Schad: These Dolphins are resilient, tough, physical, assertive fighters

Joe Schad
Palm Beach Post
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MIAMI GARDENS — Tua Tagovailoa could have slid, but he didn't, he could have cowered, but he didn't. 

No, Tagovailoa lowered a shoulder and lowered the boom and bowled over that Jets defensive back after a scramble at Hard Rock Stadium.

Tua flexed his biceps. Teammates pumped fists. The crowd roared.

"I don't think he was expecting me to lower my shoulder and run him over," Tua said.

The Dolphins beat the Jets 31-24, on Sunday, and poof! — they've gone from 1-7 and putrid to 7-7 and formidable — and it's all because things changed.

On defense and offense and special teams, too, when the Dolphins were at their lowest point they decided that in order to be resilient, they needed to be tough.

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And it wasn't perfect on Sunday, it wasn't perfect at all, and yet the Dolphins reeled off a sixth straight win, a largely improbable feat, by being assertive.

Miami was physical and played without fear and the Dolphins overcame adversity.

None of this would be possible, this run from irrelevancy to real, true playoff relevancy, without change. The Dolphins have taken on all comers.

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And so this team, this version of the 2021 Dolphins, is in fact what coach Brian Flores has always envisioned. These Dolphins, at this point, at this moment, fight back.

These Dolphins fight. These Dolphins punch.

Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa runs over Jets cornerback Michael Carter II during the second half of Sunday's win at Hard Rock Stadium.

And no Dolphin punched more than running back Duke Johnson on Sunday.

"Duuuuuuuuke!" they cheered, for the former 'Cane. 

Duke Johnson was tough. He was resilient. He broke tackles. His legs churned. He topped 100 yards rushing. He scored touchdowns, two in fact.

And so yes, Myles Gaskin and Salvon Ahmed had been cleared from the NFL's COVID-19 list in time to play on Sunday. But Flores and offensive play-caller George Godsey (Flores officially confirmed Sunday) leaned on Johnson.

After all, he had practiced all week. After all, Johnson seems to play with such desire. It's been a minute, perhaps a Jay Ajayi minute, since the Dolphins had a running back who broke some tackles.

"It wears the opponent down," Flores said of the Dolphins, who rushed for 183 yards. 

Johnson, who played his high school football right here in Miami Gardens, delivered the type of aggressiveness and determination and will that Flores has always wanted from a running back.

"I wanted to do it with everything I had," Johnson said. "In this case, it was churning my legs. Coach told me to give great effort. I try to give great effort with everything I do."

This team is starting to take on the identity of its coach. And that's a very good thing.

"They compete and they fight," Flores said.

The Dolphins had a few too many penalties. And Tagovailoa had two too many interceptions, including a crushing one that knotted the score at 24 in the fourth quarter.

Dolphins receiver DeVante Parker falls into the end zone with the game-winning touchdown reception from Tua Tagovailoa late in the fourth quarter, beating Jets defensive backs Sharrod Neasman (35) and Bryce Hall (37).

But Tagovailoa battled back. He led the game-winning scoring drive, capped by a touchdown pass to DeVante Parker.

The Dolphins will need Tua to be sharper in what suddenly is a critical matchup on a Monday Night at New Orleans on Dec. 27. Flores noted that in general his team was rusty coming off the bye week. And that is true. But his team also found a way to win.

And that's the mark of a good team. Miami is not only no longer a terrible team. The Dolphins actually have emerged as a fairly good team.

The defense spurred this all on, of course.

Once Flores and defensive coordinator Josh Boyer decided to start to throw punches and not sit back on their heels, they evolved into a fierce force.

They get sacks. They force fumbles. They hit quarterbacks.

The Dolphins will pack for New Orleans, and Nashville, Tennessee, too, with one of the most solid defenses in the league. That gives them a chance to win any game.

On this day, Miami fell behind the Jets, 10-0, in what was a lackluster first half. But things changed when the Dolphins began to exhibit the traits that Flores and fans have craved to see since his arrival.

On defense, and offense too, they were physical. They were assertive. They were tough. And they were resilient. 

"No panic," Flores said. "We battled."

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