By: Chip Turner
Ryan Fitzpatrick pumped his arms up and down with a huge smile on his face, urging the limited Miami crowd to a full roar as Tua Tagovailoa trotted onto the field. Tua finished mopping up the Jets, and then the two QBs fielded questions about the experience after the game.
Dolphins fans saw a glimpse of the future Sunday afternoon. We thought it was just a teaser, a morsel to whet our football appetites for the payoff down the road, or maybe even next season.
Then yesterday, Brian Flores dropped the bombshell.
It’s Tua Time.
I can’t think of five games I’ve looked forward to more since Dan Marino retired. On Sunday, November 1st, Miami Dolphins fans will watch one of their most eagerly anticipated games in the last 20 years when Tua starts at QB.
But why now? Miami’s won three of their past four games with Fitz at the helm; so the team isn’t exactly struggling. Just two weeks ago after the Dolphins lost to the Seahawks, Flores said of Tua, “As far as him being a starter, we don’t feel he’s ready just yet.”
It seems he was a lot closer to being ready than Flores let on.
So what exactly prompted the change? Is it because of the extra week to prepare a new QB to start? Is it because Flores wants to acclimate Tua as the starter during an upcoming stretch of games that suddenly seems a bit easier than might have been anticipated? Is it because the offensive line looks much better than it did in 2019, and Flores feels comfortable with him taking snaps behind it? Did Fitzpatrick’s play at the end of the Seahawks and Jets games show that he might have taken the offense as far as he can?
The answer, as always, lies somewhere it the midst of the answers to all of those questions. This isn’t a condemnation of Ryan Fitzpatrick. If anything, it’s a credit to him that the team is within a game of first place in the AFC East, because it simply wouldn’t be there without his fearless play and leadership.
As such, and because he did such a good job, Fitzpatrick might be a victim of his own success. The Dolphins are firmly in the mix for the playoffs, with a four-game stretch at the end of the season that’s going to require spectacular QB play if Miami is going to make the postseason. It’s going to require Tua being comfortable under center, making throws that Fitzpatrick simply can’t.
As for Fitzpatrick, he seems perfectly happy to give Tua the keys. Remember, back in September, Fitzpatrick himself said, “There’s a million throws that he makes that I can’t…I feel like I’m really tied into him and the success that he’ll have, whenever that time comes.”
So that time is November 1st, and the next big question isn’t whether or not Tua can play at the NFL level. He’s given every indication that he can; his level of accuracy and anticipation are gifts that simply can’t be taught. The next big question is, “What happens when Tua gets hit? What happens when he has a 300-pound lineman land on him after a pass rush? Will the hip hold up?”
The Dolphins have been saying for weeks that there are no limitations on Tua’s physical activity. During his recovery, every single step of the way, doctors have been effusive with praise about how well everything has gone. There have been no setbacks, no physical concerns, and from all accounts, Tua is completely healthy.
That being said, we’re all going to hold our breath until he gets up and walks off that first hit. That hit is coming, and it always has been. Whether it was going to be Aaron Donald on November 1st, or a rookie next September, it was always coming, so we might as well find out what happens now.
And when Tua gets up, grins, and walks back to the huddle, you can rest assured that Ryan Fitzpatrick will be there on the sideline, laughing and waving his arms up and down, driving the fans into a frenzy.
Please welcome Chip Turner to PhinManiacs and please check him out on Twitter @ChipTurnerPA