Miami Dolphins

Dolphins’ defense makes one last stop, lifting Miami to second win in as many weeks

The Colts needed 10 yards. The Dolphins only gave them eight.

And as a result, the Miami Dolphins officially have a winning streak.

The Dolphins’ Nik Needham tackled Eric Ebron two yards short of the sticks on fourth down on Indianapolis’ final drive of the game, getting off the field one last time and preserving a 16-12 victory over the Colts.

That gave the Dolphins wins in their last two games after losses in their first seven.

This is a team trending in the right direction.

“It was a magical night,” said Dolphins cornerback Steven Parker. “This is one of those games you live for. You dream about this. This is exactly what you want to play for. Of course, we didn’t know how it was going to do. It was going to be a battle.”

So teams still on the Dolphins’ schedule are officially on alert: This is not the same group that lost the season’s first two games by 92 points.

All this is good news, right?

Not if your goal is landing the best available quarterback. With back-to-back wins, the Dolphins fell two games “behind” the Bengals for the No. 1 pick. They would pick fourth behind Cincinnati, Washington and New York if the season ended today.

But Brian Flores and Ryan Fitzpatrick couldn’t care less.

They want to win, and did just enough to do so Sunday — beating the Colts and even the officials.

After Needham recorded the Dolphins’ third interception of Brian Hoyer with the Dolphins up one late in the fourth quarter, Fitzpatrick ran back onto the field. But the refs stopped him, concerned about a possible concussion after taking a vicious, unflagged helmet-to-helmet hit by Grover Stewart on the previous drive.

That meant Josh Rosen had to enter the game, and Flores didn’t let him throw once. Three straight runs set up Jason Sanders’ third long field goal of the day and gave the Colts one last shot.

But the drive stalled inside the Dolphins’ 10, and the game was over.

It was a great moment for the rookie Needham — but one he’ll need to watch again to truly appreciate.

“I’m not going to lie, I don’t remember” the last play, Needham said. “I know we were in outside leverage coverage so we were trying to force everything inside. I think Eric [Rowe] had got picked. I saw Ebron open and just try to fly in there and stop him from getting the first down. It ended up working.”

As good as the defense was Sunday, Miami’s offense was just as bad. The Dolphins managed to win with only 229 yards of offense — including only 71 in the second half. They averaged a meager 2.7 yards per rushing attempt.

But as always, the turnovers were key. The Dolphins converted two first-half Hoyer interceptions into 10 points, including an 11-yard touchdown run by Fitzpatrick.

The Dolphins, playing without Xavien Howard, Reshad Jones and Ken Webster, confounded Hoyer all day.

Parker was the latest no namer in a no-name defense to emerge, ripping the ball from Ebron’s grasp in the end zone and picking off Hoyer on Indianapolis’ first drive.

Then late in the half, Hoyer air-mailed his receiver, allowing free safety Bobby McCain to track the ball and pull in his second interception of the season.

Finally, with the game in the balance, Needham undercut the route and picked off Hoyer for a third time.

Yes, Hoyer was bad Sunday. But the Dolphins’ hodge-podge defensive backfield made his life miserable. An example: On third-and-8 on the Colts’ first drive of the second half, Rowe ran stride-for-stride with Ebron and broke up an accurate pass.

More of the same on Indianapolis’ next possession, when Jomal Wiltz broke up a third-and-goal pass to Nyheim Hines.

“We had a real young team,” Needham said. “Over the weeks, we were just building chemistry. We really play for each other and don’t want to let each other down. Game-changing plays happen out there. We don’t back down.”

Expect more of that same attitude and execution over the last seven games — even if comes at the expense of the Dolphins’ draft capital.

“In practice, there’s been such a shift in the way that we’ve worked and the excitement that we have and the confidence that we’re gaining,” Fitzpatrick said. “Even in a couple of those games that we didn’t pull out ... you could see this team gaining confidence. Today was a great example of learning how to win a little bit. The last two games we’ve won in different ways.”

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Adam Beasley has covered the Dolphins for the Miami Herald since 2012, and has worked for the newspaper since 2006. He is a graduate of Syracuse University’s S.I. Newhouse School of Communications and has written about sports professionally since 1996.
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