Dolphins in a rare position after Week 1 — alone in first

NFL

MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. (AP)It’s a start.

The Miami Dolphins are in sole possession of first place in the AFC East for the first time in nearly three years, and in that spot after Week 1 for the first time since 1998. A road win against New England got them there; staying there will require a win over the reigning division champion Buffalo Bills this Sunday.

”You celebrate, you’re happy about it but then we’ve got to turn the page and move on to next opponent, which is obviously another big game against a very good team,” Dolphins coach Brian Flores said Monday. ”That’s the approach. There’s most definitely excitement – but know there’s tough games on the horizon.”

There was much to like about Miami’s 17-16 win over the Patriots, even with New England rookie quarterback Mac Jones standing tall and looking poised against pressure. Jones completed 29 of 39 passes against Miami for 281 yards and a touchdown, and 14 of his passes went for first downs.

But when Miami’s defense had to make a play, it delivered. Damien Harris was inside the Miami 10 on what looked certain to be a go-ahead scoring drive late in the fourth quarter when Dolphins cornerback Xavien Howard knocked the ball from him, then pounced on the fumble.

Jones never saw the ball again. The Dolphins took over with 3:31 left, got two first downs – the second when backup quarterback Jacoby Brissett came in against his former team and got 2 yards on a third-and-1 call – and the game was over.

”Every game I feel like I have to make something happen for the team and give the ball to the offense,” Howard said. ”My mindset was, `Get the ball out.’ We needed it and it was crucial, so I made it happen.”

Just like that, the Dolphins were in first place.

WHAT’S WORKING

Organized drives. Miami’s opening drives of each half against New England went for a combined 19 plays and 155 yards – 8.2 yards apiece on average – and resulted in 14 points. The Dolphins’ other seven drives Sunday totaled 33 plays, 104 yards – 3.2 yards on average – and three points. Miami players and coaches said it wasn’t just because of scripting, but those drives clearly seemed like the most organized of the day. ”We need to do a better job executing in between,” Flores said.

WHAT NEEDS HELP

Third downs. On both sides of the ball, that is. The Dolphins were 4 for 11 on their third-down chances, and the Patriots were 11 for 16. That is not a formula for winning. Consider: there have been 91 games in the past 30 seasons with one team converting less than 37% of its chances while its opponent converts 68% or better. Miami’s win made the teams on the lower end of that stat just 4-87 in those contests. That means, before Sunday, teams since 1991 were winning 3.3% of the time when the third-down numbers were that lopsided.

STOCK UP

RB Myles Gaskin. A total of 76 yards – 49 rushing, 27 receiving – won’t jump off the stat sheet as anything impressive, but he got eight touches on the two Miami touchdown drives and turned them into 57 yards.

STOCK DOWN

TE Mike Gesicki. Perhaps it was just something related to certain schemes or personnel groupings that caught Miami’s eye, but Gesicki’s final numbers – zero catches, only was the intended receiver twice and wasn’t on the field for more than half of Miami’s snaps – were quite surprising.

INJURIES

DT Raekwon Davis left in the first quarter Sunday with a knee injury. Before long, he was giving indications on the sideline that he wanted to return to the game. Flores said the Dolphins made the choice to hold him out and were further evaluating the injury on Monday.

KEY NUMBER

1,072. That’s how many days had passed since the previous time the Dolphins woke up in sole possession of first place in the AFC East. It was after Week 4 in 2018. New England has had 27 solo first-place weeks since, Buffalo 17 such weeks, and the Patriots spent six weeks tied atop the division – two with Miami, four with the Bills. The division’s fourth team, the New York Jets, haven’t been alone in first since after Week 6 in 2010.

NEXT STEPS

The Dolphins will spend the week prepping for a Sunday home opener against Buffalo, which has won each of its past five games against Miami.

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