Through the first eight weeks of the 2021 season, the Miami Dolphins were viewed as one of the biggest disappointments in the NFL, but after an undefeated November, the resurgent Dolphins have suddenly scraped their way back into playoff contention.
The Dolphins put a giant exclamation point on their undefeated month with a 33-10 blowout win over the Carolina Panthers on Sunday and this victory might have been their most impressive one yet. The Dolphins played nearly perfect football in all three phases of the game: They got big plays from their offense, got big plays from their special teams and they got a dominating performance from their defense.
Basically, this was the Dolphins team everyone thought we were going to get in Week 1 and after seemingly going through an identity crisis through the first eight weeks of the season, the Dolphins seem to have finally figured out who they are.
Tua Tagovailoa seems to be getting more comfortable every week and a big reason for that is because of his chemistry with Jaylen Waddle. Tua threw for 230 yards in the game with 137 of those going to Waddle, including the play you see below, which ended up being a 57-yard gain.
Jaylen Waddle is very fast. @D1__JW #FinsUp— NFL (@NFL) November 28, 2021
📺: #CARvsMIA on FOX
📱: NFL app pic.twitter.com/YhEGbZo5eM
That pass set up a 3-yard TD run by Myles Gaskin in the second quarter and even that short play was indicative of how much Miami has improved on offense.
The Dolphins proved that they're going to empty the playbook every week and the Panthers found that out the hard way when Gaskin scored on a wildcat play.
Vintage Miami Wildcat @MylesGAS ⛽️@MiamiDolphins lead 21-7! #FinsUp— NFL (@NFL) November 28, 2021
📺: #CARvsMIA on FOX
📱: NFL app pic.twitter.com/tOtEBmYrtu
The Dolphins seem to have an energy right now that they lacked through the first two months of the season and that energy was on display early in the game. After the Panthers were forced to punt on their opening possession, Duke Riley blocked the kick for the Dolphins and Justin Coleman returned it for the game's first score.
BLOCK THAT KICK. Touchdown, @MiamiDolphins! #FinsUp— NFL (@NFL) November 28, 2021
📺: #CARvsMIA on FOX
📱: NFL app pic.twitter.com/4Ou6Nhob5r
The rest of the team seemed to feed off the energy that the special teams touchdown created.
Defensively, the Dolphins absolutely suffocated the Panthers' offense. Not only did they tally five sacks, but they also picked off three passes. If you want to know what Cam Newton's day was like, just watch the play below.
DEFENSE CAME READY TO EAT TODAY 🍽 @JJPhillips15— Miami Dolphins (@MiamiDolphins) November 28, 2021
📺: Watch #CARvsMIA on @NFLonFOX pic.twitter.com/bQzdpR6hHo
That was one of three sacks from Jaelan Phillips.
The swarming Dolphins defense didn't let the Panthers anywhere near the end zone after the first quarter.
The Dolphins still have a long road to travel if they want to make the playoffs, but it doesn't feel as impossible as it did four weeks ago. Although their 5-7 record barely has them in the playoff conversation, there's no reason to think that they won't be able to improve upon that. Over their next three games, the Dolphins will face the Giants, Jets and Saints, which are all winnable. If they can come away with three wins, that would push them to 8-7 and at that point, anything could happen.
Alright, let's get to the grades for every game from Week 12. If you want to check out the grades for the six teams that played on Thanksgiving, then be sure to click here.
Miami 33-10 over Carolina
|Cam Newton's return to Carolina has gone from feel-good story to disaster. In his second start of the year, Newton looked completely lost against the Dolphins every time he dropped back to pass. The Panthers QB completed just 5 of 21 passes with two interceptions before getting benched in the second half. Of course, you can't pin all the blame for the loss on Newton. Carolina's defense was bad. Their special teams was bad. Everything was bad, which is how they ended up with an "F".|
|The Dolphins have been one of the NFL's best teams during the month of November and they capped off the month with arguably their most impressive performance of the year. This game was a defensive masterpiece for the Dolphins, who picked off three passes while holding the Panthers to just 198 yards of total offense, marking just the second time in the past three years that the Dolphins have held a team under 200 yards. Jaelan Phillips played a big part in Miami's dominating defensive performance with three of the Dolphins' five sacks. Offensively, Tua Tagovailoa was nearly perfect, completing 27 of 31 passes for 230 yards and a TD and most of those passing yards went to Jaylen Waddle, who finished with 137 receiving yards and a TD on nine catches. The Dolphins have slowly worked their way into the playoff conversation, which is kind of crazy for a team that was once 1-7.|
Panthers-Dolphins grades by John Breech (Love the grades? Hate the grades? Let him know on Twitter.)
