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Tua, Howard lead Dolphins to 17-16 win over Patriots

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — Xavien Howard was one of the NFL’s best players at causing turnovers in 2020. He was back at it Sunday to help the Dolphins preserve a victory to open this season.

“Every game I feel like I have to make something happen for the team and give the ball to the offense. My mindset was get the ball out,” said Howard, who led the league in interceptions in 2020. “We needed it and it was crucial. So I made it happen.”

Tua Tagovailoa threw a go-ahead touchdown pass to Jaylen Waddle in the third quarter and Howard recovered a Damien Harris fumble with New England driving in the fourth to help the Miami Dolphins hold on for a 17-16 win over the Patriots on Sunday.

It was Miami’s second straight win over the Patriots. Tagovailoa also led the Dolphins to a victory in the second meeting between the teams last season.

Tagovailoa finished 16 of 27 for 202 yards, a touchdown and one interception, and also had a 3-yard TD run to lead a revamped offense that kept the Patriots’ rebuilt defense guessing, mixing in no-huddle and empty backfield formations. DeVante Parker caught four passes for 81 yards.

While the offense had its moments, including going 2 for 2 in the red zone, Tagovailoa said it must be better than 4 of 11 (36 percent) on third downs.

“I think the defense gave us a lot of opportunities and we just gotta make use of those,” said the second-year player from Oahu.

Miami’s win spoiled the debut of New England’s Mac Jones, the first rookie quarterback to start for the Patriots since Drew Bledsoe in 1993. Jones was 29 of 39 for 281 yards and a touchdown. Harris rushed 23 times for 100 yards, but had the costly fumble to end New England’s comeback hopes. New England had four fumbles on the day, losing two.

“Definitely wasn’t good enough, starting with me,” Jones said. “We lost, so it’s not good enough.”

Miami took a 17-10 lead in the third quarter on a 3-yard touchdown from Tagovailoa to Waddle.

The Patriots cut it to 17-13 in the fourth when they ate up more than five minutes of the clock to drive inside the Dolphins 15. But it stalled there and Nick Folk’s third field goal made it 17-16 with 10:36 left.

On their ensuing drive, the Dolphins were facing third-and-7 on their 43 when Tagovailoa was flushed out of the pocket and heaved a pass toward the sideline. The ball was tipped and intercepted by Jonathan Jones, giving the ball back to the Patriots at midfield with just over eight minutes remaining.

New England moved all the way to the Miami 11. But on the next play, a 2-yard run by Harris ended with him losing the ball on a hit by Howard. Howard recovered it and the Dolphins took over on their 9. They were able to run out the clock.

“He’s a great player. We needed a great play there,” Miami coach Brian Flores said.

Tagovailoa completed several deep passes on the Patriots secondary, taking advantage of the absence of cornerback Stephon Gilmore. The 2019 NFL Defensive Player of Year started the season on the physically unable to perform list and will miss at least six games.

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