Dolphins nip Cowboys on last-second field goal, secure playoff spot
MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. (AP) — Jason Sanders had waited all season for this moment. On a Miami Dolphins team that scores more touchdowns than any other in the NFL, the former All-Pro kicker hadn't needed to attempt many field goals.
Sanders entered Sunday's matchup against the Dallas Cowboys with just 21 field goal attempts on the year, but Miami needed his booming right leg in its biggest game of the season, and he delivered.
Sanders kicked his fifth field goal of the day, a 29-yarder as time expired, and the Dolphins secured a playoff berth with a 22-20 victory over the Cowboys.
“Not every year can be an All-Pro year,” said Sanders, who is 22 of 26 on field goals and 5 of 7 from 50-plus yards. “I think I'm still hitting the kicks. I'm still right where I need to be.”
Tua Tagovailoa threw for 293 yards and a touchdown for the AFC East-leading Dolphins (11-4), who beat a team with a winning record for the first time this season. He connected with Tyreek Hill twice on the decisive drive, which covered 64 yards and took the final 3:27 off the clock.
Hill, who leads the NFL in receiving yards, had nine catches for 99 yards after missing last week’s victory over the New York Jets with an ankle injury.
Miami has the NFL's top passing and scoring offense, as well as a top-five rushing attack and an ascending defense. However, all the Dolphins' wins entering Week 16 came against teams that were .500 or worse.
“It’s always big when you do something that, internally, you know that you’re capable of,” Dolphins coach Mike McDaniel said. “When it comes to fruition, it's pretty satisfying. ... Nobody on this team thought we were going to lose that game, and that's pretty cool when everyone tells you that you can't do X, Y or Z.”
Dak Prescott went 20 of 32 for 253 yards and two touchdowns for the Cowboys (10-5), who have already clinched a playoff spot but fell a half-game behind Philadelphia in the NFC East.
Prescott put Dallas in front 20-19 with an 8-yard touchdown pass to a leaping Brandin Cooks in the corner of the end zone. But the Cowboys were haunted by their red-zone struggles earlier in the game, including a fumble by Prescott on first-and-goal from inside the 1 on Dallas’ first possession.
“We’re not taking any moral victories from this,” Prescott said. “We will take some confidence. We’re committed to one another and holding each other accountable in our goal.”
Sanders’ first field goal was a career-long 57-yarder in the first quarter. He added kicks of 52, 54 and 35 yards to help the Dolphins take a 19-10 lead late in the third.
Dallas got back into the red zone early in the fourth quarter, but Miami’s defense held and the Cowboys settled for a field goal to get within 19-13.
After Miami safety DeShon Elliott was flagged for defensive holding in the end zone on fourth-and-goal, Prescott got the ball to Cooks, who hauled in the ball over over All-Pro cornerback Jalen Ramsey.
CeeDee Lamb caught six passes for 118 yards for the Cowboys, including a 49-yard score in the first quarter.
Raheem Mostert scored his NFL-leading 21st touchdown of the season on a grab from Tagovailoa just before halftime. The 31-year-old, who was undrafted out of Purdue in 2015 and bounced around the league earlier in his career, had 46 yards rushing Sunday to put him over 1,000 yards for the first time in his career. He's the Dolphins' first 1,000-yard rusher since Jay Ajayi in 2016.
Miami defensive coordinator Vic Fangio opted to not have Ramsey shadow Lamb, and it initially looked like the dynamic fourth-year receiver would make him pay for it. Lamb torched the rest of Miami’s secondary early for 93 yards on four catches in the first quarter.
Prescott hit Lamb on a crossing route that went 22 yards on the Cowboys’ second possession. A few plays later, Lamb beat second-year cornerback Kader Kohou in the slot for a catch-and-run touchdown that put Dallas ahead 7-3.
After giving up more than 150 yards on Dallas’ first two drives, Miami’s defense settled in. Fangio dialed up more pressures, and it worked. The Dolphins sacked Prescott four times, which gave them a franchise-best 50 on the season and forced four straight Cowboys punts.
“It’s just finally good to get over that hump of the narrative and changing the narrative to be what we want it to be,” linebacker Bradley Chubb said, “and it’s just been dope to see this team come together, not worry about the outsiders, the naysayers and just do what we do and prepare like we’re a championship team each and every week.”
Dolphins: WR Robbie Chosen left in the first quarter to be evaluated for a concussion and did not return. ... WR Jaylen Waddle left briefly after being poked in the eye in the second quarter. He returned, but then limped off the field after a tackle in the third quarter. He was ruled out with a shin injury.
Cowboys: Host Detroit on Saturday night.
Dolphins: At Baltimore next Sunday.
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