Washington 17-15 over Seattle
|This is probably one birthday that Russell Wilson is going to want to forget. In his third game back from finger surgery, the Seahawks QB continued to struggle. Although Wilson was erratic and inaccurate for most of the night, he did lead a dramatic comeback in the final minute that was capped with a 32-yard TD to Freddie Swain with just 15 seconds left to play. However, Wilson would throw an interception on the two-point conversion, which gave Washington the win. Overall, the Seahawks' offense looked mostly inept on a night where it went three-and-out six times. The only reason the Seahawks were in it in the end is because Seattle's defense did a solid job of slowing down Washington's offense, despite being stuck on the field for more than 40 minutes.|
|It's almost impossible to lose in the NFL when you hold the ball for more than 40 minutes, but that almost happened to Washington in this game. The Football Team's offense was in total control for most of the game and that was mostly thanks to a fantastic performance by Antonio Gibson, who rushed for 111 yards on 29 carries. J.D. McKissic also came up big, totaling 56 yards and two touchdowns. Washington's time of possession ended up being 41:25, which was the second-highest in franchise history. Washington's defense was almost impressive as its offense. Although the unit gave up several big plays, it basically bottled up the Seahawks' offense until Seattle's final possession of the game and although Washington gave up a TD, Kendall Fuller saved the win by picking off Wilson on Seattle's two-point conversion attempt.|
Seahawks-Washington grades by John Breech (Love the grades? Hate the grades? Let him know on Twitter.)
Atlanta 21-14 over Jacksonville
|The return of Cordarrelle Patterson to the lineup definitely seemed to give the Falcons' offense a huge spark in this game. With Patterson banged up over the past two weeks, the Falcons scored just three total points, but with a healthy Patterson, their offense actually looked somewhat functional. Patterson totaled 125 yards in the game, including 108 yards and two touchdowns on the ground. Patterson was a big reason why the Falcons were perfect in the red zone, scoring three touchdowns on three trips inside of Jacksonville's 20-yard line.|
|The Jaguars fell on their face coming out of the gate in this game and just weren't able to recover after that. The Jags' first half included a Trevor Lawrence interception and a lost fumble by James Robinson and those errors were a big reason why Jacksonville would eventually trail 21-3. The Jags stepped up their game in the second half, but this team simply isn't good enough to come back from an 18-point deficit.|
Falcons-Jaguars grades by John Breech (Love the grades? Hate the grades? Let him know on Twitter.)
N.Y. Jets 21-14 over Houston
|If you can run the ball and play defense, you can win games late in the season and the Jets did both of those things against Houston. The Jets' defense absolutely terrorized Tyrod Taylor, sacking him five times, with two of those sacks coming from John Franklin-Myers. JFM, who might have been New York's MVP, also came up with an interception in the first quarter that led to a field goal for the Jets. Offensively, the Jets' ground game was able to thrive against the Texans despite the loss of Michael Carter. Thanks to Tevin Coleman (67), Ty Johnson (42) and Austin Walter (38), the Jets were able to total 157 rushing yards, which was their second-highest total of the season.|
|The Texans actually looked somewhat impressive early in this game as they shot out to a 14-3 lead, but then their offense absolutely disappeared in the second half. After moving the ball at will in the first half, the Texans totaled just 45 yards of offense in the second half, which was the fifth-lowest second half yardage total in franchise history. The kind of performance is ugly enough in the NFL, but it's especially ugly when it comes against a team that's been as bad as the Jets have been this year.|
Jets-Texans grades by John Breech (Love the grades? Hate the grades? Let him know on Twitter.)
Cincinnati 41-10 over Pittsburgh
|Pittsburgh was thoroughly dominated on both sides of the ball. Their offensive line was no match for the Bengals' talented defensive front, led by Sam Hubbard and Trey Hendrickson. Without a running game, the Steelers relied far too much on Ben Roethlisberger, who was let down several times in the first half by Chase Claypool. While the duo's 41-yard throw-and-catch set up Pittsburgh's only score of the first half, miscommunication between Roethlisberger and Claypool on Pittsburgh's first possession set up a Bengals field goal. Claypool ended the Steelers' fourth possession with a dropped a third-down pass from Roethlisberger. The Steelers' outmanned secondary had no match for Joe Burrow, who continuously picked on James Pierre, who was making just his fourth career start. Pittsburgh also continues to struggle against the run. A week after allowing 90 rushing yards from Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert, the Steelers allowed the Bengals to rumble for 125 on the ground in the first half alone. The losses of linemen Tyson Alualu and Stephon Tuitt has clearly hurt the Steelers' defense.|
|Cincinnati immediately got its running game going with Joe Mixon, who ran for 49 yards on the Bengals' opening drive. Mixon's success on the ground opened things up for Burrow and the Bengals' passing attack. Burrow, who is now 2-1 against the Steelers, continuously picked on Pierre, who started in place of injured starter Joe Haden. Burrow also converted on several third-and-long situations on Cincinnati's fourth scoring drive, a drive that extended the Bengals' lead to 24-3. The Bengals' defense, which played with a lead throughout the contest, quickly made Pittsburgh's offensive one-dimensional. Najee Harris, who caught 14 passes for 102 yards during Pittsburgh's first matchup against Cincinnati, had just 15 yards on five carries during the first half. Cincinnati's defense also came up with three forced turnovers of Roethlisberger that led to 13 of the Bengals' first 34 points|
Steelers-Bengals grades by Bryan DeArdo (Love the grades? Hate the grades? Let him know on Twitter.)
