Dolphins defense forces late turnover in 17-16 win over Patriots

By Daniel Oyefusi

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — With the Dolphins just barely holding on to a one-point lead late in the fourth quarter and the Patriots in the red zone, the player who forced the most takeaways on a defense that lead the league in that category last season came through with the decisive play.

Cornerback Xavien Howard, who led the league with 10 interceptions last season, stripped Patriots running back Damien Harris and recovered the ball on the Dolphins’ 9-yard line, preserving a 17-16 season-opening win at Foxborough.

Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa threw a third-down interception that set the Patriots up at midfield with 8:07 left in the game, but the Dolphins defense held up once again in the red zone. New England was 11 of 16 on third downs and orchestrated a trio of 14-play drives but each ended in field goals.

Tagovailoa completed 16 of 27 passes for 202 yards, one touchdown and an interception. He also rushed for a 3-yard touchdown on the offense’s opening possession.

Patriots rookie quarterback Mac Jones, Tagovailoa’s teammate at Alabama, completed 29 of 39 passes for 281 yards and one touchdown in his debut.

On the Dolphins’ first drive, Tagovailoa drove the offense 80 yards into the end zone on 10 plays, capped with his 3-yard touchdown run. The possession had a heavy dose of run-pass option, a staple of the offense during training camp and preseason, and incorporated tempo.

The Patriots took a 10-7 lead toward the end of the first half with a 7-yard touchdown pass from Jones to wide receiver Nelson Agholor. The score came two plays after a controversial third-down penalty in which linebacker Elandon Roberts was flagged for roughing the passer. After shedding a block from a Patriots running back, Roberts appeared to stumble into Jones’ knees.

The Dolphins responded on the following drive with a 36-yard completion to Waddle but the ensuing six plays netted just seven yards. Kicker Jason Sanders made a 48-yard field goal as time expired to tie the game at 10 heading into halftime.

The Dolphins’ scoring drive on the first possession totaled 80 yards and the next five possessions in the first half accumulated just 82 yards.

The Dolphins took a 17-10 lead with a nine-play, 75-yard scoring drive to open the second half. Tagovailoa connected with Waddle for a 3-yard score to finish the possession.

After a pair of field goals from Nick Folk, the Dolphins held a one-point lead before Tagovailoa’s potentially costly interception. One play before the turnover, a third-down conversion to tight end Mike Gesicki was wiped out because of an ineligible receiver downfield penalty on left guard Solomon Kindley.

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