Why the move to start Tua makes perfect sense

Why now?

I say: why not now?

There are many who greeted the news that Tua Tagovailoa will be the Dolphins starting quarterback moving forward with a look of genuine surprise. After all, Ryan Fitzpatrick had led this team to a 3-3 record and had played very well.

But this decision was not about Fitzpatrick. It was all about Tua. He is healthy. He has a good grasp of the offense. He dipped his feet into the pool last Sunday and everything we saw screamed of encouragement.

The timing was right with an off Sunday right in front of us and some quality practice time over the next week or so. It’s never easy telling a player like Fitzpatrick that it’s time to move to the bench. Never easy when he’s a locker room leader and beloved by so many. Never easy when he’s completing 70 percent of his passes. Truth is, I feel terrible for Fitzpatrick because I know how badly he wanted to continue starting.

But it was only a matter of time wasn’t it?  Tua could have sat all season, learning from Fitzpatrick, resting his surgically repaired hip, and generally preparing himself to go full throttle next season.

But I’ve long believed, despite the success Patrick Mahomes had sitting out his rookie season in Kansas City, that the only way to get better is to play. If Tua is the future, he may as well be the present as well.

The timing makes sense all different ways, but what gives me the most comfort moving forward – and I’m sure was a factor in the decision – is that the Dolphins now have a quality offensive line to protect Tua. We didn’t know that when the season began. We do know it now.

What should we expect right away? I’m sure there will be some speed bumps along the way, but this is a special player with an extraordinary skill set coupled with a passion and a level of determination that you just can’t teach. He’s clearly ready for this opportunity. And after winning three of their last four games behind some quality performances from Fitzpatrick, the truth is that this team could only go so far with Fitzpatrick.

With Tua, the possibilities are endless.

I fondly remember Dan Marino’s first start, how the Dolphins lost 38-35 to the Buffalo Bills and how afterward, even after a gut-wrenching defeat, Don Shula was smiling. He was smiling because he knew what he had in Marino and that overshadowed everything else.

I feel the same way about Tua. His growth is paramount to this organization and playing him now will only hasten that process. We think we know what we have in Tua. We believe he’s going to be as good in the pros as was in college and that’s saying a lot.

Now we’re going to start finding out for sure. And I’ve got a feeling after his first performance a week from Sunday against the Rams, we’ll all be smiling as well, just as Shula did back in 1983.

A very sweet victory and a Tua sighting – what a day!

This was what we wanted to see. Complete domination. The Dolphins beating the Jets upside down, winning in about every possible area, and in the process further validating the undeniable truth after a 3-3 start: This team is growing up in a hurry.

The 24-0 victory over the Jets was sweet on so many fronts, but the biggest headline was cemented late into the fourth quarter when Tua’s Time finally arrived, at least for a series that ended with the clock on zero.

Admit it, you were smiling when he trotted on to the field. I know I was.  We finally got to unwrap this prize gift, at least enough to see what’s inside. We saw two completions. We saw nice movement. We saw Ryan Fitzpatrick waving his arms, urging the crowd to roar for Tua. We even saw Tua back on an empty field long after the game was over, still in unform, wanting to facetime his parents right where his first drive ended. This was a moment to always remember, the first of what promises to be many.

But while Tua’s arrival stole the day, it couldn’t remove any of the glitter from what happened in the three hours or so before because anyone who knows this rivalry well will tell you that there’s nothing sweeter than beating the Jets in this manner.

Ironic isn’t it that this was against the same Adam Gase who after his tenure with the Dolphins ended said he didn’t want to be a part of a massive rebuild anyway. Well, we’ve got a newsflash for you, Adam. The Jets need a massive rebuild.

And the Dolphins are about two-thirds of the way through with theirs.

Clearly, they are not a finished product. But what we have seen over this first six-pack of games is an indication that, barring major injuries, this team could be competing for the playoffs well into December.

