Saints 38, Dolphins 17: Postgame takeaways & observations

Chris Tomasson takes a look at what we learned from the Dolphins' loss to the Saints on Monday.

The Miami Dolphins had a chance to enter the national conversation.

That will have to wait.

The Dolphins, playing their biggest game since a 2008 playoff affair, could have gone to 4-0 with a win Monday night at New Orleans. Alas, they lost 38-17.

Turnovers started the onslaught. The Dolphins had little margin of error, and they had two pivotal turnovers in the first half that led to Saints touchdowns.

After that, it was simply a case of New Orleans quarterback Drew Brees picking apart the Dolphins as the Saints raised their record to 4-0. He completed 30 of 39 passes for 413 yards with four touchdowns and no interceptions.

Here's are some observations from the game:

1. Tannehill turnovers.

Both first-half turnovers came from Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill. And both hurt a lot.

Tannehill's lost a fumble early in the second quarter at the New Orleans 38 after an eight-yard run. That led to Saints quarterback Drew Brees throwing a 27-yard touchdown pass to Jimmy Graham for a 14-3 lead.

Later in the quarter, Tannehill threw an interception right into the hands of Jabari Greer at the Miami 45, and he returned it 22 yeards to the Dolphins 23. That led to a Brees 13-yard touchdown pass to Darren Sproles for a 21-10 lead.

By the second half, when the Dolphins fell way behind, the Saints knew Tannehill had to throw. He had two more interceptions and finished 22 of 35 for 249 yards with a touchdown.

Overall, Tannehill had four turnovers on the night as Miami fell to 3-1. But it didn't help that he faced a strong pass rush. He was sacked four times.

2. Secondary struggles.

Miami's defensive backs were the weak spot on the defense last year. Despite the offseason acquisition of cornerback Brent Grimes, it still is a trouble area.

Yes, the Dolphins on Monday were without cornerback Dmitri Patterson, who has a groin injury. But there is still no excuse to how they were picked apart by Brees.

Brees is one of the NFL's best quarterbacks and is bound for the Hall of Fame. Still, the Dolphins made it much too easy for him.

Miami's defensive backs had done a reasonable job the previous two weeks in games against Andrew Luck and Indianapolis and Matt Ryan of Atlanta. Next Sunday they will try their luck against another top quarterback, Baltimore's Joe Flacco.

3. Injuries hurt.

The Dolphins were able to defeat the Falcons 27-23 on Sept. 22 despite two defensive starters being out and two others missing about half the game. But Miami couldn't overcome defensive injuries Monday against a better team.

Defensive end Cameron Wake before the game tested his injured knee, which had forced him to sit out the second half against Falcons. But the All-Pro selection from last season couldn't go, hampering the pass rush the Dolphins could get against Brees.

Miami for the third straight game also was without Dmitri Patterson. The Dolphins certainly needed everybody they could get against Brees.

Miami did get back Paul Soliai, who had missed the Atlanta game with a knee injury, and linebacker Olivier Vernon, who sat out the second half against the Falcons due to a shoulder problem. While Soliai batted down a pass and Vernon had a sack, their presence turned out to not be enough.

4. Where's Wallace?

Playing in his hometown, Miami wide receiver Mike Wallace was hopeful of having a big game. It didn't happen as Wallace caught just three passes for 24 yards. He had a drop when wide open in the third quarter.

Wallace had a career-high nine catches for 115 yards in the season's second game at Indianapolis. But in the three other games this season he's had just six catches for 61 yards.

There were big expectations for Wallace, who signed a five-year, $60 million deal during he offseason. So far he hasn't lived up to them.

Wallace was unhappy after grabbing just one pass for 15 yards in a Miami 23-10 win at Cleveland to start the season. He couldn't have been too enthralled at not getting ball too much Monday in a loss.

5. Ground game gaining.

The Dolphins got off to a dismal start against the Browns, rushing for 20 yards on 23 carries. At least the running game is slowly getting better.

Miami on Monday rushed 19 times for 115 yards. They gained 96 yards on 16 carries in the first half before they had to throw a lot in the second half due to falling behind.

Running back Lamar Miller is getting better. Miller, who had just three yards on 10 carries in the dreadful opener at Cleveland, had 11 carries for 62 yards, including 10 for 57 yards in the first half. Miller on the season now has 43 carries for 196 yards.

Improvement, though, isn't coming from backup Daniel Thomas. He rushed for five yards on four carries Monday to make his numbers on the season 25 carries for 69 yards.

Chris Tomasson can be reached at or on Twitter @christomasson.