Tua Tagovailoa threw his first career touchdown pass and then let his teammates take over with a succession of big plays, and the Miami Dolphins stamped themselves as playoff contenders Sunday by earning their third consecutive win, 28-17 against the Los Angeles Rams.
The Dolphins struck for scores 75 seconds apart on Andrew Van Ginkel’s 78-yard fumble return and Jakeem Grant’s team-record 88-yard punt return. They came up with four takeaways in the first half and at halftime led 28-10 despite being outgained 224-54.
The big plays helped Tagovailoa overcome a costly early turnover in his first NFL start. The No. 5 overall pick in this year’s draft finished 12 of 22 for 93 yards.
Los Angeles’ Jared Goff went 35 for 61 for 355 yards and one score with two interceptions and two lost fumbles.
The Rams ran 92 plays to the Dolphins’ 48, and Miami won while totaling eight first downs and 145 yards.
The Dolphins (4-3) have outscored opponents by a combined 95-34 in the past three games, and they’re above .500 for the first time in their 23 games under second-year coach Brian Flores.
The Rams (5-3) did manage to give Tagovailoa a jarring NFL welcome. The first time the rookie tried to throw, the ball came loose when his arm was hit by Aaron Donald, and Tagovailoa was then driven to the turf by Michael Brockers as Leonard Floyd recovered the fumble.
Los Angeles scored a touchdown three plays later for a 7-0 lead.
Then came 28 consecutive points by the Dolphins. Tagovailoa capitalized on their first takeaway by throwing a 3-yard touchdown pass to DeVante Parker. Tagovailoa retrieved the ball as a souvenir and carried it to the sideline, where the former Alabama star entertained teammates with a celebratory dance.
The Rams were threatening when Emmanuel Ogbah forced a fumble by sacking Goff. Van Ginkel scooped the ball up with nothing but open field in front of him and sprinted the distance to give Miami a 14-7 lead.
Barely a minute later, Grant sprinted through a seam in the Rams’ punt coverage for his fifth career return TD, and his third punt return for a score, both franchise records. Tagovailoa greeted the 5-foot-6 Grant on the sideline with a leaping chest bump to the face mask.
Shaq Lawson’s strip-sack of Goff and Kyle Van Noy’s return gave the Dolphins the ball at the 1, and they scored on the next play for a 28-7 lead. It was a stunning sequence for the Rams, who had just eight turnovers in their first seven games and trailed for less than 54 minutes previously all season.
Two-time Rams Pro Bowl cornerback Jalen Ramsey became ill before the game and didn’t play. His replacement, David Long Jr., was beaten by Parker for Miami’s first touchdown.
Fifteen Rams players knelt during “The Star-Spangled Banner.” The Dolphins stayed in the locker room during the national anthem.
The Dolphins next Sunday make their first visit to Arizona since 2012.
The Rams have a bye before playing at Seattle on Nov. 15. The teams split last year’s series.