They’ve got so much you are looking for. Strong up front on both sides. Solid play at quarterback with Fitzpatrick. Two shut down corners in Xavien Howard and Byron Jones. An outstanding kicking game. And a head coach in Bryan Flores who keeps this team hungry.

The Dolphins, meanwhile, have now beaten the 49ers and Jets by a combined score of 67-17. They are doing it on both sides of the ball, but against the Jets I was most impressed with the defense in general and the secondary in particular. I wasn’t sure what to make of this group when the season started. But you’re starting to see fewer mistakes and more impactful plays.

Now with the bye week here there is a chance to take a deep breath, to savor these impressive back-to-back victories and maybe to let your mind wander just a little about what the next chapter of Tua Time will look like.

This is the blueprint we’re looking for from Dolphins

Can they bottle this? That’s what I want to know after watching the Dolphins tear apart the San Francisco 49ers in almost every way imaginable. The final score was 43-17 and the bottom line is that this is the best overall game I’ve seen the Dolphins play, maybe in years.

This is the team I wanted to see a month ago. Crisp on offense. Stingy on defense. Lining up against a formidable opponent on the road and playing with a poise and a purpose that Brian Flores preaches about all the time.

This is the blueprint. A heavy dose of Ryan Fitzpatrick, some big plays by the receivers, even a 70-yard catch and run by tight end Mike Gesicki. On defense, it was just as convincing. Three turnovers, five sacks, so many step-up plays. Even the special teams chipped in with a fake punt and another perfect day from Jason Sanders.

Add it all up and this, for much of these four quarters, was about as efficient and impressive as you can ask for on the fifth Sunday of the season.

So, 2-3 sure looks a lot better than 1-4 right now and with a winless Jets team now scheduled as the next opponent, well, this team has a chance to make things interesting in a hurry. Play the way they did against the 49ers and they will.

We saw signs of this breakout over the first four games. A year ago those games were filled with lopsided defeats. This year there was a victory over the Jaguars and some close losses against some top-tier teams. That was an indicator that things might be different. But only against the 49ers did it all come together, headlined by Fitzpatrick at his absolute best.

This is why Flores is in no rush to play Tua. Look at the two other rookie quarterbacks starting in the league. Joe Burrow had no competition in Cincinnati and Justin Herbert stepped in only when Tyrod Taylor was injured. Tua’s situation is completely different. He has a guy in front of him who can be a difference-maker.

Now I’m still in favor of Tua playing this season. Wouldn’t mind if he got in for a series or two each game. But when Fitzpatrick is playing the way he did against the 49ers, the players in this locker room are smart enough to know who should be starting.

It was an important victory over the 49ers, but its importance will only be heightened if this team can use it as a springboard of sorts, and build off of all those positives, and there were many.

Can they bottle this? Wouldn’t that be nice.

Could Tua provide the spark this team needs?

You can’t settle for field goals instead of touchdowns, even a handful of field goals. You can’t give up a 75-yard drive in 21 seconds at the end of the first half against a team as elite as Seattle. You can’t play well some of the time and expect any more than a 1-3 record after four games.

That was the story of Sunday, an 8-point loss to the Seahawks, and that’s been the story in all three of the losses. The Dolphins have stayed close. Done some good things. Shown some progress.

But when it came time to win the game, it just wasn’t there, certainly not the way it should be.

This team has issues on both sides of the ball, evidenced once again by their performance against the Seahawks. But this team also has more talent than a season ago. Just look at the offensive line, the linebackers, the defensive backs, All clearly better.

What this team needs other than some patience is a spark.

Could very well be Tua Time.

Nothing against Ryan Fitzpatrick. There has never been a more likeable player wearing this team’s colors. The record is not on his shoulders. He in fact has played pretty well, except for the turnovers. He spills his guts for this game every Sunday and this entire organization is better off for it. Only wish he had come along 10 years earlier.

Given all of that, it still makes sense to move to Tua now or if not now certainly in the next few weeks. This offense needs a pick-me-up. Field goals just don’t cut it in this wide-open league. This offense needs some big plays, some electricity, somebody to be special.

