The Miami Dolphins gave the Kansas City Chiefs everything they could handle on Sunday night and, in doing so, reminded us just how hard it is going to be to take down the reigning Super Bowl champions this year.
Miami started fast behind the NFL's second-best scoring defense. The Dolphins came into Week 14 playing an aggressive style of defense that served them well with at least one turnover in 18 straight games.
That quickly became 19 as Miami pounced for early interceptions from Eric Rowe and Byron Jones, racing out to a 10-0 lead. Throughout the afternoon, Miami harassed and harried Patrick Mahomes and ended the day with three sacks, three interceptions and four turnovers in total.
And yet Mahomes still threw for 393 yards and two touchdowns as the Chiefs recorded a 33-27 win in Hard Rock Stadium 315 days after they stood under the confetti on that same field at the conclusion of a Super Bowl 54 victory over the San Francisco 49ers.
Given that the Chiefs took Miami's best punches before delivering their own knockout blows from the second quarter onwards, it's hard to bet against KC being back on a Super Bowl field in Florida again come February when the big game moves to Tampa.
As Kansas City went from 10-0 down to a commanding 30-10 lead, I was reminded of how explosive this team is but also how smart they play. For the sixth game in a row, tight end Travis Kelce caught at least eight passes as he went for 136 yards. And his second quarter touchdown catch from Mahomes was a perfect example of a receiver being on the same page as his quarterback.
With Mahomes rolling to his right to avoid Miami pressure, Kelce felt his way to an open space in the endzone, settling down between Dolphins defenders before making the scoring catch. It is something we have seen time and again between this pair in recent seasons.
After the break, the Chiefs used their explosive speed to break this game open in the space of 62 seconds as Tyreek Hill found the endzone on a 44-yard catch and, following a quick three and out from the Dolphins, Mecole Hardman scored on a 67-yard punt return.
Miami were shell-shocked and their chances of mounting a comeback appeared limited when the lack of skill position talent around Tua Tagovailoa was taken into consideration. But somehow, some way, the Dolphins pulled to within six on Tua's one-yard quarterback sneak with 4:15 remaining.
If the Dolphins could force one more stop, they would have a shot at an improbable comeback win. And I fully expected Miami to bring the house and risk giving up a big play in order to get after Mahomes.
I really felt that was their only shot. To force Mahomes into making another mistake on what had been a somewhat shaky day when you consider his high standards. And that's why what followed left me shaking my head and wondering why Miami would play that way with the game on the line.
On a key second and 10 play, Dolphins cornerback Xavien Howard lined up a good 10 to 12 yards off running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire, who was split out wide left. Mahomes completed a short pass and his running back did enough to pick up the first down.
A few plays later, the Chiefs faced another second and 10. More off coverage from the Dolphins, allowing Hardman to gain an easy nine yards on another hitch route. Two plays later, Kansas City converted a fourth and one to clinch the game.
Why didn't Miami roll the dice and try to force the issue against Mahomes? All their approach did was give time to the game's best quarterback and space to the league's fastest and most explosive attack.
It was a good day at the office for Miami's defense, just not good enough. And now the Dolphins face a tough road to the playoffs, finishing at home to New England and on the road against Las Vegas and Buffalo. Hot on their heels are the Baltimore Ravens, who play Cleveland tonight but end with a softer schedule home to Jacksonville and the New York Giants before going on the road to take on Cincinnati.
Haason Reddick… How about this for a stat line from Sunday night? The outside linebacker was influential in the Arizona Cardinals' 26-7 win over the New York Giants, recording five tackles, five sacks, six quarterback hits and three forced fumbles. That was a pretty decent season for some defenders in a single afternoon. While the cash register sound must have been playing in Reddick's head all afternoon long in the Big Apple as he hit bonus after bonus, more important was the fact that the Cardinals stopped a three-game losing slide and did so behind a defense that has been left wanting at times this season. Arizona have sneaked back into the NFC playoff picture, but they do need to pick it up if they are to survive with the big boys come January.
