By: Chip Turner
Miami Dolphins fans waited two weeks. Tua Tagovailoa was named the starter shortly after the Dolphins shut out the Jets, and much of South Florida worked itself into a lather on a daily basis. Would Tua look as good as Marino in his first start? Are the Rams a good team for him to start against? What happens when he gets hit? What if #1 threw his first touchdown to #11 on 11/1? Would that be a sign of divine intervention?
After analysis came in from every imaginable source, Tua finally made his start at 1:00 on Sunday. The moment we’d all been waiting for since this past April when Tua Tagovailoa was drafted 5th overall had arrived. It was finally Tua time, and we all watched, hoping to see evidence that the next Miami superstar QB was here. Tua was supposed to single-handedly elevate the Dolphins to playoff contender status, and we were all going to be witnesses.
And then…something completely different happened.
What was anticipated as Tua’s coronation as the next big thing in Miami turned into a reminder of one very specific thing; there is no sport more dependent on teamwork than football. The message out of Miami was expected to be “It’s Tua Time!” Instead, the message was one that should be far more concerning to not only the rest of the AFC East, but the NFL as a whole.
“The Miami Dolphins have become a dangerous team much, much faster than expected.”
Tua looked like a rookie QB playing his first meaningful game in a year, going against a very good pass rush and defense. And that’s okay, because that’s exactly what was happening. After an early strip-sack that turned into a Rams touchdown, he looked tentative for the most part. The best description of it was that it looked like he was playing a preseason game. He got hit a few times, he threw a nice-looking TD, and he got his reps in.
But this game wasn’t at all about Tua. This was about the Dolphins playing very good football at almost every other position, particularly on defense. Miami forced four first-half turnovers, and scored on the ground, through the air, on defense and on special teams. What was most impressive was that the Rams thoroughly dominated the game in time of possession and yardage…and the game still wasn’t particularly close.
Brian Flores and Josh Boyer completely out-coached and out-schemed Sean McVay, playing bend-but-don’t-break defense for nearly the entire second half, disguising coverages and blitzes, and frustrating Jared Goff all game.
This wasn’t a team that needed a QB to single-handedly will them to a victory. Instead, this team rallied around its rookie QB and carried him. It’s a team that can beat you with solid defensive play, great special teams play, and most importantly, it won’t beat itself.
And for now, that’s perfectly okay. Tua didn’t look good Sunday, but he didn’t look awful. He threw a few nice passes, a few passes off the mark, and had a couple passes that were flat-out dropped. He was pressured, hurried, sacked, and knocked around. What’s most important is that he took those hits and didn’t seem even remotely bothered by it.
Will Tua have to elevate his game and the Dolphins offense? Most certainly. He was drafted to lead the team to a championship. He didn’t look at all like that player on Sunday. The Rams defense has done that to plenty of QB before, so it shouldn’t be particularly alarming that it made Tua look like a tentative rookie instead of the next coming of Dan Marino.
More tests are coming for Tua, and he’ll have to prove that he belongs in the NFL as a starting QB. This defense won’t force four turnovers every half, and he’s going to have to look a lot more like the Heisman Trophy winner we saw at Alabama and a lot less like the tentative rookie we saw Sunday.
Will he? That remains to be seen, but he’s not going to face a defensive line like the Rams every Sunday. He likely won’t face a test like that for the rest of the season. And when he carries the team in a big game the way the rest of the team carried him yesterday…then it’ll be Tua Time. And we will all be witnesses.
Please welcome Chip Turner to PhinManiacs and please check him out on Twitter @ChipTurnerPA