Ryan Tannehill’s comeback for Miami Dolphins: Marino, other QBs have rebounded quickly

Everything’s riding on Ryan Tannehill again this year. (Allen Eyestone/The Post)

There were clouds of both the literal and figurative variety hovering over the Dolphins on the  opening Sunday afternoon of the 1994 season.

Nobody seemed to know what to expect of Dan Marino, seeing his first action since tearing his right Achilles tendon nearly a year prior.

At least one Dolphin knew what to make of Marino once the returns were in later that day.

“I’m telling you all to kiss his … ,” linebacker Bryan Cox told skeptics about as emphatically as Marino had performed.

It’s a day that comes to mind as the Dolphins rev up offseason training with organized team activities Tuesday, when we could get our first glimpse of quarterback Ryan Tannehill as he attempts a comeback from a second serious knee injury.

Not even the greatest optimist can expect Tannehill to come anywhere close to the magic Marino pulled off in his return: 473 yards and five touchdown passes including a dramatic late score in a 39-35 escape against New England.

If you’re wondering how NFL quarterbacks typically respond from long layoffs, the answer is often, they look more like themselves than you might expect.

Before we start exploring examples from around the NFL, some important semi-obvious disclaimers:

No two injuries are alike, just as no quarterback is like Marino. Besides, while Marino was out for about 11 months, Tannehill will have to shake off far more rust. Assuming he suits up for the opener Sept. 9 against Tennessee, it will be his first meaningful action in 637 days — 1 3/4 calendar years.

Coach Adam Gase has maintained that he believes Tannehill is “ready to go,” and the company line is that the Dolphins expect Tannehill to look like Tannehill, which is a must because this team has no proven backup.

Dan Marino avoids pressure in a game against the Patriots. (Allen Eyestone / The Palm Beach Post)

But if Tannehill is storming out of the gate, he wouldn’t even be the second Dolphins quarterback deserving of comeback player of the year consideration. Bob Griese rebounded from a broken ankle to win two Super Bowls, remember.

Speaking of Hall of Fame-caliber QBs, we’ll begin with Tom Brady, who tore his ACL and missed all but one game of the 2008 season. He immediately went to the Pro Bowl the next year, going 10-6 and winning the AFC East. His stats were very Brady: 4,398 yards, 28 TDs, 13 interceptions and a 96.2 rating.

Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers fractured his collarbone in 2013 but came out sizzling in ’14 with 38 TDs and only five interceptions. His passer rating was 112.2, eight points higher than his career stat, which ought to encourage Packers fans since he missed nine games last year with another collarbone injury.

Then-Broncos offensive coordinator Adam Gase confers with Peyton Manning in 2014. (Photo by Justin Edmonds/Getty Images)

Continuing on this theme of Hall of Fame QBs being a different animal altogether, Peyton Manning sat out the 2011 season because of a career-threatening neck injury. With Gase serving as his quarterback coach, Manning immediately put up back-to-back seasons of excellence both from a team perspective (13-3 both years in Denver) and personally (37 and 55 touchdown passes, triple-digit passer rating).

That’s not to say, of course, anyone is preparing a bust in Canton for Tannehill. Let’s turn to mortal passers.

Matthew Stafford played only three games of his second NFL season in 2010 because of a shoulder injury. The Lions obviously didn’t have many concerns about it in ’11, because his 663 attempts led the league. His 5,038 yards were a career high and his passer rating was among his best ever at 97.2.

Carson Palmer, a spectator with the Bengals for a dozen games in 2008 after injuring his elbow, put up more pedestrian numbers when he returned (3,094 yards, 21 TDs, 13 INTs). Ditto for Alex Smith, who missed 2008 with the 49ers because of a bum shoulder, then put up an 81.5 passer rating in ’09.

The Dolphins have to hope Tannehill doesn’t stay on the same track as Indianapolis’ Andrew Luck, who missed nine games in 2015 with a string of injuries, played well in ’16, but was back on the shelf again in 2017. Same story for Sam Bradford, who suffered two ACL tears and is now with Arizona, in the likelihood you’ve lost track amid his many travels.

For dreamers out there, that ’94 performance by Marino ranks among his best. It was typical Marino. The Dolphins were down 35-32 and facing a fourth-and-5 with three minutes left. Rather than try a 52-yard field goal from the Marlins’ infield dirt, coach Don Shula liked his chances better by putting the ball in Dan’s hands (go figure). Or maybe Dan’s eyes.

