MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. — After leading the Miami Dolphins on an unlikely turnaround last season, the Dolphins defense needed just one game to show that it might be one of the top units in the AFC East.
With a defensive touchdown, an interception, a forced fumble, the Dolphins defense dominated Sunday's season opener, shutting out the Patriots offense on all but one drive.
"I told the team last night: 'This is still the defense's team until proven otherwise,'" Dolphins coach Mike McDaniel said. "And they valued that. That was important to them when they heard that. They wanted to prove me right, and they sure did."
Tua Tagovailoa passed for 270 yards and a touchdown, and the Dolphins provided an early look at their ability to contend in the division as they beat Bill Belichick and the New England Patriots 20-7.
Facing Belichick in a head coaching debut is never easy. But McDaniel, who was hired as the Dolphins head coach in February, made use of a talented defense and the speedy options he brought in during the offseason to extend Miami's winning streak against the Patriots to four games.
Miami swept the Patriots in 2021, including a win in Foxborough in the season opener.
Second-year receiver Jaylen Waddle scored the Dolphins' first offensive touchdown, taking a fourth-down pass from Tagovailoa into the end zone for a 42-yard score at the end of the first half. Waddle caught four passes for 69 yards.
"I was glad to have him back," McDaniel said of Waddle, who missed the preseason because of a quad injury. "I just wish we could have continued that momentum in the second half, but beggars can't be choosers."
Tyreek Hill, making his Miami Dolphins debut after the team traded for him during the offseason, led Miami's receivers with eight receptions for 94 yards.
"That dude's a cheat code," Tagovailoa said. "It's not easy covering this guy."
In the second quarter, Hill ripped a jump ball away from defensive back Jack Jones, who nearly intercepted the pass from Tagovailoa. Hill, who is 5-foot-10, turned the play into a 26-yard gain.
Patriots second-year quarterback Mac Jones threw for 213 yards with a touchdown and interception. Running back Ty Montgomery caught the Patriots' only touchdown of the game. Damien Harris led New England's rushers with 48 yards on nine carries.
Mac Jones was not available to reporters after the game. He was seen entering an X-Ray room shortly after the game ended. The Patriots then announced that he had a back injury, with no further details immediately offered.
Dolphins safety Jevon Holland made an immediate impact to start what is expected to be a breakout season.
On the Patriots' opening drive, Holland intercepted Jones' pass, which was intended for DeVante Parker, the former Dolphins receiver who was traded to the Patriots. Parker was working one on one against cornerback Xavien Howard, who tipped the pass away from Parker and into Holland’s hands.
The takeaway stifled the Patriots drive in which they converted four first downs to move into Dolphins territory.
Linebacker Melvin Ingram also played his first game as a Dolphin and scored a touchdown in the second quarter. Safety Brandon Jones, on a blitz, got a strip-sack of Jones. Ingram recovered the ball for a touchdown to give the Dolphins a 10-0 lead.
Patriots receiver Jakobi Meyers made a contested catch over Dolphins defensive back Nik Needham for a 9-yard gain in the second quarter. But the Patriots did little else on offense and faced a 17-point deficit at the half.
"We got into their territory," Belichick said. "We got in there six, seven times and it was seven points. So we've got to do a better job of finishing."
The Patriots scored a touchdown on their opening drive of the third quarter after Montgomery caught a pass in the flat from Jones on third-and-6 and rolled into the end zone to make it 17-7.
Miami answered with a 49-yard field goal from Jason Sanders.
The Dolphins’ defense capped its dominant day with a fumble recovery by linebacker Jaelan Phillips with about five minutes left. Rookie defensive back Kader Kohou knocked the ball out of Patriots receiver Nelson Agholor's hands. On the Patriots previous drive, Kohou broke up a pass to force a New England turnover on downs.
"It's a long season," Belichick said. "I don't think it will be decided after this week’s games."