Dolphins observations: Resiliency shows through when it matters most

Miami Dolphins defensive end Cameron Wake (91) celebrates after sacking New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady during the second half.

Wilfredo Lee/AP

There was no shortage of excitement as the Miami Dolphins kicked off their season with a rousing 33-20 victory over the New England Patriots at Sun Life Stadium on Sunday.

After a strong defensive stand put the Dolphins in prime position to strike first, it quickly went downhill from there with the Patriots practically scoring at will in the first half. Unable to keep up with the scoring barrage, the game started to look out of reach early with Ryan Tannehill struggling to connect with Mike Wallace and the rest of his receivers.

Fears of a Dolphins collapse at home were quickly evaporated after the second half brought a new level of defensive dominance. Everything came together for the Dolphins, with the offense roaring to life as running back Knowshon Moreno shredded the Patriots’ defense with his quickness and strength. Wallace bounced back from a poor first half and Tannehill received reliable protection from his offensive line, allowing him plenty of time to get the most out of offensive coordinator Bill Lazor’s new system.

"It was one of the most exciting, fun games I’ve been a part of," Tannehill said afterwards. "Seeing the defense fly around, get after the quarterback, covering them up in the secondary, the offensive line, getting the run game really going, (Moreno) running the ball hard, receivers making the plays that they made downfield, it was really a fun game to be a part of."

All in all, a superb feel-good win for a Dolphins team that needed to make a statement game to open the season against a tough division rival.

Here are the biggest takeaways from the victory…

1. Defense makes strong first impression.

It couldn’t have started any better for the Dolphins after taking down Patriots running back Stevan Ridley’s first carry for just a 2-yard gain and then containing WR Julian Edelman after he caught a pass from Brady. An incomplete Brady pass to Rob Gronkowski quickly put a stop to the Patriots first drive after three plays yielded just six yards.

Dolphins vs. Patriots

That was already a great start, but then linebacker Chris McCain was able to block the punt attempt to put the Dolphins in prime scoring position. Running back Lamar Miller proceeded to score the first touchdown of the game after four plays to get the Dolphins on the scoreboard.

Then it all fell apart …

Brady and the Patriots made their adjustments starting with their second drive, quickening the pace and taking advantage of all the space the Dolphins’ secondary was giving them. With brutal efficiency, the Patriots proceeded to score a touchdown or field goal on four of their next five drives.

The home team stepped up their defensive pressure in the second half however. With Cameron Wake and Chris McCain leading the way, the defense constantly applied pressure to Brady through several unsuccessful drives in one of the more complete displays of Dolphins defense in recent memory. The Patriots offensive line simply had no answer for them.

2. Linebackers make a stand despite being shorthanded.

Already one of the more criticized units on the team, the Dolphins linebackers came through in a big way today. Somehow they were able to accomplish this playing without the services of three of their top players. Starter Philip Wheeler was previously ruled out of the game with a thumb injury and was replaced by Jason Trusnik. Then Koa Misi (ankle) and Dannell Ellerbe (hip) suffered injuries during the game and couldn’t return.

None of that mattered with the rest of them proving they belong on the team as they capably handled their assignments. Keep in mind, their depth was already in question with rookie Jordan Tripp out with a chest injury suffered last week against the St. Louis Rams.

"I’m proud of the way the guys stepped up," head coach Joe Philbin said. "Injuries sometimes happen in waves at one position, it just seems to be the nature of things. Our guys were able to step in. I said to the team at the end of the game, the name on the back of the jersey didn’t really matter. I thought the guys played like a team."

3. Moreno spectacular in Dolphins debut.

Can Moreno be the reliable workhouse that the Dolphins envisioned when they signed him away from the Denver Broncos? After a quiet training camp where he was limited with a left knee injury, Moreno practically exploded in the second half to lead the way for the offense. With each carry, he displayed his ability to break tackles and pick up valuable extra yardage on the way to 24 rushing attempts for 134 yards.

Miami Heat Kidcaster contest

It was a great start to be sure but one that makes everyone, including his teammates, eager to see much more out of him.

"Yeah, that what he does," wide receiver Brian Hartline said with a smile. "That’s nothing out of the ordinary, so I’m really looking forward to seeing more of that next week."

4. Resilience shown in the second half.

It was a total team effort in the second half to turn the game around. Even with a hobbled core of linebackers, the defense was spectacular in a dominant display during the second half. Just as impressive, the offensive line reliably protected Tannehill all day long and only allowed a single sack. Moreno and Miller ramped up their production while Wallace made up for a disappointing first half with an excellent catch in the end zone to score his single touchdown in the third quarter.

"We played four quarters of football together," tackle Branden Albert said. "All three units. We knew we had to press the issue towards the end. We had to finish the game."

The new-look offense might grab all the headlines, but it was the defense that powered the victory and gave the Dolphins new life when the situation looked dire at halftime.

You can follow Surya Fernandez on Twitter @SuryaHeatNBA or email him at