In the huddle, Marino told receiver Irving Fryar if he had one-on-one coverage, he’d be going to him, and when they got to the line of scrimmage, Marino gave him the eye that said all that needed to be said.

Thirty-five yards later, touchdown. It was a play and a day for the ages.

“I felt pretty good about what I did,” Marino said.

“Dan’s back,” Shula said.

Come Sept. 9, Dolphins fans can hope for two words coming out of Gase’s mouth:

“Ryan’s back.”

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To Miami Dolphins’ chagrin, Tom Brady is king of jersey sales in Florida

You oughta be ashamed, Miami Dolphins.

Hide your face, Tampa Bay Bucs.

And we see you sulking in the corner, Jacksonville Jaguars.

The most popular NFL player in the state is … Tom Brady?

That’s according to NFL.com, which obtained NFL Shop data of merchandise sales during the 2017 season.

How much longer can Tom Brady hold off Ndamukong Suh and the rest of the state’s NFL players in merchandise sales? (Andres Leiva / The Palm Beach Post)

 

Brady being the leader in, oh, Massachusetts, you can understand. Connecticut? Rhode Island? Sounds logical.

But Brady actually is the leader in 10 states, four of which aren’t in New England: Indiana, New York, Hawaii … and Florida.

If this were a presidential election, John King’s Magic Wall would have short-circuited.

Analyzing the situation, these truths are self-evident:

• Brady likely leads in both the most-popular and least-popular vote in Florida, so calling this a red, white and blue state is strictly a matter of taste.

• Eagles QB Carson Wentz won the second-most states (nine). But if you count D.C., he would tie Brady.

• Jameis Winston, you’ve got work to do.

• The Jags, who’ll be a trendy Super Bowl pick this offseason, might actually be closest to breaking Brady’s stranglehold on Florida, thanks to rookie running back Leonard Fournette and that defense.

• If the Dolphins want to do anything about this in 2018, they might want to re-sign Jarvis Landry.

• Or trade for Dwyane Wade.

[NFL Draft countdown: Fair to compare Baker Mayfield to Johnny Manziel?]

[Condoleezza Rice planted the seed that has Michael Thomas considering future in politics]

[Free-agent series debuts: A look at the top guards available]

[A look at Adam Gase’s overhauled coaching staff and what it means for ’18]

[Jarvis Landry tweet inspires two members of Ravens to court him via free agency]

[More than 4,000 participate in Dolphins Cancer Challenge VIII]

[An NFL Draft solution to the Miami Dolphins’ guard problem]

[Protests or not, Dolphins’ attendance was up in 2017]

Check out The Palm Beach Post‘s Miami Dolphins page on Facebook

Super Bowl LII: TV ratings down, particularly in South Florida

Fewer eyes were on the Super Bowl this year than in recent history. (Getty Images)

The allure of former Dolphin Jay Ajayi playing in the Super Bowl and Tom Brady’s bid for a historic sixth ring wasn’t enough to captivate South Florida.

While Super Bowls are always among the most watched television programs of all-time, Sunday’s game between the Patriots and Eagles was the lowest-rated since Super Bowl XLIII between the Cardinals and Steelers. It had an average of 103.4 million viewers, down from 111.9 million for Patriots-Falcons last year.

It was a down year for the game in Miami, in particular. Of the 56 markets tracked, it ranked 55th with just 38.7 percent of television-owning homes tuned in for the Super Bowl, according to an NBC spokesman.

For comparison, Buffalo was the top market at 56.4 percent of homes. The other top viewerships outside of the participating teams and host city were No. 4 Pittsburgh (54.9 percent), No. 6 Norfolk, Va. (53.9) and New Orleans (53).

[Problem for the Dolphins: The Patriots will still be great in 2018]]

[Eagles borrowed Super Bowl trick play from Dolphins’ OC]

[Dolphins WR DeVante Parker not off to great career start]

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Super Bowl LII: To Dolphins’ dismay, Patriots not going anywhere

Are Brady and Belichick headed for Splitsville? Unlikely. (Getty Images)

Finally, the Patriots are falling apart. All it took was another ho-hum 13-win season and losing the Super Bowl by a touchdown to send them spiraling into chaos.