Tampa Bay 38-31 over Indianapolis
|It wasn't a pretty start for either offense, but Tom Brady fought through it and with the help of a huge day from both Leonard Fournette and Rob Gronkowski, he was able to wake up their side of the scoreboard in the second quarter and beyond. None of it would've been possible if not for continued stretches of dominance from the Bucs' defense, though, including a sack-fumble-recovery by Shaq Barrett and subsequent interception by Antoine Winfield -- the two takeaways occurring on consecutive drives and leading to 10 points for the offense. From there, it was a bare-knuckled brawl with the Colts and the defending champs threw as many punches as they took, and then threw one more for a "W", one that took every bit of their blood (literally), sweat and tears.|
|Not many believed the Colts would manage an upset against the Buccaneers, and that's why they were underdogs on their own field. Well, they took that personally, and it showed for much of the game. Their defense was stout and completely shut down Brady in the first quarter, and when Brady woke up in the second quarter, so did Carson Wentz and the Colts' offense -- throwing haymaker after haymaker to force a two-score lead. Yes, the Colts made mistakes, but they also forced the Bucs into mistakes as well, and they answered uppercuts with hooks and overhand rights in a game that showed a lot from an Indy team that proved it can hang with the best of them.|
Buccaneers-Colts grades by Patrik Walker (Love the grades? Hate the grades? Let him know on Twitter.)
N.Y. Giants 13-7 over Philadelphia
|Their defense deserves a better grade, stifling Daniel Jones, Saquon Barkley and Co. almost every time they needed to. Avonte Maddox, in particular, continued his strong run of coverage. But their offense completely blew this (and perhaps their shot at the playoffs). Jalen Hurts was his usual dynamic self carrying the ball, and Nick Sirianni seemed to unlock a comeback by sticking to the ground late, but it proved too little, too late, with Hurts and Jalen Reagor taking turns outdoing each other with badly timed miscues in the passing game.|
|This grade would be much worse if not for their defense, which was opportunistic against a dysfunctional Eagles passing attack and quite easily could've finished the game with five picks. Give Xavier McKinney and Julian Love and their secondary credit, because they won this game. Jones, to his credit, had a solid second-half drive to help seal the victory and made a couple nice throws throughout, but he and the offense mostly begged the Eagles to steal this one. This is still an ugly team.|
Eagles-Giants grades by Cody Benjamin (Love the grades? Hate the grades? Let him know on Twitter.)
New England 36-13 over Tennessee
|Had it not been for a handful of self-inflicted miscues, there was a path for Tennessee to come out of Foxborough with a win. From the jump, special teams was an issue for the Titans as two penalties helped dig them into a hole. Those infractions forced Tennessee to give the Patriots the ball on the Titans' 37-yard line, which they proceeded to cash in with a Kendrick Bourne touchdown. Even as Mike Vrabel's team began matching New England's scoring output, a missed PAT and missed field goal by Randy Bullock kept Tennessee playing catch up. A solid rushing attack allowed the Titans to trail by just three going into the break, but three second-half turnovers helped the Patriots shut Tennessee out the rest of the way to walk away with the win|
|It wasn't perfect, but enough to keep the streak alive. For the fourth week in a row, the Patriots were able to shut out their opponent in the second half, going on a 20-0 run over the final two quarters against Tennessee on Sunday. That was sparked by a number of key turnovers and clutch play by the defense, including an interception by J.C. Jackson when the Titans had the ball at the New England 2-yard line. Offensively, Mac Jones was efficient and completed two touchdowns to Bourne, but the unit did leave some opportunities on the table, converting just two of their five red-zone trips. Again, it was a good enough outing to get the win on Sunday, but there is plenty for the Patriots to improve upon as they go down the stretch run.|
Titans-Patriots grades by Tyler Sullivan (Love the grades? Hate the grades? Let him know on Twitter.)
