The Miami Dolphins’ win streak ended at three games as Mike McDaniel’s team fell at the hands of Joe Burrow and the Cincinnati Bengals Thursday night. Miami fought back into this game, but costly errors late in the fourth quarter ultimately sealed the win for Zac Taylor’s team. The Dolphins will now have 10 days to prepare for their next game in New York against their division rivals, the Jets.
This game took an unexpected turn after the Dolphins’ defense forced Cincinnati to punt the ball with 6:46 left in the second quarter. Miami then ran two plays before Tua Tagovailoa was viciously sacked at midfield by defensive tackle Josh Tupou. It was clear Tagovailoa was seriously injured, and as the Bengals’ defense celebrated the big hit, panic and fear rushed through the heads of Dolphins fans and viewers of the primetime matchup.
The story of this game became the status of Tagovailoa after he was stretchered off the field. However, there were several key moments that ultimately led to Miami losing this game. Here they are:
Miami’s offense did not come to play
This game was relatively close with the Dolphins even holding a lead at one point during the second half. Defensive coordinator Josh Boyer had his unit playing inspired, even after having to travel on a short week following a gritty, week-three victory over Buffalo. The defense allowed a touchdown on the Bengals’ opening drive, but quickly settled down and gave Tagovailoa and the offense plenty of opportunities to build a lead in this game.
Before Tagovailoa’s injury, the third-year man was only able to lead the offense to a field goal in Miami’s opening drive. Subsequently, the Dolphins’ “lefty” attempted an ill-advised pass into triple coverage intended for Tyreek Hill that was intercepted by Cincinnati’s Vonn Bell. Tagovailoa finished the night with a subpar 8 of 14 for 110 yards and an interception.
Following Tagovailoa’s injury, Miami’s backup, a former first-round pick, Teddy Bridgewater, took over in relief. Bridgewater would eventually lead the Dolphins to their first and only touchdown late in the first half with a seven-yard touchdown pass to running back Chase Edmonds nine seconds before halftime.
Teddy “two gloves” failed to construct competent drives to start the second half. Miami started the third quarter with punts in two consecutive drives before taking the lead 15-14 with 2:40 left in the third. McDaniels opted to run the ball more as a result of losing his starting quarterback and the results were beautiful to see.
Miami lost the lead after back-to-back field goals and with 3:17 left in the fourth, down by five, Bridgewater threw an interception deep in Cincinnati territory, once again to Bell of the Bengals.
The Phins gave themselves a shot, but in the end, the lack of urgency on offense came back to bite them. Despite the loss, there were a few standout performances worth mentioning. Hill continued to torch defenses as he has all season finishing the game with 10 receptions for 160 yards. Raheem Mostert finally had himself a game, finishing with 15 rushes for 69 yards, a game-high, and season-high for the running back who signed to Miami during free agency.
The Dolphins’ secondary was exposed
The Bengals are amongst the leaders of the league when you think about talent at the wide receiver position. Burrow has three truly dangerous weapons and any one of them can go off any given game. The Dolphins did a great job for much of the game keeping second-year star Ja’Marr Chase in check, however, Tee Higgins would end up being the X-factor for the Bengals in this one.
Following Tagovailoa’s injury, Burrow connected with Higgins for the longest play of the game with a 59-yard touchdown. The former Clemson receiver got the best of Miami’s ace corner, Xavien Howard, who was said to be dealing with hamstring/glute injuries and would eventually be forced to exit this game early.
Miami’s secondary saw success with its man-to-man, press at the line of scrimmage, approach, but eventually, Burrow and his receivers caught on. Howard was targeted several times in this game as the opposing side understood he was hobbled. The Dolphins’ zone coverage was not much better as Higgins and the rest of the receivers easily found gaps and made chunk plays because of it.
In a game where Miami held Bengal’s star running back, Joe Mixon, to only 2.5 yards a carry, you would normally like their chances. Unfortunately, Higgins would finish the game with seven receptions for 124 yards and a touchdown. Chase followed suit with four receptions for 81 yards after a long catch at the end of the game. Burrow ended up 20 of 31 through the air with 287 yards and two touchdowns.
While it was not a horrible performance, in a game where your starting quarterback goes down, and the offense is clearly struggling, you would have hoped to see more from your defense to help pull out a win.
Sloppy, careless mistakes
This game had several instances where mental mistakes by the Dolphins played a role. The most glaring issue was Miami losing the turnover battle, something McDaniel has brought up in the past as one of the most important parts of any win. Miami’s two interceptions would be the only giveaways by either team, with Bridgewater’s immediately leading to a touchdown.
It was disappointing to see the Dolphins’ pass rush, which had been so good to start the season, fail to put pressure on Burrow in this game. The former LSU star has been sacked the most of any quarterback over the last 20 games, but only outside linebacker Jaelan Phillips would reach him in this matchup. This has been the only game this season where Miami has only managed to achieve one sack in a game. This came as a shock after the Dolphins’ newest outside linebacker, Melvin Ingram, won AFC defensive player of the month honors earlier in the week. He finished this game with only one tackle.
Special teams also had a poor performance in Thursday’s game. Kicker Jason Sanders not only had a 52-yard field goal blocked in the second quarter but also missed the only extra point attempt he took in this game. At a glance, it may seem like only four points in a 12-point loss, however, the result of these plays could have played a part in the overall outcome of the game. For instance, the possession following the blocked field goal included Higgins’ 59-yard touchdown catch. This became a 10-point swing in favor of Cincinnati as a result of sloppy play.
While it’s sad to see the Dolphins lose their first game this season, fans should not be too depressed about the result. This game was going to be extremely tough for any team who had to travel to their opponent on only three days of rest since playing their last game. Miami’s main focus now must be to rest up and prepare for another interdivisional battle against the Jets. As of early Friday morning, Tagovailoa was discharged from the hospital and was traveling home with the team. Early diagnosis indicates it was a head and neck injury he suffered on the sack, how long this could hold him out is yet to be determined.
Luckily for McDaniel and the Dolphins, Bridgewater will have the opportunity over the next 10 days to familiarize himself with the starting unit, and should he have to start the next game, look far sharper.
The Dolphins will travel to MetLife Stadium on Sunday, Oct. 9 to take on the Jets at 1 p.m. New York will likely have their starting quarterback Zach Wilson back as he is slated to start for the first time this season on Sunday against the Pittsburgh Steelers. Wilson suffered a scary, non-contact knee injury, in New York’s first preseason game, but has had a lot of hype around him entering his second year in the league. The game will be broadcast on CBS4 in South Florida.
Story by Anthony Blanco. Video by Amanda Milian.