The Dolphins defensive line saved an already-tumultuous from getting worse Sunday.
An intense pass rush in the fourth quarter resulted in three sacks and constant pressure throughout the game on Chargers quarterback Phillip Rivers during a 20-16 victory.
Cameron Wake, Jared Odrick and Olivier Vernon each got to Rivers at key moments in the final period and disrupted the Chargers’ last-gasp attempt to win as time expired.
Vernon applied pressure, nearly sacking Rivers on the final play of the game. Rivers was able to get the ball away before he was hit. Brent Grimes, who had an interception in the first quarter, batted the ball down to seal the victory.
“We knew going into this game the way these teams matched up it would be a close game,” Wake said. “We said this game could come down to a two-minute drive. Everybody in the huddle looked at each other and said we have to make a play and make a stand. We wouldn’t have it any other way.”
The Dolphins pass rush helped them secure a much-needed win that came in spite of a tough situation for their already beleaguered offensive line that played without center Mike Pouncey.
Miami’s defense yielded 435 total yards, but held the Chargers to three field goals and only one touchdown which came on a first quarter drive that began at the Dolphins’ 49-yard line following a Ryan Tannehill interception.
“We talk about making plays in the fourth quarter,” Dolphins coach Joe Philbin said. “Our defensive line and front seven played a better tempo in the second half. The first half, they were kind of gaining five yards on a rush, and [Rivers] had a lot of time to make decisions and release the football.
“I thought the second half — we didn’t sack him a ton, but we made him move his feet, made him shuffle around a bit, and I think that helped us.”
Wake made clutch plays the previous time the Dolphins won a game Oct. 31 against the Bengals, including his game-winning sack of Andy Dalton for a safety in overtime.
Wake’s sack on San Diego’s final drive forced the Chargers to use their final timeout.
Early in the fourth quarter, Wake also made two big plays to quickly thwart a Chargers drive and preserve a 17-16 lead.
First, he caught Ryan Matthews for a 5-yard loss. He then pressured Rivers, helping Odrick to bring him down forcing a punt.
Vernon’s sack with four and a half minutes left in the fourth pushed the Chargers out of field goal range, also forcing a punt.
“We were put in a position where we needed to make some plays and we did that this week,” Odrick said. “The energy level was up the whole game.”
Grimes said: “Things haven’t been going our way for a while, but we haven’t doubted ourselves. We had to put all those distractions behind us. We have a very talented defensive line that makes plays and makes things easier for us. They make it difficult for the quarterback to sit back there comfortable. Especially in the second half, they made the big plays.”
Odrick said the Dolphins’ problem since the end of September has been consistently coming up with these types of performances.
The Dolphins had five sacks against the Bengals, but could only come up with two in a loss last week to the Bucs.
“I think you’ve seen [the defensive pressure] for a little while,” Odrick said. “It needs to stay a little more consistent during pressure moments like that and finishing games. There were a lot of times we only allowed three points here and there. These are the plays we made this week that we didn’t last week. We just need to keep building and building, because it can slip away from you just as quick.”