Denver 28-13 over L.A. Chargers
|This game was just one disaster after another for the Chargers. Every time it looked like they might be able to get back in it, they would end up shooting themselves in the foot. The most glaring errors came during a second half that included a missed field goal and a pick-six thrown by Justin Herbert, which was one of two interceptions he threw in the game. The Chargers' offensive line was completely overmatched, which led to a long day for Herbert, who was sacked three times. Defensively, the Chargers biggest weakness is that they can't stop the run and that weakness was on full display in Denver.|
|The Broncos needed a win in the worst kind of way and Patrick Surtain II made sure it happened. The rookie cornerback intercepted two passes against the Chargers, including a fourth-quarter pick-six that basically iced the win for Denver. The Broncos' defense absolutely shut down Herbert and the high-flying Chargers offense. The Broncos' offense wasn't flashy, but it was efficient, especially on third down as Denver went 8 of 11 on third-down conversions in the game. The Broncos also took advantage of the Chargers' putrid rushing defense by totaling 147 yards on the ground. With the win, the Broncos are now tied with the Chargers and Raiders in the AFC West and firmly in the AFC playoff race.|
Chargers-Broncos grades by John Breech (Love the grades? Hate the grades? Let him know on Twitter.)
San Francisco 34-26 over Minnesota
|This was a game where the Vikings struggled in key situations on both sides of the ball. Offensively, they went just 2 of 8 on third down. Also, they had the ball twice in the fourth quarter with a chance to tie, but both possessions ended with an errant throw from Kirk Cousins on fourth down. With the 49ers focused on stopping Minnesota's rushing attack, this game was put on the shoulders of Cousins and he just couldn't come through with a clutch play when the Vikings needed it. Defensively, Minnesota couldn't get off the field while going up against a 49ers offense that steamrolled its way to 208 yards on the ground. The Vikings are now 0-7 all time under Mike Zimmer when surrendering at least 200 rushing yards. The Vikings did make some huge plays in this game, like a 99-yard kickoff return TD from rookie Kene Nwangwu, but they just made way too many mistakes to beat a good team like San Francisco.|
|The 49ers' offensive strategy over the past few weeks has been pretty simple: Run the ball until someone stops you and the good news for the 49ers is that no one has figured out how to stop them. The 49ers' rushing resurgence continued as they totaled a season-high 208 yards on the ground, including 133 by Eli Mitchell. With the ground game running so efficiently, the 49ers were able to hold on to the ball for a total of 37 minutes, which is notable, because NFL teams are undefeated this year (22-0) when holding the ball for at least 37 minutes in a non-overtime game. Defensively, the 49ers weren't perfect, but they did come up with two huge second-half turnovers that led to 10 points.|
Vikings-49ers grades by John Breech (Love the grades? Hate the grades? Let him know on Twitter.)
Green Bay 36-28 over L.A. Rams
|The Rams went down double-digits early and couldn't bounce back. Matthew Stafford is reportedly dealing with pain in his throwing arm, elbow, a sore ankle and back pain, and he looked off from beginning to end. Odell Beckham Jr. finally got going for his new team, as he caught five passes for 81 yards and a touchdown, but the defense couldn't stop Aaron Rodgers and Co. L.A. is now in the midst of a three-game losing streak, and if you aren't questioning their status as legitimate contenders yet, you should be. Stafford dealing with multiple injuries is worrisome as well.|
|This was a measuring stick game in the NFC, and the Packers recorded a great team win. Aaron Rodgers is dealing with a fractured toe, but still completed 28 of 45 passes for 307 yards and two touchdowns, while Randall Cobb and Davante Adams ran wild in the secondary. The veteran Cobb had 95 yards and a touchdown just in the first half! The Packers' defense deserves credit as well. The front four applied pressure on Stafford all day and cornerback Rasul Douglas had a huge outing with a pick-six and four pass breakups. The Packers are one of the best teams in the NFL and they proved it on Sunday.|
Rams-Packers grades by Jordan Dajani (Love the grades? Hate the grades? Let him know on Twitter.)
Baltimore 16-10 over Cleveland
|The defense did an excellent job of holding Lamar Jackson down and created plenty of opportunities for the offense to get the team back into the game. And the offense just … couldn't take advantage of the opportunities it was afforded. It was a dreadful performance on that side of the ball, worthy of a much lower grade than this one.|
|Jackson's four interceptions nearly marred an exceptional defensive performance by the Ravens. Jackson was extremely erratic with his throws all night, but made up for it with a terrific touchdown pass to Mark Andrews and a workmanlike performance on the ground. The defense, though, shut down the Browns' dominant run game and made Baker Mayfield miserable in the pocket.|
Browns-Ravens grades by Jared Dubin (Love the grades? Hate the grades? Let him know on Twitter.)