Dolphins 23, Jets 3: Takeaways & observations

Neither the Miami Dolphins nor the New York Jets looked like a team aspiring to keep pace with the AFC’s final postseason spot Sunday afternoon at MetLife Stadium.

Both teams entered the rivalry game tied with Baltimore, Pittsburgh, San Diego and Tennessee with five games remaining.

Though Miami dominated on both sides of the ball, the Dolphins (6-6) didn’t have much to show for it until the second half en route to a 23-3 win over the Jets (5-7).

The offensive unit rebounded from missed opportunities for the first double-figure victory since the opener to snap a three-game road skid.

Here are a few takeaways from a contest that improved the Dolphins to 5-1 in New York since 2008:

1. The offense can’t finish.

Many factors contribute to a team scoring 23 points or fewer in nine straight games during a 3-6 stretch.

On its opening drive, Miami ran 15 plays for 73 yards over 9:10 but didn’t pick up any points when Caleb Sturgis missed a 41-yard field goal.

A crucial pass-interference penalty by Charles Clay negated a Ryan Tannehill-Lamar Miller screen pass that put the ball inside the 5-yard line. Tannehill was then sacked for a league-leading 45th time.

Those two plays pushed back the line of scrimmage for Sturgis, who failed to make his seventh kick of the year.

The Dolphins, who had converted three of their first four third downs, couldn’t do so on third-and-1 on their next drive. Tannehill went deep to Brian Hartline on fourth down and underthrew him.

Pressure from the defensive line on the following possession got to Tannehill, who was hit as he threw. Antonio Cromartie picked the ball off by outjumping Mike Wallace.

After marching down the field again, Miami’s drive stalled inside the 1. The Dolphins elected to go for it on fourth down, spreading four wideouts. Tannehill’s toss to Clay to the back corner of the end zone fell incomplete.

Despite not punting once in the first half, the Dolphins were 0 for 2 in the red zone.

2. There was success through the air.

Tannehill collected his fourth 300-plus-yard passing game of the season with a healthy dose of short and immediate throws.

The second-year quarterback went 18 for 30 with 200 yards (6.7 average) by halftime and 28 for 43 for a season-high 331 yards and two touchdowns.

Not only did the quick tosses allow targets to accumulate yards after the catch, but they also prevented the defense from adding pressure.

Clay collected a career-high seven catches for 80 yards, including a crucial 28-yarder on Miami’s first scoring drive.

This controlled method proved to be effective in some areas: Miami held a nearly 20-minute time-of-possession advantage after two quarters.

Hartline’s 31-yard touchdown with 9:42 to go in the third extended the lead to 13-0. Wallace did the same on a hitch route, breaking a tackle and rushing 28 yards for a score to make it 20-3.

The pair combined for 16 catches, 209 yards and two touchdowns.

3. The run game had mixed results.

New York has the league’s top rushing defense, permitting just 72.6 yards per game. Miami is 26th with 85.4 yards per game.

The Dolphins set the tone early by balancing the run with the pass, rushing for 24 yards on the first drive.

After tallying 54 total yards over its past two losses to the Buccaneers and Panthers, Miami had already surpassed that with 65 first-half yards and 125 total.

Miller proved to be the featured back, carrying 22 times for 72 yards. Rookie Mike Gillislee earned his first career carry — a 5-yard gain — with Daniel Thomas out with an injury. He added 21 yards on six rushes. Marcus Thigpen ran four times for 10 yards.

When the offense needed production the most on short yardage, however, the unit couldn’t deliver.

On a third-and-1, the defense stuffed Miller. Clay couldn’t punch it in from the 1 on third-and-goal. Miller didn’t find the end zone on third-and-goal from the 1 in the fourth.

4. The defense was dominant.

Geno Smith entered the game with an NFL-worst 18 interceptions and the most turnovers by a quarterback. Smith tried to find a target in double-coverage on the final drive before the half.

Dannell Ellerbe picked him off, and the Dolphins offense gained 19 yards and tacked onto their lead with Sturgis’ 43-yard field.

Brent Grimes also got an interception late in the fourth off backup Matt Simms, who took over for Smith to start the third. Miami has 16 interceptions and has allowed just 12 passing scores this year.

The Dolphins forced three three-and-outs and gave up just 39 total yards and two first downs heading into halftime. The Jets mustered 177 yards and 10 first downs by the end of the game.

Bilal Powell fumbled on an exchange with Simms. Prior to the turnover, the Jets had started to manufacture a drive, rushing for 25 yards on four consecutive carries.

On its next possession, New York returned to the ground for 46 yards — all but three by Chris Ivory. When it stalled, Nick Folk connected on a 20-yard kick to trim the deficit to 13-3 with 4:30 left in the third.

You can follow Christina De Nicola on Twitter @CDeNicola13 or email her at cdenicola13@gmail.com.