It’s amazing how far above average quarterback play can get you in the NFL. A lot of these teams trying to crack the hard candy shell of contending — the Broncos, Dolphins, Falcons, Colts — can take leaps with the right QB, and in the Bucs case, win it all.
That’s not going to happen for Miami this year, not even close. However, Tua! The Dolphins have won four in a row over three pretty bad teams and AFC-leading Baltimore. Beating the Texans, Jets, Panthers and Ravens (on a Thursday) isn’t division-altering stuff, but it is closer to the team oddsmakers thought they could be, though you’re still not hitting that over 10.5 bet.
Tagovailoa looks healthy for now, and he’s playing like himself. He’s hitting those timing routes and converting third and shorts. The Dolphins aren’t asking him to do a lot, and that’s probably a good thing considering their run game and offensive line have been pretty bad. They haven’t had a single back break 100 in a game all season and their longest run is 24 yards.
The offensive line, aka the reason Tagovailoa gets hurt in the first place, has trouble protecting as well as opening up holes. If they’re not on schedule on third down, they often go with a pre-punt. A pre-punt is when you run a screen or draw on third and long. Think of it like setting up the kicker on his preferable has by running the ball to the desired direction, only with the pre-punt you’re not so much setting up the punter so he has a better chance of flipping field position, but rather trying to save your quarterback from an injury, turnover or both. It’s kind of hard to push the ball downfield when the play-calling is gutless because the line is useless.
The biggest plays of the season have come the past three weeks, though, and they’ve all come from Tagovailoa. Completions of 57, 65 and 64 may come in an afternoon in Kansas City, but Tua didn’t complete the first 40 yard pass of his career until Halloween, so hitting those long plays is real progress.
The 65-yard touchdown pass against the Jets was legitimately impressive, avoiding the rush to launch it to Mack Hollins behind the defense. The slant that Jalen Waddle turned into 57 yards was probably more emblematic of what a successful Tagovailoa looks like. Waddle was able to get his YAC because the pass hit him in stride to where he seamlessly hit that gear so few guys have.
There was a long out route on a third down and a tight-window third down touchdown in the Jets win those two linked up for that showed the chemistry they had in college may be resurfacing. It’s no Burrow-Chase connection, but Miami clearly didn’t overthink that pick.
The more reps they get together, the better they’ll be, and the more they’re healthy and on the field, the better the Fins will be. Groundbreaking stuff here, folks. I need some stats to back up what I just said, so can I interest you in Tagovailoa’s since taking over for career backup Jacoby Brissett in that Baltimore game? (Also, shout out Brissett, who started and won the first game of the four-game winning streak against the Texans, a team he’ll probably start a couple games for next year.)
He’s 62 for 77 for 661 yards, three touchdowns in the air, one on the ground and one turnover. That’s a completion percentage of over 80. He’ll get chances to extend his hot run at the quarterback table the next two weeks against the New York teams and could get Miami back to .500 after starting 1-7.
I don’t know if this is just one of those late-season pushes against bad teams that makes Vegas believe Miami will be good next year or if this is an indication that they are good and started slow due to injury or whatever. They technically have wins over the two top seeds in the AFC (New England and Baltimore), too, so perhaps they’re just competent enough to crack the shell but not reap any of the chocolate and peanut butter. (I prefer peanut butter M&Ms.)
I’d like to give coach Brian Flores credit for giving Tagovailoa another shot, but it was an injury to Brissett that gave him another opportunity. I feel similarly about management and ownership who only stuck with him because someone finally convinced them that trading for Deshaun Watson and his legal baggage was a terrible idea. Even the defense that’s been good over the past four games doesn’t get the credit because they only had to slow down Tyrod Taylor, Joe Flacco, Cam Newton and Lamar Jackson (on a Thursday).
The only credit here goes to Tagovailoa. He might be good and simply needed time to get healthy, get acclimated and rekindle/build chemistry. He may never reach the gold standard he set at Alabama, and that’s fine because you don’t need to be elite to contend — above average will do.