MIAMI -- On a day when Miami Dolphins wide receiver Tyreek Hill caught 11 passes for 215 yards and two touchdowns, any other receiving stat line might look pedestrian. But that doesn’t mean Jaylen Waddle's impact on the Dolphins' 36-34 win over the Los Angeles Chargers in Week 1 was insignificant.
The third-year receiver had 78 yards and four catches on five targets, which seems like a quiet day considering his first catch went for 35 yards on the third play of the game. But Waddle's teammates and coaches insist his presence was felt even as Hill turned in his best day as a Dolphin.
"What helps [Hill] is the other guy, the guy we have on the other side, Jaylen Waddle," quarterback Tua Tagovailoa said. "Although Jaylen didn’t get as much burn as Tyreek, it just tells you about the competitive nature for both of them, and it tells you the great teammates that both of them are. Jaylen was super excited when Tyreek caught his first touchdown, and when Tyreek led us down there for that final drive.
"It’s a team sport. We’re very excited to have the guys that we have on our team."
Sunday marked Waddle's first live-game action since Miami lost to the Buffalo Bills in the AFC wild-card round on Jan. 15. He missed all three preseason games after sustaining an oblique injury during a joint practice with the Atlanta Falcons on Aug. 9.
He still managed to play 43 of the team's 64 offensive snaps, although Dolphins coach Mike McDaniel said he wasn't quite at 100%.
“He was fine. He wanted to go in more," McDaniel said. "He was straining through some pain, but it was nothing that he couldn’t play with.
“He’ll continue to get treatment and be tough. I don’t see it as an issue moving forward.”
Waddle's 35-yard reception in the first quarter put the Dolphins in the red zone. But his most impactful moments indirectly set up three of their biggest plays of the game.
Late in the second quarter, Miami got the ball back with nine seconds remaining in the half. Waddle immediately broke free for a 22-yard catch, managing to run out of bounds to stop the clock with two seconds left.
Waddle earned his fifth career tackle when Tagovailoa was intercepted by J.C. Jackson midway through the third quarter. Jackson inexplicably advanced the ball after picking it off 5 yards deep into his own end zone, but Waddle chased him down quickly and pushed him out at the 4-yard line.
Miami forced a three-and-out and scored on its first play of the ensuing possession -- a 35-yard go-route to Hill -- to retake the lead.
"Those are things that are not easy to do. It was my favorite because it was more of a team moment," McDaniel said. "The Chargers got the ball on the 4-yard line because they intercepted it, and Waddle and [Salvon Ahmed] didn’t stop playing and got a tackle.
"That throw culminated a team effort that is very, very important playing off each other in the various phases that are important to winning close games like that.”
Waddle was also the first read on Tagovailoa's 47-yard pass to Hill on third-and-10 on Miami's go-ahead drive -- but he slipped on his in-breaking route. Ironically, Waddle's slip forced Tagovailoa to progress through his reads and find Hill open.
"My read was to read it inside out, down to the back, and that’s basically what I did," Tagovailoa said. "I read the spin, it was unfortunate that Jaylen fell, but very fortunate that he fell, because we were able to step up in the pocket and find Tyreek down the sideline.”
As the Dolphins prepare for an AFC East matchup with the New England Patriots on Sunday (8:20 p.m. E.T., NBC), Waddle will have an opportunity to take advantage of the extra attention Hill will likely receive. Waddle has scored a TD in three of his four career games against the Patriots [Hill has scored five in six], although it won't be easy against a defense that allowed just 170 passing yards to the Philadelphia Eagles last week.
“Well, New England’s a different defense, and they got us last year at the end of the year," Dolphins receiver River Cracraft said. "We’ve got to come in with a new mindset that we’re going to attack them, and we’re going to bring the fight to them.
“I think that’s what’s important, starting in our room with the guys that we have. The leadership with Tyreek and Jaylen, those guys are hard to stop, and when you have good compliments off that, it’s good ball.”