MIAMI, Nov. 2 (UPI) — A dominant defense carried Tua Tagovailoa to a win in his first start, but Miami Dolphins coach Brian Flores predicts the rookie quarterback soon will be the one to lift teammates to victories.
Tagovailoa completed just 54% of his throws for 93 yards and a touchdown in the Dolphins’ Week 8 win over the Los Angeles Rams on Sunday in Miami Gardens, Fla. He also was sacked and lost a fumble on his first drop back of the game.
“I said to the defense: ‘We’ve got to pick him up,'” Flores said. “I said to the kicking game: ‘We’ve got to pick him up.’ That’s team football.
“I don’t know how many different ways I can say this: It’s a team game. We’re going to pick each other up. Tua is going to pick us up at some point. We just need to stay with that. We encourage him, but we encourage everyone. We try to pick each other up.”
The Dolphins dialed up a conservative offensive game plan against the Rams, who entered the game with the best defense in the NFC — in terms of points allowed.
The result: Tagovailoa averaged just 7.75 yards per completion and the Rams topped the Dolphins 436 to 139 in total yards, but still won due to four Rams turnovers and touchdowns from a fumble recovery and punt return.
“[Tagovailoa] was getting the ball out fast, and I just think that he just controlled the game,” said Rams defensive end Michael Brockers, who sacked Tagovailoa on his initial drop back.
“He did what he had to do and that was pretty much it.”
Tagovailoa’s teammates were in his ear constantly on the sidelines, which relieved some pressure from his NFL debut in front of the limited crowd of 12,397 at Hard Rock Stadium.
“I was kind of telling the guys, ‘Hey, that’s my fault. We’ll get it the next series.’ … We tried to kind of fix up what we were trying to do on offense,” Tagovailoa said.
Fitzpatrick mentors Tua
Dolphins quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick — even when on the sideline — was alongside Tagovailoa for every snap from a mental standpoint. He helped coach the rookie during the team’s Week 7 bye. Tagovailoa spent every day of the off week — other than Sunday — at the team facility to prepare for his debut.
Fitzpatrick said he was heartbroken two weeks ago when the Dolphins announced Tagovailoa’s promotion, which demoted the Dolphins’ former starter to the bench. The move hasn’t destroyed team chemistry, though, and has appeared to strengthen the team’s young core.
“I think our guys showed a lot of mental toughness this week, with the quarterback change and a lot of other things going on basically aside from football,” Flores said.
Fitzpatrick and Tagovailoa ran out of the tunnel together before they chatted in pregame warmups. Fitzpatrick tutored Tagovailoa to determine how to dissect the Rams’ defense.
“I know how difficult it is to play the quarterback position and I know that that room is so important to the guy that’s playing in terms of everybody having his back and pulling in the same direction,” Fitzpatrick said after he was benched.
The 16-year veteran sported a giant smile and was the first person to hug Tagovailoa on the sideline after he threw the first touchdown pass of his career — a 3-yard strike to DeVante Parker at the end of the first quarter.
While Tagovailoa’s statistics weren’t great, he is now the only quarterback from the 2020 NFL Draft class to start for a team with a winning record (4-3).
Tua vs. draft class
Tagovailoa — the No. 5 overall pick in the 2020 NFL Draft — made his first appearance in the Dolphins’ Week 6 win over the New York Jets. He entered the game in the fourth quarter and completed just two passes.
On Sunday, he became the third quarterback from the draft class to start. Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow — the No. 1 overall pick — has started all eight games this season.
Burrow completed 23 of 36 passes for 193 yards and an interception in his Sept. 13 debut, a 16-13 loss to the Los Angeles Chargers. He failed to throw a passing touchdown, but had a rushing score in the loss.
Justin Herbert — the No. 6 overall pick — has started six games for the Chargers. He had the best debut so far out of the draft class. Herbert completed 22 of 33 passes for 311 yards, one score and an interception in a Sept. 20 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs. Herbert also had a rushing score.
Tagovailoa’s subpar debut also came against a tougher defense than the units faced by Burrow and Herbert. The Alabama product should — as Flores predicted — “pick up” his teammates when the Dolphins battle a more porous defense.
Tagovailoa will start his first road game in Week 9 when the Dolphins face the Arizona Cardinals at 4:25 p.m. EST Sunday in Glendale, Ariz. He’ll battle Herbert’s Chargers in Week 10 and Burrow’s Bengals in Week 13.