Grading the Miami Dolphins for their 35-9 rout of the Denver Broncos

Dolphins strong safety T.J. McDonald (22) congratulates cornerback Xavien Howard (25), after Howard’s 29-yard pick-6. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)

MIAMI GARDENS — At last, the Dolphins played that elusive complete game they’ve been chasing since the start of time, ending their five-game losing streak with a 35-9 laugher against the hapless Denver Broncos on Sunday.

The Dolphins dominated every which way, including two interceptions by Xavien Howard (one returned for a touchdown), a complete shut-down of Broncos receivers Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders and a team-record two safeties. Even punter Matt Haack got in the action, tying a team record with six punts downed inside the 20. Oh, and Kenyan Drake had a 100-yard rushing day.

In short, the Dolphins checked every box you could imagine.

Quarterback

Jay Cutler returned and the Dolphins didn’t have to scratch and claw for every first down. He relied on his Big 3 receivers and for the most part, it worked. Cutler is Cutler, though, meaning he’s going to take chances, and a pick-6 he threw was an example of what can happen when he plays gunslinger.

Grade: B

Running backs

Adam Gase didn’t seem to care that the Broncos came in with the NFL’s fourth-ranked run defense. He gave Kenyan Drake the ball early and often, banking on Drake’s ability to wear down Denver until the Broncos no longer could keep up with his quickness. By the third quarter, it was obvious it was working. Drake took the ball up the middle and undressed linebacker Brandon Marshall en route to a 42-yard 42-yard touchdown run that pushed him over the 100-yard mark. He finished with 23 carries for 120 yards.

Grade: A

Receivers

Julius Thomas had a 9-yard TD reception against safety Will Parks, then celebrated his score against his old team in unique, R-rated fashion, riding the football like a bronco. Jarvis Landry got the Dolphins going early with a couple of first-down conversions, then had a 25-yard catch to set up Miami’s first touchdown. Kenny Stills was involved in two plays that resulted in turnovers for the Broncos (a ricochet for an interception and a fumble after a catch). He also had 98 yards and a touchdown.

Grade: B

Offensive line

The line kept Jay Cutler clean and cleared the way for a 100-yard rushing day by Kenyan Drake against the league’s No. 4 run defense. Negatives: Holding penalties on Mike Pouncey nullified runs of 17 and 15 yards by Kenyan Drake. Sam Young committed a red-zone holding penalty that led to settling for a field goal.

Grade: B

Defensive line

The Broncos had the ball on their 5 when the Dolphins’ defensive line flexed its muscle. Jordan Phillips’ presence coaxed center Matt Paradis into a high shotgun snap. As QB Trevor Siemian scrambled for the ball, Cameron Wake was in pursuit, forcing Siemian to swat the ball through the back of the end zone for a safety rather than risk Wake recovering for a touchdown. Andre Branch had his first sack in seven games, dating to the Titans game. Phillips also tipped a ball that gave Xavien Howard his second interception of the day. Ndamukong Suh had two QB hits and four tackles. Terrence Fede added a sack. Could you ask for anything more?

Grade: A

Linebackers

The linebackers live! After weeks of bad games from this unit, the defense came alive like the rest of the defense, with Kiko Alonso looking more like the Kiko Alonso of early fall. He led Miami with five tackles.

Grade: B

Defensive backs

Outstanding day all the way around. T.J. McDonald recorded only the fifth interception by a Dolphin this season, off Emmanuel Sanders’ hands. Xavien Howard upstaged him by jumping a route against Demaryius Thomas, collecting an interception against Trevor Siemian and trotting 29 yards for a pick-6. Loads of credit goes to the secondary for Sanders and Thomas being shut down. Howard added a second interception in the fourth quarter.

Grade: A-plus

Special teams

Just a slight turnaround for Darren Rizzi’s crew after last week’s fake-punt fiasco in New England. Where to begin? Matt Haack’s punting helped pin the Broncos on their 5 in the first quarter, leading to a safety. His punting kept the Broncos in terrible field position all day, accounting for seven kicks downed inside the 20 (setting a team record). Terrence Fede made the biggest splash on special teams, blocking a punt that Michael Thomas recovered. Fede was hit with a debatable roughness penalty on the play. MarQueis Gray recovered an onside kick. And the punt coverage team added an unprecedented second safety.

Grade: A-plus

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