A Dolphins defense that intercepted Saints rookie Ian Book twice and fired him eight times was likely enough to push Miami’s winning streak to seven games.
Miami also got a big boost from rookie sensation Jaylen Waddle to outclass New Orleans on both sides of the ball.
Waddle captured 10 passes for 92 yards and touchdown in his return from the Covid-19 list, and the Dolphins beat the short-handed Saints 20-3 Monday night, becoming the first NFL team to win seven right after losing seven in a row. .
“This team held together, really all year,” said third-year Miami coach Brian Flores, who improved to 19-7 in games played after October. “Of course we managed a lot of adversity early in the year. It revealed a lot – revealed the character of the guys in our locker room.
“Our guys kept fighting, they kept sticking together, they worked hard,” Flores added.
Nik Needham intercepted the Book and returned the ball 28 yards to a touchdown to help Miami become one of four 8-7 teams – along with the Baltimore, Los Angeles Chargers and Las Vegas – to battle for one of the final playoff spots in the AFC.
The book started for the Saints (7-8) due to a Covid-19 outburst that took 16 players off the active roster, including starting QB Taysom Hill and veteran backup Trevor Siemian.
“Rookie quarterback – we mixed some glances at him,” Needham said. “Had him a little confused out there and I think it played a big role.”
As the Saints’ offensive line was missing three starters, including both tackles, Book completed 12 of 20 passes on 135 yards.
“Just keeping him upright tonight was a challenge,” Saints coach Sean Payton said. “The first interception was a throw he wants back, but it’s a difficult position for him to be in.”
The Saints’ defense helped keep the game within reach until Waddle scored on a 1-yard shovel pass from Tua Tagovailoa to make it 17-3 with 5:10 left in the third quarter.
Tagovailoa, who came into the game with an NFL best 69.9% completion rate, joined 19 of 26 passes (73.1%) in 198 yards and the short TD. He was also intercepted by Marshon Lattimore.
Waddle missed Miami’s previous game due to a positive COVID-19 test. He has 96 catches this season, overshadowing New Orleans ‘Michael Thomas’ second-most rookie reception, leaving him five short of Anquan Boldin’s rookie record of 101 catches in 2003.
Waddle said “it will obviously be pretty cool” if he breaks the record.
“The NFL is a special league, so everything in this league, having a record is always great,” he said.
Book received a roar of encouragement from the crowd when he first took the field, and Saints fans cheered again two games later as he completed his first career pass. Then they let out a collective gasp at his second pass – Needham’s pick-six.
Needham said a “max blitz” helped set up his first interception for a goal at any football level.
“We knew the ball was going to come out fast, so I just stared at the quarterback, and just when he said ‘Hut,’ he was looking at the castle,” Needham recalled. “I think the ball was tipped and it landed right in my hands.”
The book’s next two series also lasted three plays each and ended in sacks. New Orleans did not get a first down until the second quarter. That drive lasted five plays.
The Saints finally moved the ball on their fifth series and needed just four games to pick up the first three downs. A roughing-the-passer penalty on a 12-yard finish to Alvin Kamara moved New Orleans to Miami 23 and put Brett Mahers field goal to 10-3.
“Personally, I have a lot to get better at,” Book said. “There are already things in my mind that I want back, but it felt good to be out there.”
Cam Jordan’s second firing of the game in the final minute of the second quarter forced Miami to try a 59-yard field goal, which Jason Sanders missed, keeping the Saints’ deficit on one touchdown at the break.
The Dolphins’ eight sacks set a team record for a match. They became the first team in the Super Bowl era to have so many sacks, score a defensive TD and keep an opponent under 200 total yards while not allowing TDs or third-down conversions. Saints went 0 for 12 on the third down.