NEW ORLEANS -- The Dolphins found a quick cure for their ailing running game — a Saints defense that had given up yards in big chunks on the ground through their first three games.
Unfortunately for Miami, that newfound success didn’t matter. Saints quarterback Drew Brees threw four touchdowns before the end of the third quarter, forcing the Dolphins to throw on almost every down the rest of the way in a 38-17 loss on Monday night at the Superdome.
“We were having success early, and it hurt us not being able to use the run like we wanted to,” Miami quarterback Ryan Tannehill said. “The backs did a great job, the O-line did a great job early on and the receivers were blocking outside.”
With Dolphins running back Lamar Miller racing through a huge hole for 20 yards and Tannehill getting a season-long 26 gain on a read option on the opening drive, Miami almost matched its season high for rushing yards in a game during the first half alone.
The big plays were nothing new for the Saints defense, which was ranked second-to-last in the NFL in yards allowed per carry (5.3) before facing the Dolphins. Tampa Bay’s Doug Martin picked up 144 yards on 29 carries against New Orleans in Week 2.
Miami’s 96 yards on 16 carries in the first half were five fewer than its previous best of 101 against Indianapolis.
Tannehill assured the Dolphins of a season high for rushing when he scrambled 15 yards late in the third quarter to set up a touchdown. It was one of only of only three rushing attempts in the second half for Miami, which fell behind 35-10 after the Saints scored touchdowns on their first two series of the half. Miami finished with 115 rushing yards on 19 attempts.
After his early big play, Tannehill never kept the ball on a read option again.
“We actually run it every game,” he said. “That was the first time I pulled it and ran.”
When Miller had an 8-yard gain to the New Orleans 10 right after Tannehill’s long run, the Dolphins appeared to be shredding the Saints. New Orleans nose guard John Jenkins then threw down backup running back Daniel Thomas for a 2-yard loss as he tried to run wide on third-and-inches two plays later, forcing Miami to settle for a field goal to cut the score to 7-3.
The Dolphins continued to run effectively. Miller started an eight-play, 81-yard drive in the second quarter with a 10-yard burst and finished off the possession with a easy 5-yard score.
“The offensive line did a great job,” Miller said. “I give all the credit to them. They did great blocking, and I just ran off of them.”
This, from a team that rushed 23 times for 20 yards in a season-opening win against Cleveland and attempted only 15 runs in a come-from-behind 27-23 victory against Atlanta last week.
The Dolphins’ odd season went true to form against the Saints. After ranking fifth-to-last in the NFL in rushing while winning their first three games, they got blown out when they finally found success on the ground.
The Dolphins did not get that opportunity on Monday night. With Tannehill passing on virtually every down in the second half, the Saints sacked him four times after hardly touching him in the first half.
“I loved the balance we had at halftime,” Miami coach Joe Philbin said. “We punted the ball one time in the first half. I thought we were executing well on offense. Then we got down 35-10, and that’s when the onslaught began.”