It had the makings of an even more dominant, all-around game than the Miami Dolphins had in their last timeout.
But after taking a 30-0 halftime lead against the Houston Texans, Terran Armstead left with a chest injury. slowed Miami’s efforts a bit.
nevertheless the Dolphins beat Houston 30-15 on Sunday at Hard Rock Stadium, which followed the team’s 39-17 win against the Cleveland Browns two weeks earlier on the other side of a bye week.
Miami, which regained the AFC East lead thanks to a tiebreaker over the Buffalo Bills, won its fifth straight game and is off to its first 8-3 start since 2001. The league-worst Texans are now 1-9-1.
The Dolphins enter December primed for their first playoff appearance since 2016 and possibly their first division title since 2008. However, the schedule gets tough again with road games against the San Francisco 49ers, Los Angeles Chargers and Buffalo Bills on the horizon. .
“There’s nothing better in pro football than big games in December and January,” coach Mike McDaniel said after Sunday’s win. “Nothing better. I’m really happy that our young team and a lot of guys are experiencing it for the first time.”
The Dolphins’ 30-0 first-half margin was the second-most by a franchise in 30 seasons, trailing only Miami’s 41-0 margin against Houston in 2015.
The Dolphins defense allowed just 32 yards to the Texans in the first half. Miami’s offense produced points on all but one of its possessions before halftime.
But without Armstead, the Dolphins couldn’t protect quarterback Tua Tagovailoa. Tagovailoa was sacked four times between the third quarter and the final drive of the first half and had another takedown that was nullified by a facemask penalty.
Tagovailoa had another solid outing overall, but it wasn’t as stellar as he has been in the last three games, where he had a quarterback rating of 135.0 or higher every time out.
With coach Mike McDaniel pulling him as Skylar Thompson’s backup in the third quarter, Tagovailoa went 22 of 36 for 299 yards, a touchdown and no interceptions. That was good for a passer rating of 96.9. He broke Miami’s record for consecutive passing yards without an interception, finishing Sunday at 174, surpassing Ryan Tannehill’s previous mark of 160.
The Texans scored two touchdowns in the second half, followed by two scores and a field goal that got them within two possessions, 30-15, with nine minutes left. Their late rally was stymied by a third down by Jerome Baker that ended one scoring opportunity. Their next chance was ended by an interception by Veron McKinley, the first of the undrafted rookie’s career.
Miami opened up a 10-0 lead in the first quarter when Tagovailoa won time in the pocket, slid left and found tight end Durham Smith over the middle for a 4-yard gain.
The Dolphins extended their lead early in the second quarter on an Andrew Van Ginkel interception and 23-yard return to the Houston 3-yard line. Jeff Wilson Jr. scored easily off a pass on the next play, his third touchdown in as many games since being traded to Miami at the deadline. Van Ginkel nearly scored his second touchdown of November after returning a blocked Jaelon Phillips punt in Chicago on Nov. 6.
Later, the Dolphins took a 20-0 lead and did get a defensive touchdown when cornerback Xavien Howard fumbled a fumble forced by safety Eric Rowe 16 yards into the end zone.
Miami missed another touchdown opportunity between the two scores. Tagovailoa and Hill just couldn’t connect on a short out on second-and-goal, and the Dolphins settled for Jason Sanders’ short field goal, his second of the first half.
Sanders added another field goal to end the half and send Miami to the locker room with a 30-0 lead. Tagovailoa fell awkwardly on a sack by the Texans’ Malik Collins after Armstead’s departure, but stayed in the game until the start of the second half. He was then sacked three more times in the third quarter.
While that was happening, the Dolphins’ defense gave up back-to-back scoring drives to Houston, one capped by a 3-yard touchdown run by Dere Ogunbowale and the other with a 25-yard strike from quarterback Kyle Allen to tight end Jordan Akins.
Allen went 26 of 39 for 215 yards, a touchdown and two interceptions. The Dolphins gave up just 36 yards. Along with Baker, linebackers Jaylon Phillips, Bradley Chubb, Elandon Roberts and Duke Riley all had sacks.
Hill, who had cramping late in Sunday’s game, and Jaylen Waddle each had 85 yards.
The road gets tougher for the Dolphins after coming through a soft stretch of the schedule with five straight wins. Miami has three straight road games on deck, back-to-back on the West Coast at the San Francisco 49ers and Los Angeles Chargers, followed by a trip to Buffalo to face the Bills.