The first-quarter pass from Miami quarterback Josh Rosen went right off the hands of tight end Mike Gesicki and into the waiting arms of Dolphins receiver Preston Williams for a 25-yard gain, converting a key third-down play.
The Immaculate Reception, it wasn’t, but when Rosen tossed a perfectly thrown tear-drop of a 34-yard touchdown pass to DeVante Parker just three plays later to give winless Miami its first lead of the season, the Chargers couldn’t help but wonder if fortune might be favoring the home team in Hard Rock Stadium.
“Yeah, I mean, there’s always that thought,” Chargers defensive end Joey Bosa said, when asked if the tipped pass-play gave him a bit of a sinking feeling. “But what I’ve been doing this year is taking every play as it comes and focusing on the moment and not letting anything else affect that.”
The Chargers defense recovered from the early blow and a wobbly first half to find its footing and its knockout punch in the second half of a 30-10 win over the Dolphins, swarming Rosen with relentless pressure and limiting Miami to 36 yards in the final two quarters.
Slot cornerback Desmond King, who was burned by a double-move on Parker’s first-quarter touchdown, had two of his 2½ sacks in the second half, and the Chargers had five sacks in all after accumulating only four in their first three games.
“We knew putting pressure on was eventually going to work out,” King said on rushing Rosen. “That was our goal in the second half, to put some pressure in his face, force him to make some bad passes, and if we can get the sack, get the sack.”
Rosen, the former Bellflower St. John Bosco High School and UCLA standout, completed 12 of 16 passes for 159 yards and a touchdown in the first half.
Facing a stronger push from the Chargers defensive line and several safety and corner blitzes, Rosen completed five of eight passes for 21 yards in the second half, and was picked off by cornerback Michael Davis in the fourth quarter.
“I definitely made a couple of pretty significant errors in the second half,” Rosen said. “They started to heat up the pressure a little bit, and I started to miss a couple [of passes].”
With the Chargers leading 17-10, linebacker Denzel Perryman and rookie defensive tackle Jerry Tillery each made big plays on the opening drive of the second half.
Perryman stuffed Mark Walton for a two-yard loss on second down. Tillery then sniffed out a screen pass by aborting his rush and dropping into coverage so Rosen couldn’t dump a pass to his back. Rosen scrambled right and was dragged down by Tillery and linebacker Thomas Davis for a two-yard loss.
The Dolphins were forced to punt, and the Chargers drove 66 yards on 16 plays for a Ty Long 45-yard field goal that gave them a 20-10 lead with 1:22 left in the third quarter.
“That’s what we’re trained to do,” Tillery said of his defense of the screen pass. “When you get certain sets from the linemen, from the quarterback, we’re supposed to react to that and make the play.”
Rosen was flushed out of the pocket on a third-and-12 play late in the third, and King dragged him down for a five-yard loss to the Miami one-yard line, forcing the Dolphins to punt from their end zone. Davis’ first career interception early in the fourth sealed the victory.
Miami had 233 total yards in the first half, but the Dolphins were held scoreless in the second half for their fourth straight game. They have been outscored 81-0 in the second half.
“Today was about us, not about who we were playing, because the last two weeks, we weren’t really finishing games like we wanted to,” Tillery said. “We wanted to finish this one. To throw up a zero in the second half is huge. If you shut a team out in the second half you have a pretty good shot of winning.”
The Chargers lost defensive end Melvin Ingram to a hamstring injury in the second quarter, and Perryman left to be checked for a concussion in the third, but Uchenna Nwosu filled in on the edge with three tackles, one for a loss, and rookie Drue Tranquill helped fill Perryman’s void at linebacker with two tackles.
“They were definitely getting way too many yards in the first half, but we settled down, came out in the second half and finished finally,” Bosa said. “Guys stepped up. I’m just so happy with everybody.”