Tua, as good a college quarterback as I’ve ever seen, has a chance to be just that: special.

It’s time we start finding out. Granted, there are things we don’t know. How has his surgically repaired hip held up to contact? How has he grasped this offensive system? Is he comfortable? Is his confidence level where it needs to be?

Only the coaches can answer most of these questions. But if the feeling within this organization is that he is close, then I say let’s get on with it.

We know he’s the future. It’s time to start seeing what that will look like.

Dolphins need to reach another level against Seahawks

We’re about to find out a lot more about the Miami Dolphins.

A whole lot more.

The opponent Sunday at Hard Rock Stadium is the Seattle Seahawks, one of the elite teams in the league with a quarterback in Russell Wilson who has put together some staggering numbers through three games.

Other than a Week 14 game against Kansas City, I can’t think of a more difficult challenge facing the Dolphins defense this season. As improved as this defense looked last Thursday against Jacksonville, that was the Jaguars and this is the Seahawks and that defense better find another level in order to slow down Wilson and his big-play receiving corp.

The pass rush needs to get to Wilson, or at least bother him, the linebackers must make sure he doesn’t take off and run, which he does so well, and the secondary must play as close to a perfect game as it can. Even with all of that, the Seahawks can make you look bad in a hurry.

Conversely, the Dolphins’ offense must produce some long drives, some key third down conversions and generally do enough good things to keep the Seattle offense on the sideline for extended stretches.

I’m truthfully not sure this team can accomplish that so early in the season, with so many players trying to become familiar with one another and with one of their top cornerbacks, Byron Jones, missing time with an Achilles injury.

The only way I see the Dolphins winning is with four touchdowns and a couple of field goals on offense and even with that it figures to come down to the wire.

We knew the Dolphins were better than they looked during an 0-2 start. We were encouraged after that bounce-back performance against the Jaguars. But now the bar is raised several notches.

Now we get another important indicator of how this season’s journey could play out. Now we see if this team has the ability to play far better than they have in these first three games.

They’ll certainly have to. Anything less and it could be a long day.

Dolphins provide nice evidence of upside

Talk of Tua can stop again at least for a little while.

The Dolphins proved Thursday night they have a more than capable veteran quarterback leading this team, certainly until Tua’s moment arrives.

Ryan Fitzpatrick, as he reminded us against the Jaguars, can still be awfully good. Even at 37 going on 38.

Fitzpatrick threw for a pair of touchdowns, ran for another, engineered four long-distance drives, completed a personal record 12 straight passes to start the game and generally put together the type of overall performance that is essential if these Dolphins plan on being in the playoff picture deep into December.

It wasn’t only a get-well night for Fitzpatrick in the 31-13 victory. It was a step forward for an entire team that looked far too anemic in the opening two losses. The running game was efficient enough behind Myles Gaskin, the offensive line gave Fitzpatrick the time and running lanes he needed, the defense unveiled its first semblance of a consistent pass rush and the secondary, maligned after a terrible performance against the Bills, got a late interception from Xavien Howard and generally looked much sharper against an injury-depleted Jaguars receiving corp.

So what does all this mean in the big picture? It means the Dolphins can feel better about themselves than they did a few days ago. It means there is hope that this team can win more games than last season’s five. It means that the veteran free agents signed to help improve this defense can do exactly that, even though it sure didn’t look like it in those opening two losses. It means that the time off between now and a week from Sunday’s matchup against Seattle can be spent more with a smile than a shrug.

No doubt 1-2 sounds a lot better than 0-3. Feels a lot better as well.

But clearly the biggest takeaway from Thursday night’s victory was the performance of Fitzpatrick and how he still has the tools to have an unforgettable night like this one. I mean what else do you need to know other than the numbers: 18 of 20 for 160 yards, his 90 percent completion percentage a new career high. Did I mention he scored on a quarterback draw and had a couple of nice first down runs as well?

