Here are some takeaways from the Miami Dolphins’ losing starting quarterback Tua Tagovailoa to a scary head injury, and falling to the Bengals in Cincinnati:
Teddy Bridgewater is a capable backup
There were questions about backup quarterback Teddy Bridgewater after his brief 0 for 2 appearance last Sunday against Buffalo. Bridgewater had a costly interception late in the fourth quarter Thursday with the Dolphins trailing the Bengals, 20-15. He threw high and behind tight end Mike Gesicki and the pass was intercepted by safety Vonn Bell with 3:05 left. But Bridgewater had a nice first half Thursday in relief of injured Tua Tagovailoa. Bridgewater had a touchdown on a 7-yard shovel pass to running back Chase Edmonds, who fought his way into the end zone. Bridgewater also had a nice 64-yard completion to wide receiver Tyreek Hill that resulted in the go-ahead field goal at, 15-14. — Chris Perkins
Dolphins were smart to activate Skylar Thompson
When Tagovailoa went down briefly last week Bridgewater entered the game but the Dolphins didn’t have a backup for Bridgewater. Against Cincinnati, with Tagovailoa battling back and ankle injuries, the Dolphins activated third-team quarterback Skylar Thompson, the rookie seventh-round pick from Kansas State, for the first time this season. It turned out to be a good thing. No one could have predicted Tagovailoa’s injury Thursday but the Dolphins had the foresight to activate Thompson with Tagovailoa possibly less than 100%.
Cornerback Keion Crossen gets the start
The Dolphins started in their nickel defense with cornerbacks Xavien Howard, Kader Kohou and Keion Crossen. It was Crossen’s first start of the season. Cornerback Nik Needham, who started the previous three games, didn’t start Thursday. But Needham and safety Eric Rowe played roles in certain packages. Starting cornerback Byron Jones (leg) is eligible able to come off the physically-unable-to-perform list next week and it’s a good thing. Howard left the game with a groin injury early in the fourth quarter and didn’t return.
Tyreek Hill does indeed return punts
For the first time this season Hill was deep to return a punt. Safety Jevon Holland returned all of the previous punts this season. Hill, of course, is a dangerous return man with his speed, quickness and shifty moves. On top of that, Holland played 96 snaps last week (92 from scrimmage, four on special teams) and might have needed a break. Either way, this was an example of coach Mike McDaniel and special teams coach Danny Crossman showing another wrinkle. We’ll see if/when fellow shifty wide receiver Jaylen Waddle returns punts, which McDaniel and Crossman said is a possibility. Holland, by the way, handled punt return duties in the third quarter.
Xavien Howard is human
Howard, the All Pro cornerback who was battling through a groin injury, shadowed Bengals wide receiver Tee Higgins and was doing well until Higgins broke loose for a 59-yard touchdown reception late in the second quarter. Howard also missed a tackle earlier in the game. Howard was declared questionable to return in the fourth quarter with a groin injury and didn’t return. It’s the same injury he’s been fighting for a couple of weeks.
Special teams mistakes are adding up
Kicker Jason Sanders had a 52-yard field goal blocked in the second quarter and then hit the upright on an extra point later in the second quarter. The special teams miscues are beginning to add up for the Dolphins when you consider the 103-yard kickoff return touchdown and the butt punt (punter Thomas Morstead’s punt hit blocker Trent Sherfield in the backside and bounced out of the end zone for a safety) in last Sunday’s Buffalo game. On a much smaller scale, Morstead had a 67-yard punt in the third quarter but the Bengals returned it 23 yards. The Dolphins won the Baltimore and Buffalo games, of course, and they’ve made numerous special teams plays. But keep an eye on those errors/missteps.
Offense’s No. 3 weapon is by committee/matchup
We know Hill and Waddle are options 1 and 2 for the Dolphins offense. But the No. 3 option among running backs Chase Edmonds and Raheem Mostert, wide receivers River Cracraft and Sherfield and Gesicki might be on a game-by-game basis depending on matchups. At different times the Dolphins have relied on each of the others to be the No. 3 offensive option and it might continue that way the rest of the season. Mostert had 15 carries for 69 yards and two receptions for 12 yards.
Defense is still stout
The Dolphins defense made a fourth-quarter goal-line stand to hold Cincinnati to a fourth-quarter go-ahead field goal at 17-15 instead of a touchdown, marking yet another time the defense stood stubbornly this season. The defense also made a stand in the second quarter, stonewalling running back Joe Mixon on a toss sweep right on fourth-and-1 at the Dolphins’ 24-yard line. The Dolphins defense isn’t great statistically, and it’s sprung a leak here and there, but it still manages to make big plays.
