LANDOVER, Md. — The Dolphins were well aware of how the final month of last year’s regular season played out. A string of five straight losses turned an 8-3 start into a nerve-wracking finish, needing a win — and help — in the regular-season finale just to sneak into the playoffs.
Days before Miami embarked on this year’s December slate in search of redemption, coach Mike McDaniel foretold a more calloused team ready for the stretch run of the season.
The Dolphins ensured that December 2023 wouldn’t begin similarly as the previous year, though, with a 45-15 road win against the Washington Commanders that gives Miami its first 9-3 start since 2001.
The victory also increases the Dolphins’ lead in the AFC East to three games as the team inches closer to its first division title since 2008.
Facing a reeling Commanders defense that recently fired its defensive coordinator and defensive backs coach, the Dolphins’ instant-offense connection between quarterback Tua Tagovailoa and wide receiver Tyreek Hill continued in the rout.
Tagovailoa completed 18 of 24 passes for 280 yards and two touchdowns, both to Hill. The first, a 78-yard score on the offense’s third play from scrimmage, gave Miami an early 7-0 lead in the first quarter. The second, a 60-yard pass, gave the Dolphins a 24-7 lead in the second quarter.
Hill caught five passes for 157 yards and his two touchdown catches give him a league-leading 13 this season.
Miami’s defense forced punts on the Commanders’ first three drives, sacked quarterback Sam Howell () times and scored after outside linebacker Andrew Van Ginkel stepped in front of a Howell screen pass and returned it 32 yards for a touchdown, giving Miami a 17-9 lead with 55 seconds left in the first quarter.
The Dolphins led 17-0 at halftime and 31-7 at halftime before pulling Tagovaila for backup Mike White with 9:47 remaining in the game.
Running back De’Von Achane, returning to the lineup after aggravating a knee injury, had a game-high 72 rushing yards and two touchdowns, while fellow back Raheem Mostert’s 2-yard touchdown run was his league-leading 14th rushing score and gave Miami a 24-point lead shortly before halftime.
Injuries continued to take a toll, though, for a Dolphins team that has entrenched itself as one of the AFC’s best teams. Inside linebacker Jerome Baker (knee) and offensive lineman Terron Armstead (ankle) and Robert Hunt (hamstring) all left Sunday’s game with injuries and did not return.
Baker was quickly ruled out after safety Brandon Jones collided with his knee while trying to make a tackle.
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