Tom Brady and Bill Belichick are feuding. One day Robert Kraft denies the friction, the next day he says it’s what makes the team great. This discord will only be settled if it turns out Belichick likes having the reigning MVP as his quarterback and Brady somehow sees the positives of maintaining a power structure that’s helped him reach eight Super Bowls.

Then there’s the threat of Rob Gronkowski retiring, a possibility he left open after Sunday’s game. Keep in mind, he’s only 28. It’s never too late for Gronk to take up orthopedic surgery or constitutional law.

Malcolm Butler, who won Super Bowl XLIX for them with that famous goal-line interception, was relegated to special teams work and lashed out at Belichick for giving up on him.

And there’s more. Their offensive and defensive coordinators are both leaving for head-coaching jobs.

Yes, yes, excellent.

It’s all falling apart.

Except that it’s not. Not yet, anyway. In the immortal words of esteemed philosopher D.J. Khaled, “Don’t play yourself,” when it comes to the Patriots.

There are cracks in the dynasty, but not full-on fractures. New England isn’t going anywhere, meaning the Dolphins and most of the rest of the league are still waiting this out. It’s no surprise the Patriots opened as the odds-on favorite to win next year’s Super Bowl.

Belichick is the oldest coach in the league at 65, but he’s never dropped the slightest hint that he’s eying retirement.

In his most recent work, he masterminded a team that led the NFL in point differential last season and had the chance to tie the Super Bowl if a Hail Mary deflection had gone a hair differently. He hasn’t lost two consecutive games since 2015 and he’s 60-16 including the playoffs over the last four years.

Belichick has most of his key players signed for next season, a decent overall salary cap situation and a full stock of draft picks coming up. He built this machine and he’s not ready to hand the keys to someone else.

Going forward without his top deputies won’t hurt. No one knew who Matt Patricia and Josh McDaniels were until Belichick made them geniuses and their departures to the Lions and Colts, respectively, only means he needs to create two new ones. Shouldn’t be a problem considering he’s seen 12 assistants become NFL or Division I head coaches and carried on just fine.

As for Brady, it doesn’t make sense that he’s still this good at 40, but he is. His plan to play to at least 45 doesn’t sound so unrealistic after a season in which he shredded a league full of 20-somethings to finish in the top five in completion percentage (66.3), yards (4,577), touchdowns (32) and passer rating (102.8).

His favorite target will still be around, too, and teams like the Dolphins still won’t have an answer for him. Gronkowski is under contract for about $23 million over the next two years, and sadly the WWE can’t match that money. With no other suitable occupation, he’ll surely be trampling defenses for at least a couple more monster seasons.

In the AFC East, which New England has won nine straight times, the Dolphins, Bills and Jets need a better plan than hoping the Patriots implode sooner rather than later.

The most optimistic view of what happened in Sunday’s Super Bowl is that it could be the beginning of the end, but this team isn’t going to drop off a cliff. The Patriots won the division by four games last season, seven ahead of third-place Miami, and that gap isn’t disappearing altogether in one year.

Belichick’s avoided largescale deterioration by replacing individual parts before they wear out, and there’s little reason to believe he can’t keep that up.

Those charming stats about annual turnover in the playoff field and teams that make last-to-first leaps are mere fairytales in the AFC East. That happens in divisions without a king, where teams like the Jaguars and Rams eventually get a chance.

The Dolphins don’t live in that world. The Patriots still tower over them, and the trivial controversies that spring up over the next few months won’t change that for next season.

[An NFL Draft solution to the Miami Dolphins’ guard problem]

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[Dolphins WR DeVante Parker not off to great career start]

Check out The Palm Beach Post‘s Miami Dolphins page on Facebook

Turmoil within New England Patriots? Miami Dolphins can only hope it’s brewing

Are things getting a little heated for Tom Brady and the Patriots as they enter this postseason? (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

For the first time in weeks, the Dolphins could feel a bit like winners Friday, without having even played a game. Problem is, what the football gods giveth, they can easily taketh.

In another month, we’ll know for sure. Around 11 p.m. Feb. 4, one of two things should happen.

The first possibility: Tom Brady, Bill Belichick and Robert Kraft will put a chokehold on a sterling silver trophy, simultaneously using one digit to thumb their noses at a world that expected them to implode while using a virtual middle finger to salute all those who wish they’d implode.

