For a moment, it looked like a mistake-plagued first half that put the Dolphins behind multiple scores would be forgotten.
Miami’s defense, at full strength for the first time all season, held up against Kansas Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes and the offense found its groove, looking more like the electric unit it has been all season.
However, with the opportunity for a game-tying drive, another miscue sealed the Dolphins’ fate. Center Connor Williams’ shotgun snap on fourth-and-10 from the Kansas City 31 was slightly off-target and quarterback Tua Tagovailoa, unable to corral it with his right hand, could only fall on the ball as the Chiefs celebrated.
The game-ending mistake with one minute remaining left what looked like an improbable comeback short as the Dolphins lost to the Chiefs, 21-14, in Frankfurt, Germany, on Sunday.
The Week 9 game between two teams who entered tied for the best record in the AFC felt bigger than an intraconference matchup at the halfway point of the season. It was played on the international stage — the NFL’s first regular–season game in Frankfurt, Germany. And while a neutral site game, the crowd at Deutsche Bank Park leaned heavily toward Kansas City as the atmosphere had a playoff-type feel.
With a win, Miami would have taken possession of the No. 1 seed in the AFC as it enters its bye week. Instead, the Dolphins (6-3) came up short in another matchup against a contender, leaving more questions about their standing in the conference.
A similar script as road defeats to the Bills and Philadelphia Eagles played out for the Dolphins as they fell behind 21-0 at halftime. Miami’s No. 1 offense looked disjointed, with a mix of penalties, dropped passes and other mishaps contributing to four consecutive punts to start the game. The Dolphins punted or turned the ball over on their first seven possessions.
“At this point, it’s ourselves versus ourselves,” said wide receiver Tyreek Hill, whose second-quarter fumble was returned for a touchdown and put Miami behind by three touchdowns at halftime. “We had a lot of penalties that shot ourselves in the foot.”
Miami was 3 of 12 on third down and didn’t get its first conversion until more than halfway through the third quarter. Tagovailoa’s 6-yard pass to tight end Durham Smythe helped sustain a drive that ended in the Dolphins’ first score of the game, a 31-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Cedrick Wilson Jr.
Momentum slowly began creeping toward the Dolphins as they began to mount their comeback. Outside linebacker Bradley Chubb strip-sacked Mahomes on the following possession and defensive lineman Zach Sieler recovered the ball at the Chiefs’ 27-yard line.
Four plays later, running back Raheem Mostert scored on a 13-yard run to cut the deficit to seven with 22 seconds left in the third quarter.
After what looked like another promising Dolphins drive stalled near midfield, Miami’s defense got another stop, giving the offense the ball back at the 25-yard line with 2:28 left.
Two big gains of 25 and 19 by Mostert put the Dolphins deep in Kansas City territory with more than a minute remaining, but the drive quickly unraveled afterward.
Tagovailoa’s passes to Mostert and wide receiver Jaylen Waddle were incomplete and then he missed an open Wilson downfield for the tying score. Tagovailoa said the pass, which sailed several yards short of Wilson and cornerback Jaylen Watson, was a “miscommunication, and in big-time moments, those things like that can happen. I’ve got to throw a better ball.”
Coach Mike McDaniel, who spoke after Tagovailoa, accepted fault, too.
“There’s a lot that falls squarely on my shoulders,” he said. “They were doing something that we had talked about, and the miscommunication is something that doesn’t happen if I put them in the appropriate situation during the week. Tua didn’t have time to observe. He signaled kind of one route, and that has a conversion, and Cedrick interpreted it as another thing, and that’s just things that when you’re working together as a football team and you have the right effort and mentality from all your players that it’s one hundred percent something that I can control personally.”
As for the botched shotgun exchange, Tagovailoa, who completed 21 of 34 passes for 193 yards and one touchdown, said he should have caught the snap. McDaniel said he wanted to review the film before attributing the mistake to anyone.
Regardless, the final miscues were emblematic of blunders that were present for much of the day. One of the biggest came right before halftime. Miami was driving into Kansas City territory when Hill, playing against his former team for the first time since the 2022 trade, was stripped by cornerback Trent McDuffie. The ball was picked up by safety Mike Edwards, who then lateraled it to safety Byron Cook, who sprinted to the end zone for the 59-yard score.
Miami was also penalized for six penalties, five of which came on offense.
The offense’s struggles were even more glaring on a day when the defense, playing with its entire starting lineup for the first time all season, had one of its best games of the year.
After Mahomes found wide receiver Rashee Rice on an 11-yard screen pass to cap a 75-yard opening touchdown drive, Miami’s defense forced a punt on the next three possessions and held Kansas City scoreless in the second half.
All-Pro tight end Travis Kelce was held to three catches for 14 yards and the Chiefs (7-2) had 267 yards of offense, all season lows.
“Especially after early when they had a couple drives there, I thought we did pretty well, and this is just definitely something to build off of,” defensive lineman Christian Wilkins said. “If we just watch the tape and keep improving each week we can be as good of a defense as we want to be.
Ultimately, though, it wasn’t enough with an offense that once again struggled away from Hard Rock Stadium. Miami’s 292 yards were its second-lowest this season, only trailing the loss to the Eagles.
“It’s our job to come out here and win these games, especially the way that our defense played today,” said Hill, who caught eight passes for 62 yards but also had two drops. “Those guys played tremendous. If we want to say that we’re the No. 1 offense in the league, we’ve got to be able to make plays when it counts.”
As the Dolphins spent their entire week of preparation in Frankfurt, McDaniel and his players didn’t want to make too much of the matchup with the reigning Super Bowl champions. They understood the intrigue but wanted to approach it as if it were any other game.
However, with the return of starting offensive lineman Terron Armstead and Connor Williams, and cornerback Xavien Howard, the Dolphins were at the healthiest they’ve been with an opportunity to sit atop the AFC entering the second half of the season.
After the defeat, they all continued to express confidence in the progression of the team. Wilkins said the Dolphins have the “right formula” and that he wasn’t concerned with any narratives about their lack of wins against teams with winning records.
McDaniel, who earlier in the week foretold the response to a Miami defeat, praised his team’s resiliency but said it was on them to “change the narrative.”
He also said the team could find lessons in the defeat. But as the Dolphins enter their bye week placed neatly at the halfway point of the season, those lessons have yet to culminate in a win that can vanquish the widespread perception of the team.
“We’ve just got to keep finding ways to, like I said, stay in these games and make it close,” Chubb said. “And making it close is not good enough for us anymore, so we’ve just got to find ways to win.”