Down six starters on offense, Miami Dolphins get a huge boost from an unlikely source
When Solomon Kindley left the Dolphins-Patriots game on Sunday with a knee injury in the fourth quarter, Miami lost six offensive starters - seven if you count Preston Williams, who has been in an injured reserve since mid-November.
And yet the Dolphins had by far their best rushing performance of the season and arguably their best offensive half of the year.
The Dolphins turned a six-point half-time deficit into a 10-point win by streaking 175 yards with 27 runs after the break.
And that on the track without a single start protection. Second year pro Michael Deiter took over Kindley on the left while Jesse Davis was on guard in place of Ereck Flowers for the second straight week.
Deiter hadn't played a single offensive snap before Sunday in 2020, despite starting all but one game as a rookie. The Dolphins were so determined to be on their guard after Deiter's 2019 season that they designed Kindley and signed Flowers.
And yet, with the season ahead, Deiter was far from a commitment and helped open the lanes for a ground attack that lasted 250 meters that day.
"It was a process," said Deiter, who was elected in the third round in 2019. "It only takes day after day and wherever I am asked to play or whatever role I am given just to make sure I do." To the best of my ability, and to make sure that it helps this team to be the best they can be and whatever role that is, I have to be willing to do it at a good level. "
The Dolphins should be applauded for how well they played on Sunday's offense, considering Tua Tagovailoa's four best targets - Mike Gesicki, DeVante Parker, Jakeem Grant and Myles Gaskin - were canceled due to injury or illness.
Parker's absence was the four's biggest surprise. As of Saturday night, the team were optimistic that he would play through a tense Achilles tendon, but that apparently changed in the hours leading up to the game.
Gesicki was always a long shot after an ugly shoulder injury the week before. He didn't even appear on the field during the pre-game warm-up.
Those injuries forced the Dolphins to start six rookies on the offensive: Kindley, Tagovailoa, Robert Hunt, Austin Jackson, Salvon Ahmed and Lynn Bowden. It was the first time an NFL team had started so many newbies since the Cardinals did so on December 16, 2018.
The decision to scrape Parker, Gesicki, and Grant "was on the line," said Flores. “They were all close to playing. These guys fight to play and get out. They just want to help this team. It appeals to the kind of people we have. "
With Grant out, Noah Igbinoghene and Antonio Callaway shared the obligation to return without any major problems or differences.
Bowden led the dolphins to receptions (six for 37 yards) for the second straight week.
▪ Xavien Howard's series of games with an interception ended at five, but he still had a hand on a Dolphins turnover. He forced New England to fumble for the first time in the second half, which Elandon Roberts regained.
It extended the Dolphins' back-to-back series of 20 games, the longest in the NFL, and further strengthened Howard's argument for Defensive Player of the Year. He added five tackles on Sunday, helped keep the Patriots out of the end zone, and limited New England to 186 passing yards.
At the start of the game, Howard had almost his signature 2020 game - scooped up a fumble and returned for a touchdown - but upon review, officials found that Christian Wilkins had gotten out of hand while on contact with the loose ball and negated sales .
"I definitely felt for him," said Wilkins. "I've done my best. When you've got 310 [pounds] at full blast, it's hard to stop."
▪ For the second time this month, a successful forgery by a special team was spoiled by a procedural error. Officials determined that Kamu Grugier-Hill failed to qualify for a game in which he caught a first-down pass from punter Matt Haack.
More about the Dolphins' special teams: After Jason Sanders mastered the field goals perfectly in the first eight games, he made three mistakes in the last six weeks. He was far left from 52 meters on Sunday.
▪ Flores lost both challenges on Sunday.
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