Indianapolis Colts' running game… The Raiders had no answer for wave after wave of big runs that came their way on Sunday night as the Indianapolis Colts recorded a 44-27 win in Las Vegas that might actually have been even more comprehensive than that final score would suggest. The Silver and Black fired defensive coordinator Paul Guenther on Monday after the Colts carried 31 times for 212 yards (6.8 average) and two touchdowns. It was a mauling display up front from Indy and rookie Jonathan Taylor enjoyed a career night as he rushed for 150 yards and two touchdowns. That is the way to go for these Colts as the playoffs approach – playing through the running game and easing the pressure on Philip Rivers in the passing game. The Colts also looked good on defense in what was one of their most complete performances of the year.
Stefon Diggs… Buffalo general manager Brandon Beane has to be applauded for the offseason trade that brought another big-time wide receiver on board for Josh Allen. As the Bills close in on their first division title since 1995, Diggs is clearly a major part of their offense. He caught 10 passes for 130 yards and one touchdown in Sunday night's win over Pittsburgh and he now has 10 receptions in three of his last four outings. Diggs has been a perfect fit on and off the field in Buffalo and has 100 catches on the year with three games still to play. That is a very decent return with more surely to come.
Cam Newton… There is no reason to believe Cam is going to return to New England in 2021. He signed a one-year deal with the Patriots and has enjoyed some highs on the ground this term. But his passing has just not been good enough and he looks a shadow of his former self. Week 14 is in the books and New England's starting quarterback has thrown just five touchdown passes on the year. That is simply unacceptable. Newton threw for just 69 yards in a Week 13 win over the Los Angeles Chargers. On Thursday night, he kicked off Week 14 with just 119 passing yards and an interception in a loss to the Los Angeles Rams. Cam was benched for Jarrett Stidham and surely it would make more sense for New England to see what that young signal caller has in his locker for the remainder of 2020. Cam is done in New England and, perhaps, in the entire NFL.
The New York Jets… Okay, this is an obvious one given that the Jets are now 0-13 on the year after Sunday's 40-3 loss to the Seattle Seahawks. The Jets struggled on offense, gaining just 185 yards on a day of ignominy when Jamal Adams recorded a sack for the Seahawks and Geno Smith got into the game at quarterback in relief of Russell Wilson. So where is the win going to come from if the Jets are to avoid the embarrassment of an 0-16 season? They finish at the Los Angeles Rams, home to Cleveland and at New England. It would be the most Jets thing of all if they were to win at New England, potentially taking themselves out of position to draft Trevor Lawrence. This is a franchise that keeps tripping itself up, as evidenced by the most recent unveiling of the NFL Man of the Year nominees for all 32 teams. The Jets representative was named as cornerback Pierre Desir – a player cut by the Jets in November and who is now playing for the Baltimore Ravens. It's just the Jets being the Jets.
Dan Bailey… At one point in the second half of their clash with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the Minnesota Vikings found themselves trailing by nine points. That must have made the bench Dan Bailey was sitting on feel pretty uncomfortable as he saw the scoreboard read 23-14 in favour of the Bucs. By that stage of the game, Bailey had missed three field goals and an extra point – that's 10 points gone awry. The Vikings don't have that kind of room for error in their game this season and Bailey – who has missed seven kicks in his last two outings - is surely on a hot seat heading into the final three weeks of the year?
The Fast Five…
- Derrick Henry was held in check by Cleveland in Week 13, but Jacksonville could not replicate that feat in Week 14. As he usually does against the Jags, Henry went off in a big way as he rushed for 215 yards and two scores. Tennessee's 'Big Three' led from the front as Ryan Tannehill threw for 212 yards and two touchdowns, while A.J. Brown caught seven for 112 yards and one score. It all added up to a routine 31-10 victory.
- Jalen Hurts not only created an X's and O's shift for the Philadelphia Eagles. The mobile and athletic quarterback gave his team an emotional shot in the arm and the result was an impressive and surprising 24-21 win over New Orleans. Hurts threw for 167 yards and one touchdown and rushed for 106 yards on 18 carries. I cannot help but wonder what a strong finish for Hurts will do for Carson Wentz? I think he will play elsewhere in 2021. Maybe the Colts?
