By TIM REYNOLDS
MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. (AP) — Miami coach Brian Flores got drenched with the orange contents of a Gatorade bucket when time expired. Kool and the Gang’s “Celebration” blared through the stadium’s speakers. Players leaped in the air on their way to a joyous locker room.
The Dolphins are 1-7.
And — for one day, anyway — they can be thrilled about that.
Ryan Fitzpatrick threw three touchdown passes, two of them to rookie Preston Williams, and the Dolphins got their first win of the season by beating former coach Adam Gase and the New York Jets 26-18 on Sunday.
“Hopefully, a lot more to come,” Dolphins owner Stephen Ross said in the locker room before presenting Flores with the game ball after his first victory.
Flores gave his team Monday off. In the NFL, they call that “Victory Monday.” For this team, it was a long time coming.
“Any time you win, it feels good,” said Flores, the Dolphins’ first-year coach. “That’s why we put in all the work.”
The Dolphins avoided what would have been the second 0-8 start in franchise history, joining 2007. The win leaves Cincinnati (0-8) as the NFL’s lone winless team this season, and for now the frontrunners to win the No. 1 pick in the 2020 NFL draft.
Fitzpatrick completed 24 of 36 passes for 288 yards, and led the Dolphins to their highest point total of the season. It was also Miami’s fourth straight win over the Jets — the first three of those coming with Gase being the coach on the winning side.
“I had a lot of pressure on me today because my two boys were here and when we win, I bring my boys into the locker room,” Fitzpatrick said. “So I was tired of the puppy-dog eyes when I was walking off the field for them not being able to come in the locker room. We were going to get them in the dang locker room today.”
The Jets went 11 plays on the first drive of the game for a touchdown and a 7-0 lead, and their highlights were few and far between the rest of the day.
The Jets (1-7) actually fell below Miami in the AFC East standings based on the head-to-head tiebreaker. It was the Dolphins’ first win since the “Miami Miracle” over New England last season — which was followed by three straight losses to end 2018, making this a 10-game losing streak in all.
No miracle was required this time.
New York’s fate was largely sealed with 6:29 left, when a shotgun snap sailed right of quarterback Sam Darnold and wound up bouncing out of the back of the end zone for a safety and a 26-15 Miami lead. The Jets got a field goal with 15 seconds left to close within eight, but Miami recovered the ensuing onside kick and could finally start to celebrate.
“We’re 1-7,” Gase said. “Everybody feels like crap. You don’t put in this much time and effort to come out here and lose.”
Darnold was 27 of 39 for 260 yards and a touchdown to Jamison Crowder. Fitzpatrick’s TD throws to Williams went for 12 and 5 yards, and DeVante Parker caught a 17-yard scoring pass. All three came in the second quarter, as Miami turned the 7-0 deficit into a 21-7 lead.
As would be expected between teams with a combined 1-13 record entering the day, there were moments of ineptitude — the Jets had a 3rd-and-27 in the first half, a couple of plays before the Dolphins faced a 1st-and-18.
But the last minute of the half, which wound up taking nearly 20 minutes in real time, was filled with wackiness.
The Jets appeared to cut Miami’s lead to 21-13 with a PAT pending when Darnold connected with Ryan Griffin for a 2-yard touchdown, one that was overturned after a long review because officials ruled that the tight end didn’t have full control of the ball when he skidded to a stop out of the back of the end zone.
“Better ball would have been a for-sure touchdown,” Darnold said.
Darnold was intercepted by Miami’s Jomal Wiltz on the next play, giving the Dolphins the ball on their own 1. Fitzpatrick appeared to bobble the first-down snap, the play — after another review — became a safety for the Jets, and New York made it 21-12 at the half by turning the ensuing possession into a career-best 52-yard field goal by Sam Ficken.
But the lead stayed Miami’s, the rest of the way. A day off is their reward.
“I don’t know what to do with it,” rookie defensive lineman Christian Wilkins said.
Jets: Ty Montgomery was shaken up in the first quarter as he ran into Dolphins punter Matt Haack. Defensive lineman Steve McLendon injured a shoulder during the second half, and safety Jamal Adams was being evaluated late for a possible head injury.
Dolphins: Williams, the Dolphins’ breakthrough rookie this season, got hurt twice — first his right wrist in the third quarter, and then a knee in the fourth quarter. He returned from the wrist injury quickly, but was taken off the sideline on a cart after the knee injury.
Dolphins tight end Mike Gesicki was targeted six times and made six catches for 95 yards — both of those being career highs.
The Dolphins led for the final 36 minutes, 14 seconds. Entering Sunday, they had led for a total of 3 minutes, 46 seconds in their first four home games of 2019 combined.
At 1-7, the Jets have matched their second-worst start in franchise history. They were 0-8 in 1996 and have been 1-7 on five other occasions, most recently 2014.
Jets: Host the other regular inhabitant of MetLife Stadium, the New York Giants, next Sunday.
Dolphins: Visit Indianapolis next Sunday, playing on the Colts’ field for the second straight year.