The Miami Dolphins couldn’t take their foot off the gas as early as they’ve been able to at home most of this season.
The score effectively put away an imperfect, but nonetheless necessary 31-17 victory over the New England Patriots on Sunday afternoon at Hard Rock Stadium.
Tagovailoa completed 30 of 45 passes for 324 yards and the connection with Waddle was the last of three touchdown passes.
It wasn’t pretty.
Tagovailoa threw one interception and running back Raheem Mostert, who ran for a touchdown, also mishandled a handoff with each leading to 10 New England points. And the Dolphins’ No. 1 rushing offense was limited to 78 yards on 26 carries.
But Miami is 6-2 for the first time since 2001 and remains atop the AFC East.
The Dolphins also swept the Patriots (2-6) for the second time in the past three seasons and beat their longtime division rivals for the sixth time in their past seven meetings. It also marks Miami’s fourth consecutive home win against New England.
All of this came one week before the Dolphins take on their next elite opponent when they travel to Frankfurt, Germany, to face the defending Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs. The head-to-head matchup could be a key factor in determining the AFC’s No. 1 seed in the postseason.
“It’s the first time since I’ve been here that we’ve been able to beat a division opponent twice,” coach Mike McDaniel said. “You get a great litmus test of where you’re at as a football team when you have a division game, and then on top of that, you’re going overseas the next week, and on top of that you have Hard Knocks the week after. That is leading the league in potential distractions.”
He added: “I knew we were going to find out a lot about our team today, and I could care less about what their record is. That is a tough team to go against. They made their plays. They made it very difficult.”
Miami continued its dominance at home, improving to 4-0 this season and winning for the 16th time in its past 18 home games — their best home stretch since they won 23 of 25 at the Orange Bowl from Oct. 30, 1983 to Jan. 4, 1986.
The Dolphins also finally got the chance to see one of their most important offseason acquisitions in action as cornerback Jalen Ramsey made his Miami debut and didn’t disappoint.
Sitting in zone coverage, Ramsey read a pass from quarterback Mac Jones perfectly and recorded his first interception as a Dolphin with 1:48 left in the second quarter. Ramsey nearly returned it for a touchdown had the Patriots not had the angle to force him out of bounds.
The turnover led to a Dolphins’ field goal that gave Miami a 17-7 lead at halftime.
The Dolphins’ defense was as close to complete as it had been all season with Ramsey’s debut, although still missing cornerback Xavien Howard (groin) and Jevon Holland (concussion protocol). The Dolphins still recorded three sacks and held the Patriots to 218 total yards, New England’s second-lowest total this season.
“It felt good,” Ramsey said of his debut. “Don’t get it twisted, I’m happy I had an interception, but I definitely don’t want that to be the storyline. I just want to talk about how we got a good hard-fought division win. My success, it comes from the preparation that I put in and the team around me. It’s not just me. I work really hard during the week to prepare myself to feel like Jalen Ramsey and it’s just a product of it. But it was a great, hard-fought win for the team, so that was dope.”
Still, the Patriots were not put away easily.
New England cut Miami’s lead to 24-17 with 8:30 left in the fourth on Jones’ 3-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster.
The Dolphins put the game out of reach on its ensuing possession ending with the Tagovailoa to Waddle score. On the drive, Tagovailoa found wide receiver Tyreek Hill over the middle at the 50 for a clutch third-and-9 conversion.
“The mindset is always to keep the ball any way that we can,” Hill said. “Tua does a great job of reminding us that. The mentality, man, it’s always about mentality. Like the ball is thrown your way, doesn’t matter if one guy is on you, two guys are on you, three guys are on you, make a play.”
Hill caught eight passes for 112 yards and secured a 42-yard touchdown catch from Tagovailoa in the first quarter to tie the score at 7. Hill also became the first player in the Super Bowl era to surpass 1,000 yards receiving in a season in his team’s first eight games.
Waddle caught seven passes for 121 yards as Miami’s passing game picked up a running game that struggled to gain traction amid multiple offensive line injuries.
The Dolphins’ offensive line, which was already missing left tackle Terron Armstead, center Connor Williams and left guard Isaiah Wynn, took another hit after right guard Robert Hunt injured his hamstring with 7:35 left in the second quarter and did not return.
Left tackle Kendall Lamm (abdomen) was hurt just before halftime 54 seconds left, but returned to the game in the second half. Robert Jones lined up at left guard after Hunt exited.
Recently acquired receiver Chase Claypool made a 15-yard catch on third down with just over nine minutes left in the third for his first catch as a Dolphin and his lone grab of the game.