The second possibility: The sparks created by ESPN on Friday will be a bonfire.

Seth Wickersham, an ESPN senior writer, wrote a piece headlined, “For Kraft, Brady and Belichick, is this the beginning of the end?” Using unnamed sources from more than a dozen sources inside and outside the New England Patriots’ organization, Wickersham paints a picture of “serious disagreements” among the three men that could render their union of unprecedented success unsustainable.

“Now they’re threatening to come undone the only way possible: from within,” Wickersham wrote, going on to say there’s “a palpable sense in the building that this might be the last year together for this group.”

As is often the case with sports dynasties, this one could be done in by egos worthy of a soap opera. Chief among the plot is the recent trade of Jimmy Garoppolo to the 49ers, one of the few personnel moves made by the Patriots that appears to be a colossal error. Wickersham wrote that Kraft, 76, issued a mandate to Belichick, 65, to trade Garoppolo, and that Belichick responded by sending him to San Francisco for the relative bargain price of a second-round pick.

Garoppolo has gone 5-0 with the lowly 49ers. Meanwhile, Belichick is “furious,” knowing he’d have to start from scratch in 2018, grooming another successor for whenever Brady, 40, retires. (Earlier this season, the Patriots shipped ex-Dwyer High quarterback Jacoby Brissett to Indianapolis, where he played relatively well.)

As Belichick seethed, Kraft and Brady were seen hugging in front of the team, Wickersham wrote.

The story has several other tentacles, many involving Brady’s trainer, Alex Guerrero, whose access to the training facility was rescinded by Belichick. Guerrero’s continued influence is putting Patriots players in the middle, having to choose between trusting Guerrero’s methods or that of team trainers.

There also are instances cited of criticism and blow-ups among Brady, Belichick and the Patriots’ assistants, several of whom could bolt for promotions elsewhere this offseason.

“If I’m any team looking for a coach, I call the Patriots right now and ask, ‘What do you want for Belichick?’ ” NBC’s Pro Football Talk tweeted.

Why stop at teams already looking for a coach? What organization wouldn’t boot its coach out in a bomb cyclone, ignore Belichick’s rosy personality and hire him in an instant?

So what does all this mean for the Dolphins? At least on the surface, it’s a rare departure from the robotic atmosphere Belichick demands, the type of saga you might expect from (ahem) a few other NFL franchises. But let’s take a deep breath before declaring the AFC East open for business.

This isn’t the first time under these three that there was an uproar. Take 2001, when Belichick was transitioning from Drew Bledsoe to Brady in a manner said to have left Bledsoe “extremely pissed off.” Eight games into the Brady era, The Boston Globe wrote that Brady “has shown obvious decline in the last four games.” How’d that turn out?

Fast-forward nine years. Vegas set the Pats’ over/under win total at 9.5. “New England has the feel of a team on the decline,” The Tampa Tribune wrote. Try 14-2 (but no championship). They’ve won at least a dozen games every year since.

Jump ahead three more years. Even within New England, there was trepidation. The Providence Journal asked, “As the quarterback ages, the question now becomes, can the rest of the team help carry the quarterback for the next several seasons and keep the Patriots among the NFL’s elite?” Blasphemous was The Boston Globe’s line, “For the first time ever, it makes sense to unload him.” (At least that was directed at fantasy owners, not Kraft.)

All of which means there’s no reason for the Dolphins to be checking out which pole from which to raise an AFC East banner a year from now. They finished seven games behind the Patriots. As they’ve been wont to do lately, they saved perhaps their best performance of the season for New England’s visit, in no way resembling the Dolphin team taking the field in the weeks before or after.

Nothing wrong with a chortle from Dolfans today, I suppose, as the Patriots grumble through this blizzard.

Brady’s agent, Don Yee, said in a statement to the Boston Herald that he didn’t know what to say because the charges made off the record. “All I can suggest is don’t believe everything you read,” he said.

On or off the record, if Yee knows them to be false, he should rebut them, which he did not. Doubly so, considering his client, Brady, is accused of helping usher out Garoppolo — who’s also Yee’s client.

