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Chris Perkins: Dolphins win by playing tough, complementary football — a formula that works in December and beyond

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — Miami Dolphins running back Raheem Mostert didn’t plan on looking at the halftime stats. But he couldn’t avoid it. The stat sheet was right there when he went into the locker room. 

It showed eight carries for 15 yards.

Those meager totals didn’t last much longer.

The “finesse” Dolphins (8-3) played big-boy football for the second consecutive week, getting physical on both sides of the ball while playing complementary football.

Miami’s efforts resulted in a 34-13 victory over the struggling New York Jets (4-7) at MetLife Stadium and showed the Dolphins are capable of doing the things they’ll need to do to win in December, January and February, which is grind out victories in a physical fashion while having the offense pick up the defense and vice versa.

Miami ended up rushing for 167 yards on 37 carries. It had a season-best seven sacks, including at least one by each member of the starting defensive line. The defense scored a touchdown on safety Jevon Holland’s 99-yard interception return right before halftime. Kicker Jason Sanders hit a 54-yard field goal. Wide receivers Jaylen Waddle (eight receptions, 114 yards) and Tyreek Hill (nine receptions, 102 yards, one touchdown) each had productive days. 

“I just felt like we showed we can win in a lot of different ways,” said defensive lineman Christian Wilkins, who ended with three tackles, two of those being sacks.

The bummer was the Achilles injury to edge rusher Jaelan Phillips, something that’s likely season ending.

“That’s just terrible, man,” said Pro Bowl left tackle Terron Armstead. “He’s playing at such a high level. The defense is having so much fun feeding off each other and he’s one of the focal points of our defense. It sucks.”

Some players suspect the turf at MetLife Stadium, which has been under scrutiny for a while, might have been a contributing factor. Mostert sustained a MCL tear there, San Francisco defensive end Nick Bosa sustained an ACL tear there, so did Jets defensive tackle Solomon Thomas. And Jets star quarterback Aaron Rodgers suffered an Achilles injury a few plays into New York’s season.

“I know that’s been an ongoing thing,” said Wilkins, Miami’s union representative. “Who’s to say what was the cause and the effect? But I just hope whatever it is it can get fixed because it’s been a thing.”

Linebacker Jerome Baker suspects artificial turf, not necessarily the MetLife turf, had something to do with Phillips’ injury.

“Absolutely,” Baker said. “We’ve all been saying this for a while now that we need to get rid of turf. It’s just unfortunate he was the next person to go down.”

That was one of many injuries the Dolphins sustained. Armstead left the game (he said he’s OK). Hill played with a taped right ankle after an early-game injury (he also said he’s OK). Holland sustained a knee injury but he finished the game. 

At one point Miami was playing four reserve offensive linemen among left tackle Kendall Lamm, left guard Lester Cotton, right guard Liam Eichenberg and right tackle Kion Smith. And it still excelled.

“There’s a lot of grit, a lot of toughness in that room,” Armstead said.

Smith played after right tackle Austin Jackson was ejected for his role in a fight.

“One of our guys needed some help and I was just trying to get to him,” Jackson said. “I wasn’t trying to start a fight or nothing. I was just trying to break it up.”

Whatever. Everything turned out OK.

On the down side, Miami lost the turnover battle, 3-2.

But one of those turnovers Miami got was the 99-yard pick-6 by Holland on a Hail Mary pass the Jets threw on the final play of the half.

That play changed the game for the second time in a few minutes.

Quarterback Tua Tagovailoa (21 of 30, 243 yards, one touchdown, two interceptions, 77.5 passer rating) threw a pick-6 a little bit earlier that allowed the Jets to cut their deficit to 10-6, giving the home team valuable but short-lived momentum.

Holland’s play was the type that wins games, even playoff games.

“Honestly, that was probably the best play I’ve ever seen,” Mostert said.

“That was one of the best plays I’ve seen or been a part of,” Wilkins said.

“I was right there behind him,” safety Nik Needham said. “I was like, ‘Hey, pitch it, pitch it.’ Then he started taking off.

“When he got to the 50 I was like, ‘Oh, damn, he’s about to go score.’ ”

But the run game might have set the tone for Miami’s second-half physicality.

“I was a little bit frustrated,” said Mostert, who entered the game second in the league in rushing at 691 yards and ended the game with 94 yards on 22 carries.

“We had a game plan that we needed to start running the ball more. The O-line was calling it. They wanted to run the ball more because they felt like they could get to that next level and obviously it paid off.”

The Dolphins rushed for 115 yards on 21 carries in the second half. Mostert had a 34-yard carry but most of those yards were workmanlike on hard-fought carries.

It showed the Dolphins can do what it takes to win.

“Everybody did their part,” Wilkins said. “Guys were just playing well. We played together. When the defense didn’t have it, the offense did a good job, special teams did a good job, whatever.”

Armstead, as usual, said it best.

“That’s our main goal,” he said. “playing complementary ball.”

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