Miami Dolphins win seventh straight, control own playoff destiny

NEW ORLEANS -- Whatever works, right?

The Miami Dolphins and New Orleans Saints entered Monday night's game on opposite sides of the spectrum, with Miami riding a six-game winning streak and New Orleans with 20 players on the reserve/COVID-19 list -- including its top two quarterbacks.

On paper, this was an opportunity for the Dolphins to lay a beating on a reeling opponent on national television. Instead, they plodded their way to their seventh straight victory which is all that matters in the end. It was a mediocre performance on one side of the ball and pure dominance on the other.

Miami sacked rookie Ian Book eight times and intercepted him twice en route to a 20-3 victory that was harder on the eyes than the score suggests. The Dolphins mustered 259 yards of offense, 86 of which came on their lone touchdown drive late in the third quarter. They were committed to running the ball but finished with 86 yards on 30 attempts. Their offensive line play was atrocious in the first half before settling in the second.

Quarterback Tua Tagovailoa was just fine for the second straight game, completing 19 of 26 passes for 198 yards, one touchdown and an interception. The bright spot on that side of the ball was rookie receiver Jaylen Waddle, who reeled in 10 passes for 92 yards and a touchdown, setting a Dolphins rookie single-season record for receiving yards in the process.

Miami became the first team in NFL history to win seven straight games and lose seven straight games in the same season. More importantly, it guaranteed itself a playoff bid if it wins its remaining two games.

"I think it revealed a lot," coach Brian Flores said of the losing streak and how the Dolphins responded to it. "It revealed the character of the guys in this locker room. It revealed that some people were with you and some people were on the fence. The guys kept fighting."

It's a difficult final stretch against the AFC South-leading Tennessee Titans in Week 17 and the New England Patriots in Week 18, both of which are top-10 defenses in the NFL over the past month in terms of defensive expected points added. But the Dolphins' defense ranks second in that category since Week 9 and proved capable once again of carrying this team through any offensive lulls.

And it might have to if the Dolphins want to clinch their first playoff bid since 2016.

Describe the game in two words: Welcome, rookie. Ian Book's first career NFL start was rough as Miami's defense limited him to 135 yards and two interceptions, completing 12-of-20 passes.

Pivotal play: Nik Needham's pick-six of Book on the Saints' opening drive set the tone. The rookie completed his first attempt to riveting fanfare from the New Orleans home crowd. His second attempt was tipped by Dolphins linebacker Andrew Van Ginkel before it landed in Needham's hands and was returned 28 yards for the TD. It was the only touchdown either team scored for nearly 36 minutes but was more than enough to give Miami an insurmountable lead against a nonexistent Saints offense.

Eye-popping NextGen Stat: Tagovailoa's third-quarter completion to Mack Hollins had an air distance of 49.7 yards with 0.6 yards of separation, marking the longest tight-window completion of his career.

Promising trend: Miami's offense left something to be desired but its defense continued its elite play, allowing 158 total yards and holding the Saints to 0-for-11 on third down. It's the first time the Saints failed to convert a third down since 2005, when they went 0-for-11 against, you guessed it, the Dolphins. It's funny how history repeats itself. Miami has now held three straight opponents under 300 total yards and has held six of its past seven opponents under 20 points.