NEW ORLEANS – Rookie sensation Jaylen Waddle returned from the COVID-19 list to capture 10 passes for 92 yards and a touchdown, and the Miami Dolphins beat the short-handed New Orleans Saints 20-3 Monday night and became the first NFL team to win seven games in a row after losing seven in a row.
Nik Needham intercepted the Saints’ rookie quarterback Ian Book and returned the 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 playoffs places in the AFC.
The book started for the Saints (7-8) due to a COVID-19 outbreak that took 16 players off the active roster, including starting QB Taysom Hill and veteran backup Trevor Siemian.
When the Saints’ offensive line was missing three starters, including both tackles, Book completed 12 of 20 passes on 135 yards, was fired eight times and was intercepted twice.
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 for 198 yards and the short TD. He was also intercepted by Marshon Lattimore.
Waddle returned to the ranks after missing 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.
OPENING OF THE BOOK
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-6.
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, and that drive lasted five games.
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.
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.
DAMAGES / COVID-19
Dolphins: Miami went into the game and was missing seven players due to COVID-19.
Saints: In addition to having 16 players removed from the active roster after positive COVID-19 tests, New Orleans starting left-back tackled Terron Armstead, who was not yet ready to return from a knee injury that also kept him out the previous week. Reserve right tackle Caleb Benenoch was treated on the pitch for an injury in the fourth quarter. Recipient Tre’Quan Smith left the match with a chest injury.
Dolphins: Visit Tennessee on Sunday before closing out the regular season at home against AFC East rival New England.
Saints: Host NFC South enemy Carolina on Sunday before traveling to Atlanta to end the regular season.