MIAMI GARDENS — The Miami Dolphins were coming off a loss to the reigning NFC champion Philadelphia Eagles. They were getting set to travel to Germany to face the defending Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs the following week. They have HBO series “Hard Knocks” coming to document them in-season after that.
“That is leading the league in potential distractions,” Dolphins coach Mike McDaniel said.
Through it all — and in star cornerback Jalen Ramsey’s debut with the team three months after meniscus surgery on his left knee — Miami (6-2) did what it was supposed to do against the less-talented Patriots (2-6).
Here’s how the South Florida Sun Sentinel grades the Dolphins’ performance in Sunday’s 31-17 win over New England at Hard Rock Stadium:
Passing game: B+
A 324-yard, three-touchdown passing day for quarterback Tua Tagovailoa is a good one, especially against a tough Patriots defense and coach Bill Belichick, who always schemes up ways to stop top pass-catching targets.
New England hadn’t allowed an opposing receiver to have a 100-yard game this season entering Sunday. The Dolphins had two in Tyreek Hill and Jaylen Waddle. Each caught a touchdown. Hill’s was a beautiful 42-yard deep ball over cornerback J.C. Jackson, and Waddle found himself wide open late with so much attention going to Hill’s pre-snap motion. He needs to get over these drops, though. Cedrick Wilson Jr. caught his first touchdown in two seasons as a Dolphin.
Tagovailoa threw an early interception but rebounded. The pass protection held up despite being down four starters on the offensive line and being down to third-string left tackle Kion Smith at one point. That’s a testament to how new offensive line coach Butch Barry has developed depth across the unit and how Tagovailoa is getting the ball out on time.
Running game: C+
Removing three kneel-downs, the Dolphins averaged 3.5 yards per attempt. It wasn’t bad with a banged-up offensive line and while De’Von Achane remains out, but it wasn’t dominant and indicative of a league-leading rushing attack.
Raheem Mostert was at 3.5 yards per carry and scored the 1-yard touchdown. Jeff Wilson Jr., in his first run-game activity of the season, had a solid 4.6 yards per attempt on his five rushes. Tagovailoa even scrambled, sliding safely on one and lowering his shoulder on another.
Defending the pass: A-
Ramsey had his moment in his first game back from the knee injury and first game with the Dolphins. After Patriots quarterback Mac Jones stayed away from him for the better part of the first half, he finally went to his side of the field, thinking he had Kendrick Bourne open with Miami in a zone.
He didn’t. Ramsey planted with the left leg, which is the side he has the surgically repaired knee, to turn his hips and intercept the route. The Dolphins held the Patriots to 141 net passing yards when you account for the three sacks. That’s unheard of against NFL offenses in 2023.
And they did it without cornerback Xavien Howard (groin) and safety Jevon Holland (concussion protocol). Just imagine what attempts to avoid Ramsey will look like when those two are back in the mix and Kader Kohou is used exclusively as the nickel cornerback in the slot.
Defending the run: B-
Miami was okay against the run. New England averaged 4.1 yards per attempt, but it never felt like it was a major factor in dictating the offense to the Dolphins. The Patriots still had to rely too much on Jones to win. They would’ve needed to dominate on the ground to have a chance — unless Jones was spectacular, which he wasn’t.
Special teams: B
Mostly good here. Jason Sanders made his kicks. Braxton Berrios had a couple of decent returns. The Dolphins didn’t give up big returns with their kick coverage units. Jake Bailey was fine on his punts, outside of the one from the 39-yard line that ended up in the end zone for a touchback and net of 19 yards.
McDaniel got his team to avoid various potential distractions and come away with a sweep of a divisional opponent. Credit to keeping the focus on this week between the Eagles and Chiefs games.
As far as in-game decisions, the Dolphins were 3 for 3 on fourth downs, and several play designs opened things up offensively. Defensive coordinator Vic Fangio also seems to be finding comfort with how to best utilize his players, but that’s also easier when you have Ramsey.
Stock up: Jalen Ramsey
Who else? He’s back! He offered a glimpse of what this defense can look like with him in the lineup and now just wait when he also has Howard and Holland with him in the secondary. A lot of credit also goes to the offensive line for sticking together with backups Lester Cotton, Liam Eichenberg, Robert Jones, Kendall Lamm and even Smith for a few plays having to play significant roles.
Stock down: Emmanuel Ogbah
The edge defender is making more than $17 million this season, and he has played just nine defensive snaps over the past two games combined. His three last week in Philadelphia and six Sunday against New England were the only two times he has been in single digits this season. Obviously, the health of Jaelan Phillips has something to do with it, as Andrew Van Ginkel has also seen a decrease in defensive reps (14 Sunday). Fangio wants to keep Phillips and team sack leader Bradley Chubb in the game as much as he can.