The first chapter of Ian Book's NFL story has been written and it ends with a loss. The Miami Dolphins were able to keep their playoff hopes alive as they extended their winning streak to seven games after taking down the Saints and their rookie quarterback on the road 20-3.
This game was in-hand for Miami pretty early as they were able to pick off Book -- who was starting in his first ever NFL game due to Taysom Hill and Trevor Siemian both landing on the COVID list -- on just his second pass attempt of the night and return it 28 yards for the touchdown. That occurred on New Orleans' opening offensive possession of the evening and found themselves playing from behind ever since. Meanwhile, Miami would continue to tack on to its lead, particularly in the third quarter when they went on an 86-yard touchdown drive that really put away any sort of shot the Saints would have of getting back into this contest.
The Dolphins' defense made life extremely difficult for Book out of the gate by disguising pressure and mixing up coverage by dropping multiple defenders and simply rushing three. When they did go after him, they did so with tremendous success, totaling eight sacks for 54 yards. The 2021 fourth round pick finished completing 12 of his 20 passes for 135 yards and two picks.
As for the Dolphins, Jaylen Waddle continues to be the X factor for the offense. Miami was lining him up all around the field and he saw plenty of work, catching 10 of his 12 targets for 92 yards and a touchdown. Waddle also now only trails Anquan Boldin for the most receptions by a rookie in NFL history, passing Saints star Michael Thomas on Monday night. Meanwhile, Tua Tagovailoa went 19 of 26 passing for 198 yards, a touchdown and an interception.
For more on how this game unfolded, read our takeaways below.
Why the Dolphins won
Miami's defense wasted no time testing Book early. They were able to create a turnover after Book's pass was tipped at the line of scrimmage and eventually picked off by Nik Needham, who took it 28 yards to the house to go up 7-0. Miami had the most tipped passes at the line of scrimmage in the NFL coming into Week 16 and that skill came into play almost instantly. From there, the Dolphins had a firm grasp of this head-to-head and were really able to give the Saints' offense fits. They were also able to contain Alvin Kamara from taking the game over both on the ground and especially as a receiver. He finished with just 59 yards from scrimmage.
Offensively, it wasn't a prolific night by the offense, but it was enough to get the job done against a rookie fourth-string quarterback. Tagovailoa was able to make a couple of clutch throws to keep drives alive and Waddle continues to be budding superstar.
The rookie scored a touchdown in the third quarter that effectively put the game away. Miami had the ball at the New Orleans 1-yard line following a roughing the passer penalty. They put Phillip Lindsay in motion moving around in the backfield, and as Tagovailoa started to roll out to his left along with Lindsay, the quarterback delivered a shovel pass to Waddle, who breezed in for the score.
Given where the Dolphins were on the field, that was likely one of the team's go-to 2-point conversion plays that they were able to deploy for six. It was that type of creativity with Waddle that was on full display and proved to be a key reason why they were able to come away with the seventh straight victory.
According to CBS Sports analyst Stephen Oh's playoff projections, the Dolphins now have a 19.4% chance of making the playoffs, which is up 5% from before the game.
Why the Saints lost
The early pick-6 put New Orleans in an immediate hole and it was simply a tough night moving the ball offensively. Not only were they starting a rookie at quarterback, but they were also down both of their starting tackles in Terron Armstead (knee) and Ryan Ramczyk. That showed at time when the Dolphins sent pressure as Book was sacked a total of eight times. Putting pressure on Book and flushing him out of the pocket was what forced his second interception of the game, which came late in the fourth quarter.
The Saints' offense failed to move the chains for a first down until the 12:14 mark of the second quarter and were extremely poor on third down. They were unable to convert a single one of their 12 opportunities in the game. When you turn in those types of results in-game, it can't be too much of a surprise when you look up at the end of regulation and find yourself on the losing end.
As for where New Orleans stands in the playoff race, Oh's projections have them slipping 9.5% to just a 30.7% chance of reaching the postseason.
There was some momentum that was swung in the direction of the Saints after Marshon Lattimore was able to pick off Tagovailoa around the 12:25 mark of the third quarter. New Orleans was only trailing by a touchdown, so this was an opportunity given to Book and the rest of the offense to knot the game up with a potential touchdown drive. However, the Saints would then proceed to run just five plays that traveled 12 yards before punting the ball back to Miami.
It was at that point, where the Dolphins would go on a back-breaking 86-yard touchdown drive that would extend their lead by two scores, which proved to be too much for New Orleans to overcome.
Play of the game
One of the bigger plays that occurred on that pivotal third quarter scoring drive by the Dolphins was a 40-yard reception by Tagovailoa to receiver Mack Hollins. That came on a third-and-9 from the Miami 15-yard line, so that nearly flipped the field in favor of the Dolphins and kept the drive alive.
That sparked three-straight first-down plays for the Dolphins and just seven plays following Hollins' reception was Waddle's game-breaking touchdown to put Miami up by two scores.
According to Next Gen Stats, the completion probability on that deep shot to Hollins was just 19.6%. It was also the second-longest completion of Tagovailoa's career.
From here, the Dolphins will head to Nashville for a Week 17 matchup against the Tennessee Titans. After that, they'll head back to Miami for a regular-season finale against the New England Patriots. If the Dolphins are able to keep the streak going over that stretch, they'll punch a ticket to the playoffs. As for New Orleans, they'll hang around the Caesars Superdome and await the Carolina Panthers next week before heading on the road to finish up the year with a divisional game against the Atlanta Falcons.