Youngsters Drake, Howard Spark Dolphins Surge

While Drake has revived an offense that ranked as the NFL's worst for much of the season, Howard has brought playmaking ability to an up-and-down defense

Kenyan Drake is handling his new role as an NFL workhorse just fine, thank you.

The Miami Dolphins' second-year running back totaled 193 yards rushing and receiving on 31 touches Monday night to spearhead a surprising 27-20 victory over New England.

"I feel great," Drake said. "Body always feels great after a win, especially a win against a top-notch opponent such as the Patriots."

Like Drake, cornerback Xavien Howard has been getting his hands on the ball a lot, with two interceptions in each of the past two games. The second-year pros are a big reason for Miami's late-season surge.

After five consecutive losses, the Dolphins (6-7) have won two in a row. They might make the playoffs as a wild-card team if they sweep their final three games, including Sunday at Buffalo.

"We had a little bump in the road midseason," coach Adam Gase said. "We've had two good weeks in a row. All three phases have been playing together. We've been waiting for this to happen. We'll just keep going one at a time and see what happens."

The plan is for both Drake and Howard to continue playing a major role, as they did to help end the Patriots' eight-game winning streak and 14-game road winning streak.

Drake, a third-round draft pick from Southern Cal, had a career-high rushing total for the second game in a row, and his 25 attempts gained 114 yards. He also had five catches for 79 yards. He flashed his speed with runs of 26 and 31 yards, and a 47-yard catch.

"Even when we don't quite block it right, he makes it work," Gase said. "With speed like that, he just gets a little bit of green grass and seems to go a pretty good distance."

Drake's emergence has validated Gase's much-maligned decision to trade 2016 Pro Bowl running back Jay Ajayi at the deadline.

Ajayi surpassed 200 yards rushing in consecutive games last season, but Drake is the better receiver, and with 57 touches in the past two games, he has showed he can handle the workload of a featured back.

"He has flourished in this offense with his ability to catch the ball out of the backfield," said quarterback Jay Cutler, who has played better with Drake in the lineup.

"He breaks tackles in the hole, he cuts back well, he sees it well. He's becoming one of those complete backs that you're able to do a lot with."

While Drake has revived an offense that ranked as the NFL's worst for much of the season, Howard has brought playmaking ability to an up-and-down defense.

The 2016 second-round draft pick from Baylor had the first two interceptions of his career in last week's win over Denver, and added two more against Tom Brady, who has thrown only six all season.

Howard shadowed Brandin Cooks, who leads the Patriots in yards receiving, and held him to one catch.

"X's confidence is really getting up there," Gase said. "He has had two really good games in a row. It's good to see him really feeling it. If we get him one-on-one a lot, that helps us."

Thanks in large part to Howard, Miami has five takeaways in the past two weeks after totaling only eight in the first 11 games. The Dolphins say Howard's play is starting to match what he does in practice.

"You can tell him I said, 'It's about time,'" defensive end Cameron Wake said. "I've been seeing him do amazing things on the field since he got here. I think all that hard work and perseverance and persistence is paying off. I'm definitely happy for him."

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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