The Miami Dolphins we saw take the field against the Cincinnati Bengals on Sunday did not look like a 1-3 team. That's because the Dolphins were two plays short of being 3-1 at this point, with a missed field goal here and an untimely turnover there spelling the difference in those two records.
The defense took matters into their own hands this time, delivering the big plays throughout the game and down the stretch that were necessary to pull off the upset.
They have had a hard time finishing games this season, but this time, Dolphins safety Reshad Jones sealed the win by intercepting Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton's last-minute desperation heave.
Early on, it looked like the Dolphins might not have to worry about closing the game. A tough start—with a muffed punt following a defensive stop and a fumble inside the red zone—left the Dolphins down 6-0 and had many wondering if the Dolphins could catch a break.
They cleaned up quickly, building a 17-6 lead entering the fourth quarter of play, but with multiple chances to close the game holding onto a 17-13 lead, the offense sputtered, missing on two key third-down conversions that could have helped eliminate the chance of a comeback.
The Dolphins output on that side of the ball was just barely enough, with the offense converting just 4-of-13 third downs (30.8 percent) and rushing for just 1.9 yards per carry.
The defense responded, though, and turned in their performance of the season to make sure that didn't happen. Dalton and the Bengals' vaunted aerial assault had averaged over eight yards per pass attempt and a passer rating of 103, but were held to just 5.5 YPA and a 73.2 passer rating on the day.
Their run defense was not as stifling as it has been this season, but overall, it was a job well-done with two turnovers, a third-down efficiency percentage of 14.3 (2-for-14) and just two trips into the red zone with only one touchdown to show for it.
All those numbers aside, holding the league's eighth-best scoring offense to just 13 points at home, and just six points through three quarters, makes their impressive performance rather self-evident.
The defense came to play, as they have all season, and after the shaky start, the offense returned the favor with efficient drives and ball security.
The defense created the turnovers, and the offense seized those opportunities.
With weekly brain cramps of anywhere from five to 10 minutes, the Dolphins have had a hard time putting together a solid 60 minutes of football this season. That has been largely due to turnovers, with the Dolphins offense teaming up for 11 total turnovers this year (six interceptions, five fumbles lost).
But down the stretch, they proved that if they can stay clean on the turnover sheet, they can compete with just about any team in the league. This team may not yet be a contender, but if their defense continues to play this way, they're making progress.
The truth is, they've been close to "contender" status all season.
Erik Frenz is the AFC East lead blogger for Bleacher Report. Be sure to follow Erik on Twitter and "like" the AFC East blog on Facebook to keep up with all the updates. Unless specified otherwise, all quotes are obtained firsthand.
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