- How about that effort from Efe Obada as he recovered a Drew Lock fumble and raced 54 yards to set up a Mike Davis touchdown for the Panthers against Denver? It may have come in a losing cause as the Broncos recorded a 32-27 victory, but it was further proof that our former London Warriors defensive end has become an integral part of Carolina's defense.
- Not for the first time this season, the Washington Football Team leaned heavily on its defense during a 23-15 win over the San Francisco 49ers. On a day when Washington scored two defensive touchdowns, rookie Chase Young was the star. He scored on a fumble return, forced a fumble that led to a field goal and recorded a sack. Don't look now but Washington have won four in a row.
- What a day for Mitchell Trubisky and of all the teams to have such a big outing against. The struggling quarterback has heard for years how the Chicago Bears could have taken Patrick Mahomes or Deshaun Watson in the draft ahead of him. With Watson watching on from the opposing bench, Trubisky threw for 267 yards and three touchdowns in a 36-7 win. It won't save his job, but it was a nice moment as Chicago snapped a six-game losing streak.
Fact of the Week
Coming into Week 14, the New Orleans Saints went 50 straight games without allowing a 100-yard rusher. During Sunday's loss to Philadelphia, the Saints allowed two in Miles Sanders (115 yards) and Jalen Hurts (106 yards).
Finish That Sentence
Each week in this spot I ask readers - via Twitter - to randomly send me the start of a sentence and, as we do on our NFL UK Live stage show tours, I will finish the sentence with the first thought that comes into my head. Here we go…
From Hayden Birks (@haydenbirks) The Steelers are overrated because…_ Ben Roethlisberger suddenly looks all of his 38 years, the running game is non-existent and largely ignored, the receivers drop way too many passes and that is a problem when you're throwing it all over the yard. Also, the once-elite defense has suffered some injuries that have reduced its effectiveness. The Steelers are not done yet, but their two-game slide is in no way a misrepresentation of how they are playing. They deserved to lose those games and could drop another between now and the season's end when they face Indianapolis in Week 16.
From Tom Marshall (@aredzonauk) The best wide receiver in the NFL this year is… Tyreek Hill. I would certainly entertain arguments in favour of the likes of D.K. Metcalf, Davante Adams and even Stefon Diggs and DeAndre Hopkins, but I think the speed of Hill blows the doors of opposing defenses and creates so much stress whenever he is on the field. Some may run crisper routes or have nicer hands, but I think Hill has developed into something close to the complete package and he creates field-tilting plays time and again with his sprinter's speed. That is a huge factor in today's NFL – that ability to hit the home run out of nowhere and change a game in the blink of an eye.
From Timmy Birchall (@tbirchall)… The 2021 starting QB for the Denver Broncos should be… Drew Lock. There are far too many times when he thinks he can morph into John Elway and then realises he's nowhere near as good, but I think giving him one more year with young receiving talent is worth a roll of the dice. Let's see what Lock does with Courtland Sutton back alongside impressive and explosive young receivers Jerry Jeudy and K.J. Hamler. Lock threw for 280 yards, four touchdowns and, importantly, no interceptions during Sunday's win over Carolina. I'm not sure if he is the answer, but it's worth playing this out for one more year.
From Georgia Bell (@georgiabell_91) The Patriots starting QB next year will be… surrounded by arguably the worst skill position talent in the entire NFL. And until Bill Belichick fixes that particular problem, it won't really matter who takes the snaps. That is also some clever cover to say I have no idea who their quarterback will be – I don't think he is on the roster, though. Cam will be gone and they don't seem ready to hand everything over to Stidham. They could draft a long-term answer but the likelihood is that they skip from passer to passer for a little while, kind of like other teams were forced to do while the Pats ruled the NFL roost. I think they will be in the doldrums for a little while.
It's such a shame that the fans are not allowed into games in Buffalo this season due to Covid-19 because they would surely be enjoying this march to what will be a first division title in a quarter of a century. Josh Allen has grown into one of the best quarterbacks in the game, his receivers are outstanding and the defense can be stout at key times. The Bills are also extremely well led by head coach Sean McDermott and general manager Brandon Beane and I think they might be on a collision course to meet Kansas City in the AFC title game. They are definitely positioning themselves as the biggest challengers to the Chiefs in the AFC.