Belichick, Kraft and Brady issued a joint statement via the Patriots’ organization criticizing “speculated theories that are unsubstantiated, highly exaggerated or flat-out inaccurate. The three of us share a common goal. We look forward to the enormous challenge of competing in the postseason and the opportunity to work together in the future, just as we have for the past 18 years. It is unfortunate that there is even a need for us to respond to these fallacies. As our actions have shown, we stand united.”

That’s what they have to say today. The proof would come if the three of them are scuffing up another Vince Lombardi Trophy in Minneapolis next month, and if they’re trying to do it all over again for 2018-19.

Because if they’re not, the East will be open for business.

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Sideline confrontations business as usual in NFL’s high-intensity workplace

No sideline episode drew more attention this season than Tom Brady and Josh McDaniels getting into it. (Getty Images)

DAVIE—Few offices have the extreme competition and moment-by-moment high stakes of the NFL, and it shouldn’t be surprising if conversations on the sideline don’t look quite like those that take place in an accounting firm.

With video of each confrontation readily available to go viral—another big difference from most workplaces—and coach-player relationships always under the media microscope, these arguments often become something bigger to the public than what the participants think it is.

No blow-up in the league drew as much attention as Tom Brady unloading on offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels. Seattle’s Doug Baldwin got heated enough to shove offensive line coach Tom Cable during an argument two months ago, and Dolphins receiver Jarvis Landry got into it with Adam Gase late in Sunday’s loss at Kansas City.

Gase has no aversion to confrontation, which is part of what makes him suited for this profession. After 15 years coaching in the NFL, he sees those sideline exchanges as a normal—healthy, even—part of this environment.

“That (stuff) happens all the time and it’s overblown big-time,” he said before practice today. “(Stuff) like that happens, and unless the TV cameras catch it, nobody notices. Competitive guys, there’s a fire there.

“Whether it’s players or coaches, both sides are trying not to cross a line to attack somebody, but yeah, there’s going to be some discussion and argument. Guys get fired up. It’s the real pros that can move past it and get to the next thing.”

Brady and Baldwin publicly apologized for their incidents, but it seemed like more than anything their intention was to calm down a publicity storm. Both gave the impression that those involved were already carrying on with business as usual.

For Gase and Landry, their shouting match in the Chiefs game didn’t even rise to the level that either thought that was necessary. Gase described himself, Landry and former running back Jay Ajayi as “hotheads” earlier this year and said that was only the second time they’ve had that kind of interaction since Gase took the job almost two years ago.

For his part, Landry said after the game it’s “normal for anyone to show frustration” and he wasn’t trying to embarrass his coach.

As for moving forward in their relationship, which has been positive for both sides throughout their time together, Gase said they gave “each other a little hard time” about the disagreement and that was it.

“To me, it’s never a big deal,” said Gase, who recalled many similar interactions when he coached Peyton Manning and remains close friends with him. “It’s no different than when two coaches get in an argument. That’s football. That’s what happens. When you’re playing a sport that’s as aggressive and violent as this and you talk about energy levels being high and you’re competing and it’s a do-or-die situation, man, every little thing is magnified.

“Everybody wants to win. Everybody’s trying so hard to win that when things go wrong, sometimes it just gets a little vocal.”

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Dolphins CB Xavien Howard had flu during two-interception game vs. Patriots

Xavien Howard’s tremendous game came under brutal conditions. (Allen Eyestone/The Post)

DAVIE—The best game of Dolphins cornerback Xavien Howard’s career came on a night he spent vomiting on the sideline because of the flu.

Howard was everywhere in Miami’s 27-20 victory over the Patriots and intercepted Tom Brady twice despite being miserable the entire day.

“Yeah, I was throwing up mostly like water,” he said after today’s practice. “And I took some Pedialite, so I was just throwing it up.”

He came down with the illness Monday morning at the team hotel and did everything he could to even consider playing that night. He was administered two bags of intravenous fluids, and none of that really helped. He played nonetheless.

Dolphins safety Walt Aikens, whose locker is right next to Howard’s, described it as a bad scene.

“Yeah, front row seat,” Aikens said. “It was rough. He was throwing up his guts. I thought he was going to die. It was kind of scary. I was in the splash zone. He balled out, though. Next time he gets sick, I’ll know not to care about him, because he’ll be all right for the game.”

Aikens and the rest of the secondary have been yelling “flu game” at Howard all week in reference to Michael Jordan’s legendary performance while languishing in the 1997 NBA Finals.

