Chris Perkins: Dolphins’ defense making winning plays, having fun and keeping big picture in mind

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After all the Miami Dolphins’ defensive excitement of the day — stopping the Buffalo Bills at the Dolphins’ 2-yard line with 2:36 remaining while clinging to a 21-17 lead, stopping the Bills again in the fourth quarter, this time while clinging to a 21-19 lead in the final 1:25, and getting a strip-sack that led to a Dolphins touchdown that tied the game at 7 — veteran defensive tackle John Jenkins hoped one message came through loud and clear after the Dolphins’ emotional 21-19 victory over Buffalo.

“I feel like we’re having fun,” he said. “I hope everybody can see that.”

We can see that. We can also see this defense is good, really good.

But they’re nowhere close to making the type of statement they want to make this season.

“We’ve got big goals this year,” defensive end Emmanuel Ogbah said.

Buffalo entered Sunday’s game averaging 36 points. It finished with 17 fewer than its average.

Credit the Dolphins’ game-changing defense.

But Jenkins’ sentiment went deeper when he spoke of the defense having fun. The Dolphins’ defensive fun stems from being effective players, a close-knit unit, and a group that lives in some weird utopian society. He continued.

“I hope everybody can see no man is bigger than the other,” Jenkins said. “Everybody, when their name and number is called, will respond. We’re interchangeable.”

It’s a crazy contention, almost illogical, but through three games Jenkins might be right.

This Dolphins defense is good, it’s deep, and people do their jobs with the utmost professionalism.

Consider the fourth-quarter goal-line stand.

Buffalo (2-1), trailing, 21-17 with 3:14 remaining, had five shots from the Dolphins’ 6-yard line or closer — one from the 6-yard line, three from the 2-yard line, and one from the 1-yard line — and couldn’t punch it in for the go-ahead touchdown.

The Dolphins (3-0) had defenders at all three levels — defensive line, linebacker and secondary — make plays during yet another gutsy goal-line stand (remember Baltimore?).

This Dolphins defense makes plays and has fun, and they don’t care what outsiders think of their performances.

“We weren’t trying to listen to the outside noise,” cornerback Nik Needham said. “They were the big, bad Bills. And putting up a lot of points. We were trying to lock in as a unit. We weren’t worried about them, just worried about ourselves.”

Granted, convincing someone that Needham can make plays just as well as All Pro cornerback Xavien Howard is tough, almost impossible. It stretches the boundaries of NFL reality. But look at the evidence.

While Howard was shadowing Stefon Diggs, Buffalo’s All Pro wide receiver, Needham and his fellow defensive backs (Kader Kohou, Eric Rowe, Keion Crossen, Jevon Holland and Brandon Jones) were holding Buffalo’s other receivers in check, and that’s not easy when strapping quarterback Josh Allen is back there slinging the ball all over the yard.

Buffalo ran an exhausting 90 plays offensively, which means the Dolphins defense was on that hot, humid Hard Rock Stadium field for 90 plays. The time of possession edge was in the Bills’ favor, 40:40 to 19:20.

No worries.

While Allen finished 42 of 63 for 400 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions, the Bills only scored two touchdowns, both coming in the first half. Diggs (seven receptions, 74 yards) was largely kept in check as were his wide receiver buddies Isaiah McKenzie (seven receptions, 76 yards, one touchdown), Gabe Davis (three receptions, 37 yards). Running back Devin Singletary was Buffalo’s leading receiver with seven receptions for 78 yards.

The Dolphins defense punished Allen, recording four sacks and 10 quarterback hits.

And, yeah, Buffalo rushed for 115 yards on 23 carries, averaging 5.0 yards per carry, but the Bills couldn’t punch it in when it counted, in the fourth quarter, which brings us back to Jenkins’ point.

The Dolphins defense makes plays.

In fact, lots of Dolphins defenders make plays.

Linebacker Jerome Baker (13 tackles, half a sack) and safety Holland (10 tackles, 1.5 sacks, two passes defended) led the way statistically. But safety Jones (nine tackles) and linebacker Elandon Roberts (eight tackles) weren’t far behind. And Howard (six tackles), Needham (five tackles), rookie Kohou (five tackles) and linebacker Duke Riley (five tackles) were right behind them.

Linebacker Melvin Ingram had three tackles, two of them sacks. He also had a recovered fumble. Ogbah had four quarterback hits.

This trend of everyone making a contribution has been going on all season whether it’s a turnover, goal-line stand, third-down stop, first-down tackle for a loss, whatever. And it’ll probably keep going.

The defense doesn’t have a big head. They don’t consider themselves a No. 1 defense or anything of that sort.

“You can’t think that,” Needham said. “In the NFL it’s any given Sunday. We’ve got to lock back in.”

They must also keep having fun, and stay focused on the big picture, which isn’t just beating Buffalo.

“It’s big for us,” Ogbah said of the victory, “but we’ve got bigger goals. This is just a stepping stone.”

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