Tua just had to manage, the defense did the rest

We’ll have to wait a little while longer for Tua Tagovailoa to hoist this Dolphins team on his shoulders and carry them to a victory.

On Sunday against the Rams, his first start, all he had to do was manage.

The defense and special teams did the rest in a 28-17 victory, the Dolphins’ third in a row and further evidence that this team is a viable playoff contender.

There was no way I thought going in that Tua wouldn’t be the headline of this day. After all, this was his moment, undoubtedly the most anticipated start by a rookie quarterback since Dan Marino came along back in 1983.

But on this day, a Tua-minute drive to win the game was unnecessary. The Dolphins got a short touchdown pass from Tua, a few nice third down conversion passes, and that was about it. The offense was not a thing of beauty and that’s putting the 145-yard total output – yes TOTAL! — as nicely as possible.

But what says volumes about this team is that it didn’t have to be.

Not when the defense forces four turnovers in the first half alone, one of them a fumble that was returned 78 yards for a touchdown by Andrew Van Ginkel. And not when Jakeem Grant decides to take a punt 88 yards for a special teams touchdown.

After the concoction of those accomplishments gave the Dolphins a 28-10 halftime lead, they simply spent the second half playing it safe, refusing to expose Tua to that Rams pass rush and generally deciding to limit what they asked him to do. He had zero runs, for instance.

I understand this line of thinking. You’ve got a nice lead. Let Tua soak in the moment, get his first start out of the way, develop a feel for the speed of the pro game and move forward in baby steps. I’m sure if this game played out differently, we would have seen more. With at least nine more starts in front of him, there’s plenty of time for that.

Clearly the offense has some issues with or without Tua. The running game has been generally anemic. The receivers aren’t getting much separation and the offensive line has been hot and cold. Unleashing Tua will help, but it can only help so much if these other areas don’t show some improvement.

My lasting memory of Tua’s first start will be more about the play of this defense, a defense that seems to be getting better every week and a defense that is rapidly taking on an elite personality. The secondary is outstanding and the pass rush is much improved. In fact, it’s starting to look like some of those defenses Brian Flores coached in New England, and that’s saying plenty.

So Chapter 1 of the Tua Era started off with a win against a quality Rams’ team. That’s encouraging. What’ll be more encouraging is when the Dolphins open up the offense and let Tua take his game to another level.

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