How the Dolphins lost to the Titans: Will Levis’ poise, sluggish Miami offense help Tennessee overcome mistakes

A failed pitch play to Derrick Henry seemed to end any hope the Titans had of upsetting the Dolphins on Monday night. Will Levis sailed the ball too high, the Dolphins recovered in the red zone, and Miami instantly stretched its lead from 20-13 to 27-13 with under five minutes remaining.

While Levis had a solid night to that point, even if it didn’t show up in the box score. Conventional wisdom said the Titans likely didn’t have two touchdowns in them, let alone one. Tennessee played a mistake-laden game through the first 55 minutes, with a pick-six and a muffed punt to go along with the costly late-game turnover.

Yet, within the blink of an eye, the Titans found life and turned a 27-13 deficit into a 28-27 win.

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How did a heavily favored Dolphins team manage to blow a 14-point lead at home in a matter of minutes? It took a few critical turning points. Here’s a closer look at Miami’s collapse and what sparked Tennessee’s thrilling comeback.

Will Levis’ resilience

More important than any singular play was the fact Levis wasn’t dismayed by his mistakes.

The early pick-six put Tennessee in a hole, and his failed pitch to Henry was what allowed the Dolphins to extend their lead to 14. When Levis took the field minutes later, he didn’t spend any time dwelling on what could’ve been as many rookies do. Levis was methodical on the Titans’ first touchdown drive of that final sequence, going 7 of 9 for 80 yards and the score.

It’s no secret Levis isn’t playing in the absolute best situation, with a shaky offensive line and few reliable weapons outside of DeAndre Hopkins, but he still was able to get the ball to four different receivers on the drive.

DeAndre Hopkins spins off of defender for touchdown catch

As calm and collected as Levis has been in crucial moments, it’s fair to say the Titans’ offense runs through Hopkins. The former All-Pro receiver has been arguably Levis’ only consistent receiving weapon since the rookie took over the starting role, memorably scoring three touchdowns in the second-rounder’s first start. On Monday night, Hopkins erupted for 124 yards on seven catches.

As Levis fought to find an open receiver on first-and-goal, Hopkins put a nice move on Dolphins DB Kader Kohou and gained a few feet of separation in the end zone. That was all the rookie needed to find him in the end zone for six. Without plays like that from the 11th-year veteran, a rapid comeback wouldn’t have been possible.

Mike Vrabel makes bold call to go for two

Mike Vrabel knew two touchdowns and two extra points would be enough to extend the game, but extending the game wasn’t even on his mind when the Titans cut the deficit to one possession. Tennessee went for two points and converted on a pass to Nick Westbrook-Ikhine, trimming Miami’s lead to six points.

When the Titans got the ball back, they knew a touchdown and an extra point would be enough for the lead.

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Titans finally limit Dolphins’ running game

The Titans needed a quick stop to get the ball back with enough time to win, and they did exactly that.

While it was a sluggish night for the Dolphins’ offense overall, the running game was largely efficient, averaging 5.4 yards per attempt before the team’s final two drives. Some fans were left confused by Miami’s reluctance to lean on its rushing attack when the game was tied down the stretch, but all the Dolphins needed with a 27-21 lead were a few hearty runs to run out the clock.

Tennessee’s run defense finally rose up instead, forcing the Dolphins into a third-and-6 after stifling Raheem Mostert and bringing Tagovailoa down two yards shy of the first down marker to force a Miami punt. By using their timeouts, the Titans got the ball back after just 16 seconds of game time.

Levis ignites game-winning drive with 36-yard pass to Hopkins

The Dolphins gave Levis plenty of time to throw on the first play of the ensuing drive, and he took advantage of it, hitting Hopkins for an instant 36 yards. The catch took the Titans all the way down to the Dolphins’ 28-yard line before the two-minute warning, and Levis was able to get the Titans into the red zone before the break on a 16-yard completion to Chigoziem Okonkwo. 

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Derrick Henry scores to put Titans in front

Derrick Henry did not have his best night in Miami, rushing for only 34 yards on 17 carries, but the stat line didn’t matter much when he rumbled into the end zone for the go-ahead touchdown with just under two minutes remaining. 

Titans swarm Tua Tagovailoa to seal victory

The Titans’ defense had a night to be proud of, and it ended with a Harold Landry III sack of Tagovailoa on fourth down.

Miami would have had a realistic chance to get into field goal range with the first down, but Tagovailoa barely had time to think as soon as the ball was snapped. Landry, who missed all of last season with a torn ACL, exploded for three sacks in the win.

Because the Titans scored so quickly, the Dolphins began their final drive with 1:45 to work with and only a field goal needed to win. Tennessee’s ability to snuff out the drive so quickly was just as critical as anything the offense did during the remarkable comeback. 

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