Miami Dolphins: Five takeaways from Saturday's wild 26-25 win over the Las Vegas Raiders

Hal Habib
Palm Beach Post

The Dolphins needed a spark.

They turned to the old reliable not only for that spark, but to maintain control of the playoff race.

And Ryan Fitzpatrick produced FitzMagic once more.

Fitzpatrick, who last played Nov. 29 against the Jets, came off the bench in relief of an ineffective Tua Tagovailoa on Saturday night against the Las Vegas Raiders to lead a shocking 26-25 victory.

Jason Sanders kicked a 44-yard field goal with one second left for the winning points. It was set up when Fitzpatrick, in desperation mode, hit Mack Hollins for a 34-yard completion. On the play, the Raiders' Arden Key was called for roughing Fitzpatrick, yanking his helmet nearly off. That moved the ball to the Las Vegas 26-yard line and clearing the way for the field goal.

Tagovailoa had completed 17-of-22 passes for 94 yards, an average of just 5.5 yards. With the offense stuck in neutral all night, coach Brian Flores turned to Fitzpatrick down 16-13 with 9:47 left. Fitzpatrick responded by going nine-of-13 for 182 yards and a TD.

Fitzpatrick promptly led Miami on a 13-play, 84-yard drive. But it was only for a 22-yard field goal by Sanders because Hollins dropped a potential 3-yard touchdown pass from Fitzpatrick.

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Miami Dolphins wide receiver Isaiah Ford, left, celebrates with quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick after defeating the Las Vegas Raiders in an NFL football game, Saturday, Dec. 26, 2020, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/David Becker)

The fireworks were just starting, with Hollins playing a starring role.

Derek Carr launched a deep ball to Nelson Agholor, who was hand-fighting with Byron Jones and gained just enough separation to haul in the ball. Agholor then eluded Bobby McCain to complete an 85-yard touchdown for a 22-16 lead after the extra point failed, which would prove to be huge.

Fitzpatrick was just warming up.

On the next series, he hit Myles Gaskin, who was returning from injuries and the COVID-19 list. Gaskin turned it upfield, getting blocks from Mike Gesicki and Hollins, to turn it into a 59-yard touchdown for a 23-22 lead with 2:55 left.

But on the next series, Dolphins cornerback Byron Jones was penalized 49 yards for interfering with Agholor after his right hand made what appeared to be slight contact with Agholor's shoulder. That gave the Raiders a first down on Miami's 22. Later, on third-and-1, linebacker Kyle Van Noy made a costly neutral zone infraction, handing the Raiders a first down. The Raiders then milked the clock before kicking a 22-yard field goal for what appeared to be the winning points with 22 seconds left.

The Dolphins (10-5) finish the regular season next Sunday at Buffalo, where a win would guarantee them a playoff berth.

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Dolphins kicker Jason Sanders (7) celebrates after making a game-winning field goal with seconds left against the Las Vegas Raiders on Saturday.

Here are five takeaways from Saturday night's wild game:

Gaskin has instant impact

Welcome back, Gaskin.

Gaskin had played only one game since Nov. 1 because of health issues. After Salvon Ahmed had 122 yards against the Patriots a week ago, it was logical to wonder who would be the featured back against the Raiders.

Las Vegas stuffed Ahmed early but appeared to have trouble with Gaskin, a more patient runner who was picking his spots carefully.

Then, in the third quarter, Gaskin faked as if he were staying back in pass protection but caught a short toss from Tagovailoa and broke two tackles en route to a 10-yard touchdown to tie the score at 13.

Turned out he was just getting warmed up.

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Las Vegas Raiders tight end Darren Waller #83 is tackled by Miami Dolphins safety Eric Rowe #21 during the second quarter of an NFL football game, Saturday, Dec. 26, 2020, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/Jeff Bottari)

Waller is impossible

The Dolphins objected to the Raiders listing Darren Waller as a tight end, saying he's liable to line up at receiver at any time.

Waller hasn’t gotten the notoriety of a Travis Kelce or a George Kittle, but the Dolphins got a first-hand look at why he cracked the Pro Bowl ceiling this year.

When you’re 6-feet-6, 255 pounds and can run the way Waller can, you’re going to present headaches for defenses. Saturday night, it was safety Eric Rowe reaching for the Tylenol. Early on, Carr hit Waller for a 29-yard completion even though Rowe was with Waller step for step.

By halftime, Waller had three catches for 57 yards, not to mention the attention of Dolphins defensive coordinator Josh Boyer.

In the third quarter, he added a 33-yard catch, again with Rowe all but wearing his jersey. But the most frustrating play may have been a 22-yarder to end the third quarter with Rowe all but bear-hugging Waller.

Rowe gave up completions for big yards, but it's not crazy to say the guy played a good game. He did.

A gadget play works! And counts!

After a few weeks of seeing trick plays by punter Matt Haack nullified by penalty, the Dolphins showed no hesitation in sticking with it.

This time, facing a fourth-and-1 at the 50, the Raiders — somehow — weren’t prepared for a fake. Blocking back Clayton Fejedelem said thankyouverymuch by running 22 yards through the heart of the return team, setting up a 29-yard field goal by Sanders.

That series also was aided by an 8-yard run by ex-Raider Lynn Bowden out of the wildcat. Flores clearly needed to do something to wake up his team.

Line inconsistent

A week after paving the way for a 250-yard rushing day against the Patriots, Miami’s offensive line struggled to come close to that performance against the Raiders and their 25th-ranked defense.

Tagovailoa faced too much heat and the running game had respectable stats on the strength of a fake punt.

The line boasts three rookies, so inconsistency can be expected, but three sacks (and untold hurries) against Tagovailoa,  and a sputtering running attack, won’t cut it.

Miami Dolphins outside linebacker Andrew Van Ginkel, left, and defensive back Nik Needham, right, sack Las Vegas Raiders quarterback Derek Carr (4) during the first half Saturday/

Roberts injury stings

Linebacker Elandon Roberts left the game late in the third quarter on a cart, never a good sign.

Roberts appeared to injure his right knee and did not return.

The way so many Dolphins defenders came by to offer Roberts encouragement before the cart pulled away says something about the respect they have for him.

Roberts entered the game third on the team with 60 tackles, eight for loss. 

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