FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- It was Tua Tagovailoa who got the last laugh as he and the Dolphins were able to fend off his former Alabama teammate Mac Jones and the New England Patriots during their Week 1 opener 17-16. Turnovers were naturally a key storyline, particularly late in the fourth quarter where it seemed like both sides were playing hot potato. The Patriots appeared to be on the doorstep of a comeback win after Jonathan Jones was able to pick off Tagovailoa, but a Damien Harris fumble gave the momentum -- and inside track to the win -- back to Miami, which was able to simply run out the clock to move to 1-0 on the season.
Tagovailoa, who is entering Year 2 with the Dolphins, completed 16 of his 27 throws for 202 yards, a touchdown and an interception. Rookie Jaylen Waddle made his NFL debut and caught four of his six targets from Tagovailoa for 61 yards and a touchdown. Meanwhile, Jones, New England's 2021 first-round pick, performed well in his first taste of real NFL action. He had some first-drive jitters that nearly resulted in a turnover but eventually settled down to complete 29 of his 39 throws for 281 yards and a touchdown. Nelson Agholor was on the receiving end of the Patriots' lone touchdown of the day and recorded a team-high 72 yards on five catches.
Below, you can find our key takeaways from Sunday's opener.
Why Dolphins won
The Dolphins have room to improve, but they were able to make enough plays to secure the road win. Miami made quick work of the Patriots defense to begin the game as Tagovailoa and the Dolphins offense cruised 80 yards down the field to go up 7-0 with relative ease. New England's defense did improve throughout the night and provided some resistance, but Miami still was able to hang around and make timely plays. One of those clutch plays came off the arm of Tagovailoa at the start of the second half. On a third-and-8 attempt from his own 27-yard line, the second-year Dolphins quarterback completed a 30-yard pass to DeVante Parker, who was able to keep his feet inbounds to make the spectacular sideline catch. That extended a Dolphins drive that ultimately ended in a touchdown that proved to be the game-winner.
Brian Flores' defense was also particularly stout at holding the Patriots to field goals whenever they got within spitting distance of the end zone.
Why Patriots lost
We'll dive a little deeper into the specific play that cost the Patriots the game in our "turning point" section, but truth be told, it's too simplistic to say New England lost this game because of one singular moment. While Jones and the offense were able to succeed on third down throughout the game (11 of 16), they struggled to find the end zone even when they got deep into Dolphins territory. Of their four red-zone opportunities, they scored just one touchdown. Turnovers were also a major Achilles heel for this offense as well. Of course, the Harris fumble proved to be the dagger, but the Patriots put the ball on the ground a number of times throughout the game and turned it over twice. New England was also called for eight penalties for 84 yards, which is pretty uncharacteristic for a Bill Belichick-led club.
The Patriots outpaced the Dolphins in first downs, total yards, and time of possession, but those turnovers and inability to turn promising drives into touchdowns were simply too much to overcome. It's those miscues mentioned above that contributed to the opening loss and will need to be corrected if they want to be considered a contender in the AFC East this season.
With 3:35 left in the fourth quarter, Miami clinging to a 17-16 lead, and New England knocking on the door of the end zone following a Jonathan Jones interception, Harris took a first-and-10 carry up the right side of the field and was stripped by Dolphins corner Xavien Howard, who also recovered the fumble. The turnover came inside the 10-yard line and effectively handed the game back to Miami, who was able to run out the clock. That fumble spoils a strong start to the season for Harris, who had 117 yards from scrimmage in the opener.
Play of the game
Parker's 30-yard catch is certainly worthy of this honor, but you also have to love the effort from Patriots corner Jalen Mills to prevent a Dolphins touchdown. He was originally beat and turned around by Dolphins receiver Albert Wilson but was able to recover and showed off his athleticism by leaping to bat the pass away. That contributed to Miami settling for a field goal heading into the halftime locker room.
From here, the Dolphins will return to Miami and await the defending AFC East champion Buffalo Bills, who are coming off a Week 1 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers. As for New England, it will go on the road for the first time this season and take on the New York Jets at MetLife Stadium.
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