INDIANAPOLIS — As Miami Dolphins coach Brian Flores aggressively clapped as his team made a game-clinching fourth-down stop, Dolphins owner Stephen Ross stood on the sidelines smiling. It barely felt real.
The prospect of the Miami Dolphins looking like this, riding the high of a two-game winning streak, was laughable just a month ago. But the Dolphins are the ones laughing now as they recorded their second consecutive win Sunday with a gritty 16-12 victory at Indianapolis. They’ve already come a long way in a short time.
It’s still about the future for the Dolphins, who hurt their draft-pick stock with every win. The dream of picking quarterback Tua Tagovailoa took a hit Sunday. But two consecutive wins is a great sign of Brian Flores’ coaching promise. This team — from the players to coaches and everyone in between — have done a phenomenal job maximizing their talent.
A perfect example of the turnaround is cornerback Nik Needham, a relatively unknown rookie undrafted free agent who made a huge interception midway through the fourth quarter. Needham went through some significant struggles in preseason, but the team saw his potential, stuck with developing him, and his improvement showed up Sunday with the best game of his young career.
Needham is one of several young defensive backs who stepped up to force three Brian Hoyer interceptions and provide crucial blanket coverage on the end-of-game stop that sealed the victory. Steven Parker, a September waiver claim, and Bobby McCain, a tough, veteran defensive captain, made the other two picks.
Flores has a disciplined, hard-fighting team that doesn’t use lack of talent as an excuse. Creative playcalling by offensive coordinator Chad O’Shea is helping Miami’s offense look like a different group. Obtaining the top draft pick might be in danger, but the Dolphins’ long-term future is starting to beam with promise.
Pivotal play: Fourth-and-10 from Indianapolis’ 16-yard line with 45 seconds left. The Dolphins had lockdown coverage at the sticks. Hoyer found Eric Ebron short of the first down, and Needham — the game’s hero — made the tackle to finish off the victory.
Promising trend: The Dolphins led at halftime for the fourth consecutive game. It’s another sign of their in-season turnaround and proof that this coaching staff is consistently coming up with good early game plans to get ahead. Second-half struggles continue to be a significant issue, but their 10-point lead at halftime was the biggest of the season and a promising trend moving forward.
QB breakdown: Ryan Fitzpatrick wasn’t perfect. He threw an interception, and his play dropped off a tad in the second half. But he led the go-ahead field-goal drive with toughness, pocket presence and precise accuracy.
Fitzpatrick is the perfect quarterback for this young Dolphins squad, and he’s another huge part of this turnaround.