The points were fun. Julius Thomas’ touchdown dance was bizarre.
And the intrigue of Adam Gase running it up on John Elway, and by extension, his old friend Vance Joseph, was worth the price of admission.
But the most important news to come out of the Dolphins’ 35-9 thumping of the Broncos Sunday was this:
The Dolphins’ defense actually functions as designed, if given the opportunity.
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“When we have a lead, we know we can’t be stopped,” said Dolphins defensive end Andre Branch. “For us, it’s great. We were up and we knew we would be able to rush. So it was awesome.”
Well, not for Trevor Siemian. The Broncos quarterback was so dreadful Sunday, it makes you wonder how bad Brock Osweiler must be. Joseph said he didn’t consider switching to his 6-foot-7 backup, even though Siemian threw three picks, including one for a touchdown.
But it’s unfair to crush Siemian, considering the circumstances. The Broncos need to be balanced to win, but weren’t. The Dolphins led by at least two scores the entire second half, forcing the Broncos to throw far more than they wanted.
“We have the talent up front, especially in the front seven, and in the back end you can obviously see when we give pressure they’re going to make great plays,” Ndamukong Suh said. “And they’re going to do what they’re supposed to do in the pick-six and create turnovers.”
As a result, the Dolphins had their most complete game in the Gase era Sunday, stomping the Broncos to snap a five-game losing streak.
They scored on offense. They scored on defense. They scored on special teams.
They had two safeties in the same game for the first time in the franchise’s 52 seasons.
And they were feeling so good, they tried (and converted) an onside kick while up 24 points.
This was a thorough butt-kicking, and the first for the Dolphins since they stomped the Jets 34-13 last December.
Until Sunday, that was Miami’s last win by more than one score.
The Dolphins were so overwhelming, Jay Cutler threw a pick-six and it was completely inconsequential.
And oh yeah: Perhaps the Dolphins found their running back of 2018 in the process. Kenyan Drake had a bust-out game, setting career highs in yards (120) and carries (23).
The Dolphins improved to 5-7 on the season. The Broncos, coached by Joseph, Miami’s former defensive coordinator, fell to 3-9.
The first half was a dream for the Dolphins.
They had a pick-six (Xavien Howard), a safety (Matt Paradis snapped the ball over Siemian’s head) and a touchdown pass from Cutler to Thomas (who rode an imaginary bronco afterward).
The Broncos, meanwhile, could do nothing right. They turned the ball over, went 0 of 6 on third downs and were inept in the red zone.
As a result, the Dolphins went to the break 16-3 — just their second halftime lead of the season.
It only got worse for Denver in the second half.
All told, the Dolphins had three sacks, six tackles for loss, an absurd 12 passes defensed and hit Siemian six times.
And while 2017 still looks as lost as it did Sunday morning — the Ravens, Titans and Jaguars all won, keeping Miami far out of the playoff hunt — at least the Dolphins have helpful information as they prepare for 2018.
Howard, who struggled at times this year, had the game of his life. He intercepted Siemian twice and broke up a league-leading five passes. If he continues to improve, corner might not be a first-round priority in the draft.
“Just trusting yourself and taking chances,” Howard said. “Going out there and just playing, not thinking, just going out there and playing.”
But the biggest revelation Sunday might have been Jordan Phillips, the up-and-down defensive tackle who seems like he has finally figured it out. Phillips had a sack, two tackles for loss, two quarterback hits and deflected a pass that Howard intercepted.
He has never played better, Phillips acknowledged, and that’s good, because the Dolphins have never needed him more. Miami’s defensive line was without defensive end William Hayes (out for the season with a back injury) and rookie defensive tackle Davon Godchaux, who had pushed Phillips for playing time.
And yet, the position group — and the defense as a whole — played better than ever.
“We’ve been having great weeks of practice,” Phillips said. “We’ve been coming together as a unit and as a team. We can only go up from here.”