Dolphins keep playoff hopes alive behind season-best rushing attack

MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. -- What a time for the Miami Dolphins' rushing attack to come alive. Down their top three receivers and top running back because of injuries and COVID-19, the Dolphins rushed for a season-high 250 yards, averaging 6.0 yards per carry on their way to a 22-12 win against the New England Patriots in their final home game of the season.

The Dolphins (9-5), firmly in the thick of a tight AFC playoff race, toughed out an important win for their own destiny and officially eliminated the rival Patriots from the playoffs. Per ESPN's Football power Index (FPI), the Dolphins have a 43% chance to make the playoffs. To keep it simple, Miami is in the postseason if it wins its next two games (at the Las Vegas Raiders and at the AFC East champion Buffalo Bills).

It was maybe the Dolphins' most maligned group that came up the biggest. Running back Salvon Ahmed, who missed the past three games with a shoulder injury, became the first Dolphins player to rush for 100-plus yards since December 2018 (Kalen Ballage). Ahmed's big day broke a 31-game streak without a 100-yard rusher for the Dolphins, which was the NFL's longest active streak headed into Sunday's game.

It was an extremely effective two-headed running attack with Ahmed (122 yards) and Matt Breida (86 yards) combining for 208 rushing yards. The Dolphins' 250 rushing yards Sunday was the fourth most vs. the Bill Belichick-coached Patriots and the most since the Broncos in 2013. It's Miami's most rushing yards since 2016 at Buffalo. The definition of a ground-and-pound victory.

Promising trend: The Dolphins now have a takeaway in 20 straight games, extending the NFL's longest active streak. Xavien Howard didn't get an interception for his sixth consecutive game, but the NFL Defensive Player of the Year contender forced a fumble on wide receiver Jakobi Meyers that set up the Dolphins in great field position.

The Dolphins' defense continues to be the strongest point of this young team.

QB breakdown: It wasn't a sexy passing day for Tua Tagovailoa, who threw for 145 yards, no touchdowns and an interception. But he found ways to make key situational plays in a winning effort for Miami, which is what good quarterbacks do. Tagovailoa also became the first rookie starting QB to beat the Patriots since Geno Smith (New York Jets) in 2013, ending New England's streak of nine straight wins against rookie starting QBs. That was tied for the sixth-longest streak in the Super Bowl era, according to Elias Sports Bureau.

Sunday, it was Tagovailoa's legs that did the damage. In the third quarter, he pulled out some shake-and-bake moves on a scramble for a touchdown. On third-and-goal, he juked one defender then dragged another with him into the end zone. It was the sort of gutsy play you want to see from your franchise quarterback.

Buy/sell on a breakout performance: I'm buying the Dolphins' run-game revival to an extent. Miami came into the game averaging a NFL-low 3.6 yards per carry, but I'm buying Ahmed's return being the spark needed to get this unit better. Ahmed has shown the best big-play production of any Dolphins back this season, and he did it again with a 31-yard rush Sunday. With Myles Gaskin expected to return next week, the Dolphins finally have their best two running backs healthy again.