This night had the dramatic storylines before kickoff with Tua Tagovailoa returning along with former Dolphins coach Brian Flores with Pittsburgh and Dolphins owner Steve Ross from suspension.
After kickoff, the defenses took over the night, as the Dolphins (4-3) held on for a 16-10 win against Pittsburgh.
Here are 10 thoughts on the win:
1. Play of the game I: With Pittsburgh driving for the winning points, Noah Igbinoghene, who had been picked on at times again Sunday, picked off quarterback Kenny Pickett in the end zone with 18 seconds left. It was, by far, the biggest play in his three Dolphins season. It was Igbinoghenes’ first career interception in his first career start as the Dolphins had just three cornerbacks. It was fitting a Dolphins defender made the play of the game because defenders were making all the plays this night on both teams.
2. Play of the Game II: With three minutes left and Pittsburgh threatening at the Dolphins 30, Jevon Holland stepped in front of a Pickett pass and returned it 33 yards to the Pittsburgh 49. If you get the idea this defense took care of Pickett, you’re on to the right idea about this night. The Dolphins had three takeaways after not having any the previous three games.
3. It was a mixed bag from Tua Tagovailoa in his first game back after missing a couple of games in concussion protocol. He came out on fire. Mike McDaniel’s scheme offered him quick reads and open receivers and Tua went to the right guy on the opening drive in completing six of seven passes for 68 yards on the opening drive, including the 8-yard touchdown to Raheem Mostert. The second, 59-yard drive was productive, too, though ending in a field goal. Up 10-0, Tagovaila had completed seven of nine passes for 93 yards and a touchdown. The other three quarters? He completed 14 of 26 passes for 168 yards as the Dolphins mustered two field goals. Pittsburgh has a good defense, Mike Tomlin (and Brian Flores), made some adjustments and shut down Tua and the Dolphins offense. After 10 first downs in the first quarter (tied for second most in a quarter since 2000), the Dolphins had seven first downs the rest of the way. Pittsburgh dropped two or three interceptions. A night that started out great ended with 16 points on the board.
4. Stat of the game: 13 second-half possessions led to 10 punts, two Pittsburgh interceptions and the Dolphins turning the ball over on downs. The story of the NFL this year is diminishing scoring and these two defenses contributed to that. The Dolphins defense made all the plays they needed to win this one.
5. Second-guess of the night: Facing fourth-and-3 at the Pittsburgh 14 while leading 16-10, McDaniel went for it. A field goal would have put them up nine points. Sure, he was no doubt disappointed at having to kick three field goals against one touchdown to that point. But kicking the field goal to make it a two-score game seems like the better play. You can add a second-guess of the play – a lot of misdirection and then your lesser runner, Chase Edmonds, going into the line for no gain. Tua might have had the option where to go with the ball there. But between passing up the field goal and running Edmonds into the line there’s ample room to second-guess here.
6. Credit the Dolphins offensive line and the quick pass reads of Tua as set up by McDaniel for keeping the concussion fears deep in the background. The only early issue was when Tua scrambled in the first quarter and tried to run over Pittsburgh linebacker Devin Bush. Not the right idea, even if it resulted in a 6-yard gain. With Terrod Armstead back at left tackle from a toe inury, the line contained a good Pittsburgh defensive line. The Steelers’ Larry Ogunjobi and Cameron Heyward dominated Tampa Bay the previous week. They didn’t do much Sunday. Tua wasn’t just kept safe, the running game came alive – especially to the left over Armstead. The initial three rushes his way went for 24
7. The throwback uniforms were on display as part of the ‘72 Dolphins reunion. And, boy, people love their throwback uniforms. The Dolphins held a nice banquet for the Perfect Team on Saturday night with ESPN’s Mike Tirico as emcee. One question that came up was the champagne toast Nick Buoniconti and Dick Anderson had after that season’s last unbeaten team was beaten. Some around the nation decry as them being poor sports. Larry Seiple said he didn’t have a champagne toast – “I had a beer toast.’” Larry Little said he didn’t have champagne, either. “I toasted Grey Goose.” Who cares if some people whine about the Dolphins enjoying being the only undefeated team in league history? Keep your Grey Goose ready, Larry.
5. The Dolphins had three healthy cornerbacks and used them all much of the night, so the question was if Kenny Pickett would go after (a) Justin Bethel, a special-teams specialist; (b) third-year veteran Noah Igbinoghene; (c) Pro Bowler Xavien Howard. The answer was (b). The Dolphins have gone to lengths to boost any glimmer of good from Igbinoghene. But on the first drive, Pickett overthrew Chase Claypool, who had two steps on the Dolphins cornerback. Then, on an 86-yard touchdown drive, Igbinogehene lost receiver George Pickens for a 30-yard pass, had a 6-yard completion on third-and-2 thrown against him to Diontae Johnson and had good coverage on Pickens in the end zone but didn’t make a play on the ball and it was an 8-yard touchdown.
8. Long way to go, but we’re getting to the point where it’s OK to peak at the playoff picture. Here’s where the AFC stands after Week 7:
1. Buffalo 5-1 (first in AFC East, play Monday night)
2. Tennessee 4-2 (first in AFC South, beat Indianapolis Sunday)
3. Kansas City 5-2 (first in AFC West, beat San Francisco Saturday)
4. Ravens 4-3 (first in AFC North, beat Cleveland Sunday)
5. New York Jets 5-2 (beat Denver Sunday)
6. Los Angeles Chargers 4-3 (lost to Seattle Sunday)
7. Cincinnati 4-3 (beat Atlanta Sunday).
The Dolphins, according to NFL.com, are on the bubble right now as the eighth team. Again, it’s early. A lot of games to go.
9. Quick hits:
* Edmonds’ calling card was his receiving out of the backfield, but he dropped another one early in the second quarter for a first down.
* It was Cedric Wilson returning punts for the first time Sunday night after the team’s used Jevon Holland, Tyreek Hill and Jaylen Waddle this season.
* Tennessee’s Mike Vrabel does more with less than any coach out there.
* The Jets lost in winning Sunday when running back Breece Hall suffered a reported season-ending knee injury.
* Tom Brady has retired, hasn’t he?
10. Next week: Dolphins at Detroit. From a reunion with former coach Brian Flores to one with Dan Campbell. When Joe Philbin was fired early in 2015, Campbell took over with his physical approach and was popular inside the team before Adam Gase was hired before the next season. Campbell took over a big rebuild in Detroit and was smart enough to get a six-year contract to oversee it. The Lions are 1-5 and doing things losing teams do, like fumbling near the Dallas end zone Sunday with a chance to go ahead in the second half. They lost, 24-6. An odd twist to their season: The Lions led the league in scoring earlier this year and in the first four games score 35, 36, 24, 45 points. The last two games they were shut out by New England and scored the six points against Dallas.