That’s two games in this defining three-game road trip.
It’s two losses, too.
The Los Angeles Chargers didn’t just beat the Dolphins 23-17. They raised more questions about this offense. Here are 10 thoughts on the night:
1. Play of the game: Fourth down at the Chargers 1-yard line with 18 seconds before half. This was set up by a third-and-17 screen pass where a defense set up by the goal line didn’t react, and Austin Ekeler took it for 16 yards. So for the second time, the Chargers had fourth down near the goal line. The Dolphins stopped them on the Chargers’ first drive. On this one just before halftime, Ekeler went over left tackle for the touchdown. Instead of a 10-7 Chargers lead at half that would have felt like good news for the Dolphins considering how poorly they played, it was 17-7 at the half, and the Dolphins were fighting uphill the rest of the night.
2. What’s happened to Tua Tagovailoa? He completed 10-of-28 passes for 145 yards and a 65.3 rating. None of those numbers measure up for the second straight week. Did he lose confidence in missing open receivers against San Francisco that carried over? Was it as simple as clogging the middle of the field with a safety to act as a border guard on the Dolphins’ crossing patterns? That’s what the Chargers undermanned defense did Sunday. Something’s happened. Tua didn’t miss wide-open receivers Sunday like in the San Francisco game. But he’s not the player he was in November, especially when you consider Los Angeles entered as the 30th-ranked defense and was missing four starters just from last week, including their most important player in safety Derwin James. Those four don’t even involve Pro Bowlers in defensive end Joey Bosa and cornerback J.C. Jackson, who have been out for weeks. One thing for sure is it won’t get easier in Buffalo next Saturday. Can they pull out that 700-play highlight reel again to remind Tagovailoa what he can do?
3. If this game was moved to Sunday night television because of Tua and Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert, there was a clear winner. Tua struggled. Herbert starred. He was constantly pressured by the Dolphins’ defense, too. He completed 39 of 51 passes for 367 yards and 102.1 rating. And closing the game? The Chargers got the ball at their 17-yard line with over 11 minutes left. Herbert directed them 79 yards in 16 plays on a drive that ended on the Dolphins’ 6-yard line for a 28-yard field goal. It left the Dolphins down 23-14 with 2:40 left in the game. On the drive, Herbert completed 5 of 7 passes for 43 yards and had a run for 10 yards.
4. Stats of the game: Take any number from the Dolphins’ worst first half of the season. The Chargers had 16 first downs to the Dolphins’ five, 249 total yards to the Dolphins 47 and averaged 5.6 yards a play to the Dolphins’ 2.2. Cow puke.
5. Even the craziest play since the lateral-filled Miracle of Miami couldn’t push the Dolphins to this win. Jeff Wilson Jr. ran for 6 yards midway through the second quarter and fumbled. That 6 yards gave the Dolphins 13 total yards for the game to that point. But that fumble … oh, that fumble. Tackle Terron Armstead fell on it in a rugby scrum of players and intentionally or unintentionally batted the ball out to Tyreek Hill standing outside the pile. Could a struggling night have a random loose ball land any better? Hill picked it up and did what he does best. He started running. The only thing missing was Rob Gronkowski diving for him at the goal line. No flat-footed Charger was near Hilll by that point. He ran 56 yards for the kind of fumble-rooski touchown that could have provided the spark.
6. Hill continued to offer his weekly portfolio as the clear MVP of this team on the night he broke the Dolphins’ single-season receiving record. When the Chargers blitzed and put cornerback Michael Davis alone on Hill in the third quarter, it was no contest. Hill ran deep. Tua threw deep. And in one play the Dolphins were back to looking like the Dolphins. They had 57 yards of offense in the first half. That touchown went for 60 yards. Oh, and one other item: Hill was listed as questionable to return at halftime due to an ankle injury. So he made that play on one healthy ankle. Earlier, with a 13-yard catch in the fist quarter, Hill broke the team’s receiving record of 1,389 yards that Mark Clayton held since 1984. Now the race is on with Minnesota’s Justin Jefferson for the leading the league. Hill had the lead by a yard entering Sunday. Jefferson had a monster 11-catch, 223-yard game against Detroit.
7. The Dolphins defense hasn’t had many good days on the road this year. They did their part Sunday, though. They kept the Dolphins in this game with their constant pressure on Herbert. The Chargers are beat up on the offensive line with both tackles and a guard out, but their full complement of playmakers was healthy Sunday for the first time in a while. Herbert was sacked twice and hit seven times through three quarters. Jaelan Phillips had a sack and a second taken away by a questionable roughing-the-passer penalty. The Chargers moved the ball all night. They had 106 yards in the third quarter, for instance — but that was on four possessions and the Charges only got three points out of them.
8. Defensive tackle Christian Wilkins is heading toward a big payday this offseason. The 2019 first-round pick entered Sunday ranked second among defensive tackles with 66 tackles after his 10-tackle game in San Francisco. He had nine more on Sunday, including six solo tackles. He also had a sack and two tackles for losses in Sunday’s first quarter to give him a career-high 14 for the season.
9. Quick Sunday hits:
— The crowd was about 40 percent Dolphins fans Sunday night, and you could hear them at various points.
— Kader Kohou can hit people for a cornerback.
— Mike White, who grew up in Pembroke Pines and went to the University School, looks like the New York Jets hope in a way Zach Wilson doesn’t.
— Maybe the Dolphins’ defense didn’t play that poorly in San Francisco last week? Brock Purdy completed 16 of 21 passes for 185 yards, two touchdowns and a 134 rating in a 35-7 win against Tampa Bay.
10. Next week: Dolphins at Buffalo. The AFC East lead is up for grabs in this game. The Dolphins beat Buffalo 21-19 on a scorching day in September in South Florida. The early weather outlook for this rematch? It looks pretty much the same weather as it was Sunday in the Bills’ 20-12 win against the Jets. There’s a 58 percent chance of snow and/or rain depending on the temperature of the moment. Saturday’s forecast calls for a high of 35 and low of 28 — and expect the low since it’s a night game. The wind also is forecast to be 18 mph. Again, it’s early, and it’s weather. It’ll change — but mid-December in Buffalo only changes so much.