‘Shame on Me If I Just Mailed It In:’ Miami Dolphins’ Mike McDaniel Explains His Big Week 1 Gamble

Mike McDaniel, mad genius? He certainly played part late in the first half of the Miami Dolphins' win over the Los Angeles Chargers.

MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. — Sunday’s Week 2 showdown between the Miami Dolphins and New England Patriots is a matchup between the NFL’s second-oldest and fifth-youngest coaches.

But despite their big gap in age, Mike McDaniel and Bill Belichick are in some ways a lot alike. Namely, they zig where others zag.

Both are unafraid to make bold decisions that expose them to the glare of scrutiny should they fail. And to be sure, they sometimes do. Belichick spent the offseason climbing out of the hole dug by his unconventional choice in offensive coordinators (Matt Patricia) in 2022.

So far, McDaniel has made the right call on his big swings (his poor record with coach’s challenges notwithstanding).

And he likely would be 0-1 instead of 1-0 if not for two big rolls of the dice Sunday against the Los Angeles Chargers.

Mike McDaniel, the Miami Dolphins’ Gambler

Both of McDaniel’s calculated risks came late in the first half.

He successfully went for it on fourth-and-7 from the Chargers’ 42 with just over three minutes left in the first half, trusting that Tua Tagovailoa would make a play.

Miami’s MVP candidate did, completing a 10-yard ball to Durham Smythe that eventually led to a Miami touchdown.

But that was tame compared to his big gamble that led to a score that the Dolphins would not have won without.

The Chargers kicked a field goal with nine seconds left in the half to tie the game at 17-17. The probably should have squibbed the ensuing kickoff to drain the clock, but instead Cameron Dicker boomed it deep for a touchback.

That gave Miami the ball, first-and-10 at the 25, with again, just nine seconds left on the clock.

Since the odds were near-zero that the Dolphins would convert that possession into points — rather, the odds might have been just as good that the Chargers would get points off a Dolphins turnover — most coaches would have taken a knee and gone into the break.

Not McDaniel.

Instead, he let Tagovailoa and Miami’s playmakers try to make something happen. It was a stroke of genius — aided by a stroke of foolishness.

Tagovailoa first completed an intermediate pass to Jaylen Waddle that went for 22 yards, putting the Dolphins first-and-10 at their own 47 with two seconds left. Most then expected a throw to the end zone on the half’s final play.

Instead, Tagovailoa threw a jump ball to Erik Ezukanma at the Chargers’ 23.

The pass fell incomplete, but there was a reason: J.C. Jackson interfered with Ezuknma, giving the Dolphins 30 yards of field position and one more play with no time left on the clock.

Jason Sanders converted that gift into a 41-yard field goal that gave Miami a stolen three points. They ultimately won the game by two.

Why Mike McDaniel Went for It

“I think it’s important that you constantly evolve as a coach and a play-caller,” McDaniel explained Monday . “At that point in time, I thought our guys would block them well enough to pump the ball down the field and see if our playmakers could do something with it.

“There had been a good amount of plays made by the skill positions in the first half so shame on me if I just mailed it in. It was great execution by a lot of people on those plays and a good job by Waddle running fast and getting out of bounds, and then a good job with Erik putting enough stress on the defense that they had to hit him before the ball got there.”

McDaniel told reporters that in addition to working on situational football in practice, he meets every Thursday with the team’s analytics department to walk through scenarios.

The math said the Dolphins could get an explosive play (like Waddle’s) in six or seven seconds, leaving enough time for one more play. Certainly, Jackson’s mistake was the break the Dolphins needed, but fortune on this day did favor the bold.

And when Sanders’ kick went through the uprights, the Dolphins pulled off something McDaniel couldn’t remember witnessing before: Turning a possession that began with a touchback with under 10 seconds on the clock into a field goal.

“If you can’t remember an instance, you might as well create one, right?” McDaniel said. “The players did a great job of executing crucial points. Then on top of that, for us to take advantage of it, means that the field goal team needs to properly do their job.

“Blake [Ferguson] and Jake [Bailey] need to operate and so does Jason. That’s the type of stuff that if you can take advantage of every second and every yard, you have a chance to win. It proved very beneficial for us yesterday.”

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