role in today’s game of a quick linebacker to help in coverage and who could play every down. Baker has also been a lineup guy, as he has missed just one game in his six seasons. Without him, defensive coordinator Vic Fangio used Duke Riley in one role Sunday and immediately deflected a pass.
5. Game statistics: 0 turnovers. Considering they had seven turnovers in the previous three games and tied for 23rd with 19 turnovers on the season, that’s a good number of progress. Then again, all of Sunday’s praise has to be filtered through a Washington defense that is the worst scoring defense in the league.
6. It’s as safe a game as Tagovailoa. (18-24, 280 yards, 2 TD) has had this season even with left tackle Terron Armstead going out with an ankle injury in the first half. That’s partly because the offensive line held up well and partly because Washington traded away its two best pass rushers earlier this season. The line still has some lingering problems. Robert Hunt returned at right guard after his hamstring injury, but left the game after it continued to be a problem. Armstead was a game-time decision with quadriceps and knee injuries. Add the ankle to the list now. Kion Smith took his place on Sunday with regular reserve Kendall Lamm not playing (but active) with a back injury. My solution remains the same: sit Armstead until he is recovered and needed to start against Dallas.
7. Running back De’Von Achane returned to the lineup and, just as important, work a full day. Seventeen carries for 73 yards. Three receptions for 30 yards. Two touchdowns. The knee that was of concern looked fine. He was injured Oct. 8 against the New York Giants and returned for just one play two weeks ago against Las Vegas before getting hurt again. We’ll have to see how he shakes out on Sunday, but the fact that he saw so much action gives this offense an extra gear down the stretch.
8. It’s McDaniel time To change the process, challenge the repetitions. Three plays into Sunday’s game, he challenged a reception by Jahan Dotson at the Washington 39-yard line for a first down. The sack was confirmed on replay, meaning McDaniel is now 1-for-4 in challenges this season. McDaniel said some undisclosed changes were made to the process after getting 1 of 6 last year in challenges. The simple assumption is that the person or people reviewing the replays and telling you to challenge them changed. It seems another change is necessary.
9. Quick accesses:
* McDaniel smartly began replacing the starters to the point that much of the fourth quarter was filled with reserves. Tagovailoa (18-24, 240 yards, 2 TD) gave way to Mike White midway through the fourth quarter;
* Defensive tackle Zach Sieler had 1.5 sacks on Sunday and is now at 6.5 on the year;
* It’s hard to believe, but New England lost to the Chargers, 6-0, and is now 2-10. It seems like the end of Bill Belichick in New England;
*During the game, Washington honored Jackie Taylor, the daughter of former Miami and Washington University star Sean Taylor. She herself is a star athlete at Miami Gulliver High.
10. Next week: Tennessee at Dolphins. The race against the league’s dregs continues with Tennessee coming to Hard Rock Stadium for Monday Night Football. To be fair, Tennessee isn’t in the low-end department like the New York Jets and Washington are. They can play good games like this Sunday against Indianapolis. Ryan Tannehill practiced last week for the first time since he suffered an injury in early October. Will Levis started Sunday’s game against Indianapolis and the Titans will likely go with the young player at this point to see what they have.