The Miami Dolphins are in first place in the AFC East and the only team in the division that didn’t lose its regular-season opener on Sunday.
Yes, the 2021 regular-season has begun exactly as no one predicted: With the Buffalo Bills losing at home.
And the Dolphins, who had lost 11 of the 12 games at New England, beating the homestanding Patriots, 17-16.
This was also the first time in coach Brian Flores’s administration the Dolphins opened the season with a victory.
“We talked about this being a 60-minute ballgame and that’s exactly what it was,” Brian Flores said.
The key play in this one? Cornerback Xavien Howard, who led the NFL with 10 interceptions a season ago, came up with a forced fumble and ensuing recovery against Damien Harris when the Patriots were at the Dolphins 11-yard line and driving for a fourth-quarter potential winning score.
The Dolphins’ red zone defense allowed only one touchdown and also had that huge turnover.
In what was a matchup of young Alabama quarterbacks, Miami’s Tua Tagovailoa versus New England’s Mac Jones, the edge went to Jones.
Jones completed 29 of 39 passes for 281 yards with one TD. His quarterback rating was 102.6.
Tagovailoa was 16 of 27 for 202 yard and one TD. His QB rating was 79.6.
And there is no Dolphins fans who would trade having the better QB performance for the victory.
Besides, Tagovailoa was good enough when it counted. And it counted when the Dolphins took a lead early in the game and then held that lead with a fine drive to open the second half.
Tagovailoa was 4 for 4 on that first drive of the game and got the Dolphins their 7-0 lead on a 3-yard run. Myles Gaskin carried the ball five times for 28 yard on the first series.
“They came out and started fast,” New England linebacker Matt Judon said. “That’s what they did both times. That’s what they’ve done in the past.”
But while the Dolphins started fast, they couldn’t sustain it. Their next three possessions netted 17 yards.
In the meantime, the Patriots established their offense. And that meant getting Nelson Agholor involved.
Agholor had a great game against the Dolphins last year when he played for Las Vegas. He had five catches for 155 yards and a touchdown in that game.
He caught a 7-yard pass from Jones in the second quarter to help give New England a 10-7 lead. Afterward, Agholor tried to give Jones the ball and Jones handed it back. Agholor handed it back and Jones handed it to someone else.
“There’s corrections to make,” Flores said. “There’s corrections for me to make. It feels good to get a win, however you get it.”
Jones finished the first half with 133 passing yards, which eclipsed the 129-yard first half best in passing the Patriots got in all of 2020.
“I can do a better job,” Jones said.