Beyond the two picks, Howard was exceptional in coverage on New England No. 1 receiver Brandin Cooks. Cooks managed just one catch for 38 yards out of seven targets, and Howard was credited with an additional pass breakup. He defended several other passes thrown his way.

“He was in bad shape, man, but he pulled it out,” Aikens said. “He said he was going to be all right and he was good. He showed up.”

Howard was still sick today, but said he’s feeling “a little better” and will play Sunday at Buffalo.

[When Adam Gase gets upset with Jakeem Grant, he threatens to call his mom]

[Ndamukong Suh played every single snap in the win over New England]

[Dolphins’ Michael Thomas remains a special teams hero]

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How the Dolphins went 11 for 11 stopping Tom Brady on third downs

Xavien Howard was incredible against the Patriots. (Allen Eyestone/The Post)

DAVIE–This was the best anyone’s ever done against Tom Brady when it comes to stopping him on third downs.

The Dolphins‘ defense came through on 11 of 11 third-down tries by New England in their 27-20 upset Monday, marking the first time since 1991 that the Patriots failed to convert a single third down in a game. (The Patriots had two “conversions” on penalties, but the league doesn’t count those in this statistic.) The last time Miami did shut out an opponent on third downs was in 2011, when it did it to the Bills twice.

That keeps up a nice hot streak for the Dolphins, who held the Broncos to 1 for 13 on third downs the week before.

Monday’s performance was impressive enough considering it came against Brady and the No. 3 offense in the NFL, but New England was also fourth in the league in third-down conversion success rate at 44.9 percent.

Miami’s success started with the fact that it played well on first and second down. On the Patriots’ 11 third-down conversion tries, their average distance to go was 12.2 yards. Putting someone in third-and-12 all night is a good blueprint for winning.

There were some outstanding plays by the Dolphins–none more so than Xavien Howard–on third down throughout the game. Here’s a look at what happened on all 11 of New England’s attempts.


1. First quarter, third and 10, New England 25-yard line, 8:23 remaining
Brady had a lot of time in the pocket here, but forced one to Brandin Cooks in extremely tough coverage. Howard picked him off, and the Dolphins drove 34 yards for a field goal afterward.


2. First quarter, third and eight, New England 27-yard line, 3:04 remaining
Another play where Brady tried to fit a pass where there was no room. This time it was Alterraun Verner with a great pass breakup on Chris Hogan.


3. Second quarter, third and four, New England 41-yard line, 12:06 remaining
Brady completed a short pass to running back Rex Burkhead, but linebacker Kiko Alonso got to him immediately to keep him from reaching the 45 (that’s the yard line by Alonso’s left foot in the photo) and Reshad Jones helped him finish the tackle with a big hit. Burkhead came up a yard short, and New England punted.


4. Second quarter, third and three, Miami 29-yard line, 0:46 remaining
This was essentially a run play with Brady making a quick shovel pass to running back James White. He was met by a swarm of Alonso, T.J. McDonald and Verner and went down at the 28, two yards short of the first down. New England kicked a field goal on that drive to move within 13-10.


5. Third quarter, third and 16, New England 14-yard line, 13:40 remaining
This was the play of the night. With Brady threatening to put the Patriots back on top with a long heave for Cooks, Howard somehow made up ground at last possible moment to run away with the interception. He said he was flat-out beat on the play and wasn’t sure how he got there. Brady underthrew the ball slightly, which gave him a chance. Howard returned it to the Patriots’ 46, and Miami scored a touchdown for a 20-10 lead two minutes later.


6. Third quarter, third and one, New England 29-yard line, 9:17 remaining
After Cameron Wake’s neutral zone infraction took this from third and six to third and one, Howard bailed the Dolphins out with another great pass breakup on Cooks. Like most of the night, he was all over him.


7. Third quarter, third and nine, New England 33-yard line, 3:40 remaining
This was the lucky one. Verner got spun around at the line of scrimmage and fell well behind Hogan down the right sideline, but Brady overthrew him. If the Dolphins get credit for anything on this, it’s Jones making it at least a tougher throw with his coverage over the top.


8. Fourth quarter, third and eight, New England 17-yard line, 11:05 remaining
Ndamukong Suh came up with a sack here, but rookie Charles Harris was the first one to break into New England’s backfield. Harris beat his man and forced Brady to move forward to get away from him, sending him right into Suh’s reach.