Dolphins pack the house
Cincinnati had its largest-ever crowd at Paycor Stadium Thursday night at 67,260, eclipsing the 66,271 they had for a wild-card game against the Las Vegas Raiders. The Bengals entered Thursday with a 1-2 record, and were coming off a 27-12 victory over the New York Jets. Most likely the game would have had a big crowd regardless of the opponent because it was a prime time game. But hosting the Dolphins, who came in undefeated, had to help attract a few more folks.
Dolphins are used to fourth-quarter deficits
The Dolphins trailed in the fourth quarter for the third consecutive game Thursday. They trailed Baltimore, 35-14, entering the fourth quarter, trailed Buffalo, 17-14, entering the fourth quarter, and trailed Cincinnati, 17-15, in Thursday’s fourth quarter. The Dolphins didn’t rebound from this fourth quarter deficit but they also looked fairly comfortable playing from behind.
It is one thing to be have great speed tools … but another to take full advantage
Last year, the Dolphins had seven pass plays of at least 40 yards. This year, less than a quarter of the season in, they have matched that number after the 64-yard connection from Bridgewater to Hill and are on pace for 30. Miami’s most in the past 28 seasons has been the 17 of 2016. Though it was a different era in the passing game, during the Dolphins’ record-setting season of 1984, when Dan Marino threw for 5,084 yards, Miami had only a dozen pass plays of at least 40 yards. — Steve Svekis
The run defense has been very good
While, indeed, the Dolphins came in to the Bengals game with 348 rushing yards allowed this season (116.0 per game), good for 20th in the NFL, those numbers had been skewed by Miami playing the two most mobile quarterbacks in the league, certainly among those proficient at throwing the deep ball. Taking away the 166 yards on 17 carries by Lamar Jackson and Josh Allen, the Dolphins had yielded only 182 rushing yards in 53 runs (3.43 yards a carry). The total yards would be third in the league and the yards per carry fifth. It will be interesting to see how the rushing defense settles in as the quarterbacks they face have more sedentary feet. After 61 yards allowed to the Bengals backs on 25 carries, the numbers only improve, at 243 yards in 78 carries (3.12 yards a carry)
The run game is off to one of the worst four-game starts in team history
Almost one quarter of the year in, the Dolphins, with their 85 rushing yards in Cincinnati, will head into Week 5 with 277 on the season. That ranks tied for fourth-worst in the franchise’s 57-season after four games.
By a key metric, that was the best 3-0 start in team history
Of the 14 times the Dolphins have started the season 3-0, they have never entered Week 4 with the teams they have faced having as good of a combined record as their 2022 opponents do. The Bills and Ravens have a 4-0 record in their other games, and the Patriots are 1-1. And, in the Patriots’ case, they lost to the Ravens. So, in games where the Dolphins first three opponents have played teams that weren’t the Dolphins or an other Miami opponent, those foes have gone 4-0. Here is a list of the other years opponents during Miami’s 3-0 starts and their aggregate record at season’s end and after Game 3: 1979: 23-22, 3-3; 2002: 22-23, 3-3; 1984: 22-23, 3-3; 1981: 22-23, 4-2; 1998: 20-25, 2-4; 1995: 20-25, 4-2; 1982: 10-13-1, 4-2; 2013: 19-26, 4-2; 1996: 19-26, 1-5; 1977: 16-23, 2-4; 1972: 16-23, 4-2; 2018: 17-28, 3-3; 1992: 15-30, 4-5
Dolphins’ defense has stiffened within 2 yards of the end zone
This season, Miami’s defense has faced 14 plays from their own 2 or 1. Three plays have gone for touchdowns, but there have also been two turnover on downs and a forced field goal. In those 14 plays, there have been a net 0 yards gained.
On deck: At New York Jets, Sunday, Oct. 9, 1 p.m., MetLife Stadium
The Dolphins will likely be getting their second crack at the Jets’ 2021 second pick in the draft, quarterback Zack Wilson. Last year, in his 10th career game, Wilson got off to a good start against Miami at Hard Rock Stadium, completing nine of his first 13 passes for 118 yards and burrowing in for a touchdown on a goal-line sneak, as the Jets seized a 17-10 lead with a minute left in the first half. The Dolphins however, figured out Wilson after that point and dominated. For the rest of the game, Wilson went 4 for 10 for 52 yards and was sacked six times for 44 yards, equating to a net 8 passing yards over the final 31 minutes of the game.
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