This is how the Dolphins will win games this season. This is the formula they need. Fitzpatrick sharp and accurate, the running game good enough to provide balance, the defense forcing turnovers, the pass rush producing four sacks and generally this team playing with a level of poise and efficiency that is mandatory to win in today’s NFL.

So yes, you should be feeling better about this team right now. We now after this win over the Jaguars have a clear vision of the upside. But before you enjoy this one too much, it must be tempered with a dose of reality: This was just one game against a bottom level team. To be respected in this league and to be considered an ascending team you’ve got to show consistency. You’ve got to prove it against better teams. You’ve got to do it Sunday after Sunday. Not only on Thursdays.

So, through three weeks we have seen how poorly this team can play (Buffalo) and how well (Jacksonville). Now we need to see more. Now we see if they can build on this, if Fitzpatrick can follow this performance with a similar one and if these positive steps taken against the Jaguars can be duplicated, or at least close to it, against the likes of Seattle and San Francisco, the next two opponents.

These are the challenges that lie ahead. Beating the Jaguars was a nice way to start. But it was only a start. This team still needs to get a whole lot better before any conclusions can be formed. For now, it was sweet seeing Fitzpatrick play so well. That’s the biggest storyline to take away from a night this Dolphins’ team desperately needed.

Five takeaways from an 0-2 start

Give the Dolphins credit for making a game of it against the Bills. But when you can’t score from the 1-yard line in a crucial situation and your defense gives up two touchdowns after the offense did its part in the fourth quarter, well, that’s how you become 0-2.

There are issues on both sides of the ball. The offense just can’t find those game-changing chunk plays, the running game is still searching for the right mix and it doesn’t help when Preston Williams drops a fourth down pass at the goal line. The defense has been far too generous, really on every level, and perhaps most concerning has been the problems with a pass rush fortified in the offseason with some free agent additions. This had better change in a hurry with a better-than-expected Jacksonville team next on Thursday night.

After struggling in the opener at New England, Ryan Fitzpatrick was much better against the Bills, throwing for 328 yards and two touchdowns. Most importantly, he didn’t have a turnover. Still, if two losses become three, then four, don’t you have to start thinking seriously about Tua?

Want something good to feel about? Mike Gesicki continues his rise as an elite pass-catching tight end. He was outstanding against the Bills, catching 8 passes for 130 yards and a touchdown. A couple of his catches, and one in particular, was highlight reel material. Can he be cloned?

You really felt that the secondary could evolve into the strength of this team after what we saw in the opener, especially with Xavien Howard just about full strength. Then Josh Allen throws for 417 yards and four touchdowns, and Byron Jones leaves early with an injury and suddenly you don’t feel nearly as good. I know this group is better than the way it played against the Bills. But any way you paint it, that was a disappointing performance.

Five things I want to see Sunday against the Bills:

1. I want to see the rushing defense play well and that means protect the edges, tackle with urgency and avoid letting quarterback Josh Allen break loose for chunk yardage runs. Bottom Line: Was the opener against the Patriots an aberration or a true indicator of a problem area? We’ll find out in a hurry.

2. I want to see a rushing attack that features one or two players instead of three or four, and a rushing attack that can string together some first downs, maybe even break a long one. The Dolphins traded a fifth-round pick to the 49ers for Matt Breida, as fast as any back in the league. It’s time to get him in the open field.

3. I want to see quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick bounce back from his three- interception game against the Patriots with the type of game he played so often last season, a couple of touchdown passes, a few first down scrambles and generally a performance void of any glaring mistakes. Until Tua is deemed ready, this offense will only go as far as Fitzpatrick can take it.

4.  I want to see veteran linebacker Kyle Van Noy take charge of this defense with big stops and some game-turning plays. This is why he was signed. This is what he has done in this league. This is the time for him to do it. There are others who need to step up on defense, but I believe it needs to start with Van Noy.

5. And finally, I want to see a victory. Doesn’t have to be a work of art and it certainly doesn’t have to be decisive. But this team needs something to help validate the path they are on and the team they are building. Nothing would shout validation more than a victory over the Bills.