9. Fourth quarter, third and four, New England 25-yard line, 7:17 remaining
Brady still hadn’t accepted that this wasn’t a night to try Howard. He went back to Cooks here, but Howard had him locked up again (bottom left corner of the frame). The pass was incomplete, and New England punted.


10. Fourth quarter, third and 20, New England 12-yard line, 4:58 remaining
Nothing amazing here, just good prevent defense by Miami on a third and long. The best option Brady saw was Danny Amendola, who was 11 yards short of the first down and wasn’t going to get much with Jones zeroing in on him.


11. Fourth quarter, third and goal, Miami 15-yard line, 1:02 remaining
When the Dolphins coaches talk about defensive tackle Jordan Phillips having a good year, this play is what they mean. Andre Branch went inside, and Phillips took the outside and pressured Brady into throwing sooner than he wanted. He threw to Amendola at the three-yard line, which gave him little chance of reaching the end zone, but Howard’s coverage was too good again and it went incomplete. New England opted for the field goal to pull within 27-20, but couldn’t recover the onsides kick and the game was over.

[Dolphins’ stunning upset of Patriots makes everything worth it]

[Five takeaways from the Dolphins’ 27-20 win over New England]

[Grading the Dolphins after they beat the Patriots]

Check out The Palm Beach Post‘s Miami Dolphins page on Facebook

Win over Denver two weeks ago gave Dolphins their swagger back

The Dolphins flexed on Denver, then did it to New England. (AP)

DAVIE—It seemed like nothing at the time, just a meaningless slap fight between two teams going nowhere. But for the Dolphins, it might have been the turning point of their season.

When they blasted Denver 35-9 two weeks ago, it was the first time all season Miami had seen its plans materialize on the field in a game. It broke the team out of its five-game losing streak, and gave the players a newfound belief that they were capable of implementing exactly what they worked on during the week.

That boost changed everything as they prepared for the Monday Night Football game against New England.

“When we went through practice last week, there was a different way about how we were at practice,” coach Adam Gase said. “There was no change in effort or execution or anything like that, but it seemed like guys were walking around different, like they felt good about what we had going on and how they were going to perform.”

The Dolphins carried that poise into the Patriots game and immediately showed they were up for the immense challenge.

Miami’s first quarter was brilliant, which was a talking point throughout the leadup to the game given that New England had double-digit leads early in each of the previous three meetings. The Dolphins came away with field goals on its first two possessions, and their defense completely shut down Tom Brady.

The Patriots ended the first quarter with two yards of total offense, and Brady was 0 for 4 with an interception.

Everything clicked for Miami, just as it had the previous week against the Broncos. Jay Cutler made headway in the medium- and long-range passing game, Kenyan Drake was excellent, the defensive line hurried Brady into his worst performance of the year and Xavien Howard got his hands on two picks.

The defense had two sacks, six quarterback hits and seven pass breakups. The offense averaged 5.2 yards per play and was turnover-free for the first time since the opener.

It felt a lot like the way the Dolphins played against Denver, only they were able to maintain it against a far better opponent.

“Anytime you get in a situation where you’ve lost five games in a row, no matter how you win that game, it’s nice to win a game,” Gase said of the breakthrough against the Broncos. “And then confidence can really build throughout a week the next week. I think that’s really what happened for us.”

[Dolphins’ stunning upset of Patriots makes everything worth it]

[Five takeaways from the Dolphins’ 27-20 win over New England]

[Grading the Dolphins after they beat the Patriots]

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Dolphins make all the misery worth it with 27-20 upset of Patriots

Jay Cutler was outstanding against the Patriots. (Allen Eyestone/The Post)

MIAMI GARDENS — This makes it all worth it.

A Dolphins season full of shakeups and setbacks culminated in a shocking 27-20 upset of the Patriots on Monday Night Football that felt like the wildest party this team has thrown in years. Hard Rock Stadium, where the chants are usually calling for the backup quarterback, thundered with “Let’s go Dolphins.”

A close loss would’ve been enough to merit calling this progress, but Miami took it one step further with one of the biggest upsets of the season as an 11-point underdog. The Dolphins had the lead all night with the exception of about three minutes in the second quarter and bowed up when Tom Brady swiped at them late in the game.

