‘It’s about time’: Xavien Howard’s 4 interceptions in 2 games is a first for a Miami Dolphins CB

Dolphins cornerback Xavien Howard intercepts a pass intended for New England’s Brandin Cooks. (Allen Eyestone / The Palm Beach Post)

MIAMI GARDENS — This is what it looks like when an NFL player breaks out. This is what it looks like when a player who never lacked confidence in himself, but never inspired much confidence for fans, gets to say I told you so.

No, as boisterous Dolphins teammates were celebrating that 27-20 upset of the New England Patriots in the wee hours Tuesday morning, cornerback Xavien Howard didn’t actually come out and say that.

So his teammates did.

“Everybody wrote him off but us,” defensive end Andre Branch said. “That’s exactly what’s been going on. Just like they did with Jordan Phillips. But at the end of the day, those two have skills and unlimited talent and we know exactly who they are. And they’re just showing the world.”

Xavien Howard went 18 regular-season games into his NFL career without an interception. He has four in the past two games, becoming the first Dolphins cornerback with multiple interceptions in consecutive games. They include two more when Tom Brady trusted receiver Brandin Cooks to make contested catches against Howard.

Instead, those two footballs ended up in the hands of Howard and he never let go. You intercept possibly the greatest quarterback ever twice in prime time, you can bet they’d have to pry your fingers away from those footballs.

“Oh yeah,” Howard said on his newest keepsakes. “Both of them.”

This was about the time that Howard was slipping on a pair of chrome shoes. You shine as much as Howard did on national TV, you leave the Crocs to somebody else. You put on your chrome shoes and you dare anybody to say a word.

Dressing a couple of lockers over was cornerback Bobby McCain, who climbed on the benches to holler at Howard over a pack of reporters.

“Don’t throw my way! Don’t throw my way!” McCain yelled.

Howard grinned.

Next to McCain was safety Reshad Jones, who knows something about Pro Bowl-caliber coverage.

“He could be one of the best corners in the league,” Jones said.

Howard heard that, too.

“He played a lot of football and I respect him a lot,” Howard said. “Just going out there, the expectations that he has and I have for myself, just going out there and taking the challenge.”

Brady was uncharacteristically off target all night, completing just 24-of-43 for 233 yards and a 59.5 passer rating. But he was especially off target when looking for Cooks, who was tailed by Howard all evening. Brady targeted Cooks seven times. Cooks had one reception for 38 yards. The only other success New England had against Howard was a pass interference penalty on the Miami 3 that led to a touchdown.

Howard set the tone for the Dolphins twice over. On New England’s third snap of the game, Howard was in man coverage on the outside against Cooks. Brady lofted a deep one even though Howard had his man stride for stride. Howard used his strength, fending off Cooks with his left arm to maintain inside position before cradling the pass, setting up a field goal.

The third snap of the second half wasn’t much different. Brady had just been sacked on a bull rush by Phillips and, perhaps with frustration setting in, tested Howard deep again. Cooks had two steps but Howard closed the gap with the ball in the air, then came flying across the picture to intercept.

“That is one of the great interceptions you will see,” ESPN analyst Jon Gruden said.

“I’m just feeding off the last game, watching film and stuff like that,” said Howard, who had a pick-six last week against Denver. “I knew they were going to try to come at me and the weakness that I showed on film.”

With the other starting corner, Cordrea Tankersley, out with shoulder and ankle injuries, it was imperative someone in the secondary pick up the slack against the league’s No. 1 offense.

“X’s confidence is really getting up there,” coach Adam Gase said. “He has had two really good games in a row. It’s good to see him really feeling it.”

Defensive end Cameron Wake was more blunt.

“From the moment he got on campus last year, I knew the ability he had, the type of mentality and what he could bring to the table,” Wake said. “You could tell him that I said it’s about time.”

Playoffs remain long shot for Dolphins – but so was beating the Patriots

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Dolphins-Patriots photo gallery

[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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