Miami Dolphins: Taking the keys to the Benz in Atlanta

The Miami Dolphins made their first trip to the Falcons new home, Mercedes-Benz Stadium. In a game where few observers gave Miami a shot, the Dolphins showed great determination and resolve. To put a tough week behind them Head Coach Adam Gase needed to change the focus from off the field to on it.

Miami won the coin toss and deferred to the second half, a move that made sense. Coach Gase figured he might as well put the defense to the test early, it has been the strength of the team. They did allow Matt Ryan to move the ball into their territory, but tightened up and held Atlanta to a field goal.

On the ensuing kickoff Miami once again found themselves pinned inside the 15-yard line after a poor kickoff return by Kenyon Drake. Field position has plagued the Dolphins offense all season, they simply do not have the offensive firepower to drive the length of the field on a consistent basis. Jay Cutler was able to move the team to around mid-field, helped by a 18-yard burst from Jay Ajayi.

Like the case most of the season the offense sputtered and was forced to punt. The pressure on the Dolphins defense to carry the team is magnified against an elite offense like Atlanta’s, there is simply a razor thin margin for error. Ryan was again able to pick up first downs and flip the field with quick passes. He waited for his shot and this time the Dolphins defense could not step up, getting torched for a 40-yard touchdown by Marvin Hall.

Now in a 10-0 hole the Dolphins desperately needed a score or things would get out of hand. It was apparent that Miami wanted to get the ball to Jay Ajayi as much as possible. For once the Dolphins offensive line had some push and opened up lanes for Ajayi and he was quick and decisive much more than in recent weeks. Same story with the end result however as the punt team made another appearance.

The Dolphins defense got a much needed three-and-out and forced a punt from inside the Atlanta 20, finally Miami would start with decent field position just short of mid-field. Jay Cutler was making quick throws on slants and outs using short drops, the offense looked simpler yet much crisper. A personal foul for unnecessary roughness on Juwaun James slowed the drive down, and facing a fourth and three from the Atlanta 39 the Dolphins went for it and failed. It was the right call, field goals are not going to win against the Falcons and a 56-yard attempt is no guarantee.

Atlanta wasted little time when they got the ball back, Devonta Freeman ripped off a 44-yard run and the Falcons capped the drive with a six-yard scoring run from Tevin Coleman for a 17-0 lead.

Down three scores the Dolphins did not give up on the running game and Jay Ajayi continued his strong first half with consecutive runs that gained a first down. Even Jarvis Landry got in on the act with a jet sweep for six yards. Atlanta penalties helped keep the drive alive and the Dolphins got a crucial third down catch by Landry. Then Cutler finally made the huge mistake they couldn’t afford, throwing an interception while on the run when he could have tucked the ball and gained a few yards. Fortunately for Miami, Matt Bryant missed a 59-yard field goal and the score stayed 17-0.

Key first half stats for Miami:

Jay Cutler 8/14, 64 yards, interception

Jay Ajayi 11 carries, 71 yards

Jarvis Landry 5 catches, 36 yards

To open the second half Miami embarked on perhaps their best drive of the season, a 15 play 85-yard march that took almost nine minutes off the clock. Cutler hit Kenny Stills in the back of the endzone for an 11-yard strike

The touchdown cut the Atlanta lead to 17-7. Cutler was 7/9 on the drive and Stills made several key plays along the way. With DeVante Parker out of the game Miami needed Stills to step up from the outside receiver spot opposite Landry. Miami’s defense quickly forced an Atlanta punt and were back in business, and again the offense started to find a rhythm. It was like the teams switched uniforms at halftime, Miami’s offense was balanced and creative as evidenced by a Cutler to Landry touchdown to make it 17-14 Atlanta.

Landry motioned into the backfield then quickly reversed back to the outside right before the snap. This action caught the Atlanta defense off guard and Cutler had an easy lob for the score. The Falcons were hurting themselves all day with penalties that helped keep the game close. Miami showed faith in the running game and the balanced attack kept Atlanta on their heels.

The Falcons mistakes continued when a botched snap on a punt set Miami up with great field position. The Dolphins were able to keep running with Ajayi and short pass plays to Landry chewed up yardage. Codey Parkey tied the game at 17 with a 49-yard field goal halfway through the fourth quarter. Miami kept up the pressure on Matt Ryan and were able to slow down the Falcons rushing attack. Ryan finished the day 24 for 35 for 248 yards, along with one touchdown and one interception. Most importantly for Miami he did not lead a single scoring drive in the second half. The Dolphins would take over with just under seven minutes to play and leaned on Jay Ajayi on back to back carries, each for 18 yards. Cutler hit Landry for a first down over the middle, on the play Landry broke multiple tackles to reach the sticks. Landry had been defending Jay Cutler and how Miami fans have been booing him recently, he stepped up huge for his quarterback in this game. Cutler himself showed great emotion and was very sharp in the second half. The drive stalled at the Atlanta 20 and Parkey hit the 38-yard field goal to put Miami ahead 20-17.

With over two minutes left and only a field goal needed, Matt Ryan took over at his own 13 and proceeded to march right down the field. Miami fans have been on the wrong end of these situations and were surely nervous. As the Falcons entered Miami territory Ryan continued to take shots. He led them all the way to the Miami 26 when the Dolphins got their final big play of the game.

Reshad Jones made the type of play that for the most part had been lacking from him this year. After a strong game last week including a fumble for a touchdown, Jones looks like he is ready to return to Pro-Bowl form. Miami made a statement in this game, and after a controversial and distracting week it was great to see.

Key Dolphins stats for the game.

Offense:

Jay Cutler- 19/33, 151 yards, 2 touchdowns, interception

Jay Ajayi- 26 carries, 130 yards, 5.0 yards per carry

Jarvis Landry- 8 receptions, 62 yards, touchdown

Kenny Stills- 4 receptions, 49 yards, touchdown

Defense:

Lawrence Timmons- 8 tackles, TFL

Ndamukong Suh- sack

Cameron Wake- sack

Reshad Jones-interception

Up next: Home vs New York Jets

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