Dolphins need to get better in a hurry

Thoughts and opinions after watching the Dolphins do very little right in
a season opening 21-11 loss to the Patriots.

• It was a concoction that never works. Three interceptions by
quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick and a rushing defense that got pushed
around to the tune of 217 yards. Sure, there were other factors. But
none as significant as the turnovers on offense and an ineffective
rushing defense.

• Both areas come as a surprise. Fitzpatrick didn’t struggle like this at
any point last season and the rushing defense was supposed to be
vastly improved with some of the free agent additions. As they say,
though, the tape doesn’t lie.

• What we saw against the Patriots was concerning and disappointing,
but perspective is also important. This is a new Dolphins team in so
many areas, both on the coaching staff and in the locker room, and you
just can’t wave some magic wand to make it all mesh, certainly with as
little practice time as this team had. It takes time, obviously more than
one game.

• That rushing defense had better improve in a hurry. They faced a
pretty good rushing quarterback Sunday in Cam Newton; they’ll face a
younger and just-as-proficient version in Josh Allen next Sunday against
Buffalo. Whatever practice time they get this week needs to be
productive.

• Both rookie starters on the offensive line, left tackle Austin Jackson
and right guard Solomon Kindley, did not do anything negative to get
your attention and that shouts success right there.

• Linebacker Jerome Baker was the most impactful player on defense
with his team high 16 tackles, a sack and a key goal line strip. He has
gotten awfully good hasn’t he?

• In case you’re asking, this isn’t Tua Time. Certainly not yet.

• I know I predicted a Dolphins victory and I’ll be the first to own up to
it. But I also predicted a 9-7 finish and I haven’t lost any faith in that.
Having said that, they need to play a whole lot better against the Bills.

Why Sunday will be the start of a winning season

9-7.

That’s what my crystal ball tells me. That’s how I see this crazy season playing out for the Miami Dolphins. They surprised many of us a season ago, finishing 5-11 after an 0-7 start, coming on strong over the final two months of the season and punctuating everything with that season-ending victory over the Patriots.

Now I see no reason why this team can’t take the proverbial next step, why it can’t win more games than it loses, why it can’t continue this feel good turnaround story with a vastly improved and much deeper roster from top to bottom.

But the key to this team isn’t talent as much as it is how quickly that talent can come together. There are new starters everywhere and new coaches as well. There are two rookies starting on the offensive line alone and so many free agents playing prominent roles. It takes time to create the right chemistry and this team simply has not been afforded that luxury.

Nonetheless, we saw how well Brian Flores can coach a season ago. We saw what he could do with a vastly inferior roster. We saw the smart decisions, the patient demeanor and how this team came on strong at the end, beating the Patriots in the season finale.

Now they get the Patriots again and there’s no reason to believe the result won’t be the same. My pick: Dolphins 23, Patriots 17. No Tom Brady. No home crowd advantage. A Patriots’ defense limited by some key players opting out of the season And, oh yes, I’ll say it again: No Tom Brady.  I look for Ryan Fitzpatrick to have a solid game. I see much more balance on offense with new running backs Jordan Howard and Matt Breida. I see a defense that will be improved in just about every area, especially at linebacker. I see the Dolphins winning this game late, maybe with a sweet dose of FitzMagic.

Yes, there are concerns. Are there enough playmakers? Enough depth? Enough of a pass rush? But none of that sways me away from 9-7. Nothing that makes me think the arrow isn’t clearly pointing up in the second season under Flores.

As for Tua? My gut tells me we’ll see plenty of him, maybe for a series or two each game, maybe for an entire quarter, or at least until the situation dictates a change in direction. As much as I respect and admire Fitzpatrick, he’ll be the first to tell you at 37 years old he’s simply a bridge until Tua is ready. A bridge with a strong, sturdy foundation.

Yep, 9-7 sounds about right. Can’t believe the season is finally here.  Enjoy the ride. I know I will.