At halftime, Carson Palmer had 239 passing yards and was well on pace to break his personal record of 440 yards.
Although the Raiders led by only three points, it seemed only a matter of time before Palmer and Co., would begin to convert their gains into touchdowns.
But the second half was a different story.
Having gone the first half focusing on stopping the run, the Dolphins focused on pressuring Palmer and making better tackles.
“We have to make our tackles and attack the pass,” linebacker Kevin Burnett said. “We did that in the second half.”
Oakland’s first drive of the second half was a three-and-out. So, too, was the Raiders’ second drive, one that started at their own 1-yard line and ended with them punting out of their end zone.
It was that second defensive stop that proved to be the momentum changer.
Upon Marcus Thigpen’s 21-yard punt return, the Dolphins took over at Oakland’s 32-yard line, down 10-7. Three plays later running back Reggie Bush was in the end zone, his team having taken the 14-10 lead for good.
Defensive tackle Randy Starks said he knew that that series was a big opportunity for the defense to give their teammates a chance to score.
“We didn’t want to let them off the hook,” Starks said. “We wanted to be aggressive and make sure they punt the ball.”
After that, things continued to fall into place for the Miami defense.
The Raiders drove past midfield on the next drive but on third-and-3 cornerback Sean Smith broke up Palmer’s pass to wide receiver Denarius Moore and made Oakland punt.
“[In the first half], we were doing a good job of stopping them here and there, but then they would get a good 25-yard gain,” Smith said. “[In the second half], we were able to eliminate that and force the guys to punt the ball.”
The Dolphins never shut Palmer down entirely – he went 11 for 23 for 134 yards in the second half – but they did stop him from making long completions.
Whereas Palmer had four passes go 20 yards or longer in the first half, the Raiders quarterback had just one in the second half.
The second half also saw the Dolphins get their first interception of the season when Palmer was picked off by safety Reshad Jones in the fourth quarter.
“It was just great work by the defensive linemen,” Jones said. “They got some pressure on Palmer and I just made the play that I had to make.”
Despite Palmer’s passing stats – 24 of 48 for 373 yards – Starks said he was happy with the defense’s performance. Besides the fact that the Dolphins won, Starks said the defense succeeded in their other main goal – stopping running back Darren McFadden.
McFadden gained just 17 yards on the ground in the first half and finished with 22 yards on 11 carries. The Dolphins have now gone 16 games without allowing a rusher to gain 100 yards, the longest such streak in the league.
“Defensively, we want to make people one-dimensional, which we were able to do,” Dolphins coach Joe Philbin said.
Linebacker Kevin Burnett echoed Philbin about the importance of containing the rushing attack.
“We can live with 370 yards passing when you stop the run,” Burnett said.