This doesn’t make the Dolphins a good team, it doesn’t mean they’re inching closer to New England and all it does playoffs-wise is keep their already slim hopes in play with three games remaining. But none of that matters.

This was the best game they’ve played under Adam Gase, and everybody in aqua deserved it. The players who have endured 13 straight weeks without a bye have been wrecking their bodies just for a celebration like this, and the fans who somehow forced themselves to keep watching through five-game losing streak earned some must-see TV.

The whole country must have enjoyed it, really, considering the terrible football they were subjected to during the Dolphins’ previous national games.

This is the game everyone, especially Bill Belichick, will remember from the 2017 Dolphins.

There was drama from the onset as the Dolphins (6-7) stirred memories of their legendary 1985 Monday Night Football win over Chicago—almost 32 years ago to the day—with their retro uniforms under the lights.

There was nonstop tension, which surely played tricks on Miami fans’ stomachs but is exactly why people watch football in the first place. Anyone who bit their fingernails through the full three-plus hours knows it didn’t feel anywhere near as comfortable as that final score might indicate.

Thrill and dread were intertwined as Jay Cutler marched the Dolphins into scoring range on their first two possessions and came away with field goals, sparking electricity in a stadium still secretly worried that six points wasn’t enough payoff for all that headway.

The confidence teetered again as New England (10-3) took a 7-6 lead in the second quarter, fell behind again, then pulled back within 13-10 at halftime. Every moment was a test to see if Miami could hold off what felt like the inevitable crushing disappointment this franchise has so frequently delivered over the last 40-something years.

Some unlikely characters emerged to make sure that didn’t happen.

Cutler, one of the least popular players with this fanbase, was tremendous.

He’s been outplayed by nearly every quarterback he’s faced this year, but schooled Brady in the art of quarterbacking by completing 25 of 38 passes for 263 yards with three touchdowns and no interceptions (albeit several close calls) for a 112.1 passer rating. In 150 career games, this is one of the top 20 he’s ever played.

Not long ago, it looked like there was no route to the field for second-year running back Kenyan Drake. Now he’s indispensable. After grinding out 30 yards on nine carries in the first quarter, he rolled to 114 on 25.

Drake and Cutler closed out the game by leading a modest drive that ended in a punt but ran enough clock to bury the Patriots. They got the ball back at their own 23, down 10 with 2:24 remaining.

Then there’s Xavien Howard, whose inconsistency at cornerback brought into question whether he’s as good as the Dolphins thought when they drafted him in the second round last year. A month ago, Pro Football Focus ranked him the 115th-best corner in the league, but he’s come on strong lately and was exceptional against the Patriots.

It was Howard who answered when Brady launched one about 75 yards for Brandin Cooks on the first series after the half. Cooks looked like he might catch it right on time and race away for a touchdown, but Howard closed perfectly for an over-the-shoulder interception and ran it back to the New England 46.

It was his second interception of the game, fourth in the last two, and it set Miami up for a quick scoring drive. In a matter of minutes, the Dolphins went from nearly surrendering their lead to surging ahead 20-10.

The Miami defense as a whole played a better game than anyone could’ve reasonably thought possible. That group shut down Brady down and forced him into his worst game of an otherwise sparkling season. He failed to convert a single third down in 11 tries and trudged off the field with a meager 59.5 passer rating.

New England, which arrived as the No. 3 offense in the league, stomped off the field at the end of the first quarter with two total yards. Those came on one rush by Rex Burkhead. That was all the Patriots could get on a Dolphins defense that was on pace to give up one of the gaudiest rushing totals in franchise history.

In the fourth quarter, with Brady desperately firing away to overcome a 17-point deficit, Miami stopped him on three of the last four possessions to hang on for the win.

The natural question after the Dolphins put forward an effort like this is why they can’t replicate it every week, but every week doesn’t have the perfect confluence of the hated nemesis coming to town, a national TV audience and the season wobbling on the brink of oblivion.

Miami can’t play like this every game, because every game isn’t this. But for one night, this team was incredible.

[Ndamukong Suh has it out for Patriots QB Tom Brady]

[What’s Jay Cutler doing behind the scenes to get DeVante Parker out of his funk?]

[Adam Gase has his finger on exactly what’s gone wrong vs. New England Patriots]

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