Tua’s Time has arrived: Dolphins will start Tagovailoa vs. Rams, bench Fitzpatrick

Adam H. Beasley, Armando Salguero, Barry Jackson
·4 min read

Time to fly, Tua.

The Dolphins have named Tua Tagovailoa their new starter, multiple league sources tell the Miami Herald, ushering in a highly anticipated new age of Miami Dolphins football.

Brian Flores is turning to the No. 5 overall pick during the team’s bye week, and Tagovailoa will make his first start on Nov. 1 against the Los Angeles Rams at Hard Rock Stadium. ESPN first reported the move.

The seismic news comes less than 48 hours after Ryan Fitzpatrick — who ranks in the top 10 in QBR — threw three touchdowns but two interceptions in the team’s blowout win over the Jets.

Tagovailoa saw his first NFL action in the game’s final moments, completing his only two passes for nine yards.

Tagovailoa will become the third of four rookie first-round quarterbacks to start for their respective teams in 2020.

But none of the other three has overcome what Tagovailoa has: a major, November 2019 hip injury that threatened his career and likely cost him millions of dollars.

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The Dolphins, showing great caution, had him mostly sit behind Fitzpatrick and absorb ever since players reported to camp in late July.

Both the team and Fitzpatrick knew this day was an inevitability. What no one on the outside knew was that it would come at this point in the season.

“He’s been thrown into a very difficult situation in that he didn’t have any preseason, he didn’t really have an offseason,” Dolphins offensive coordinator Chan Gailey said Tuesday before ESPN’s report went public.

“... I think he has a basic understanding [of what we want to get done], but you don’t get the specifics if you don’t get out there. The specifics of things, and feeling the speed of the game, and all that kind of stuff is hard. Hopefully as time goes on, we can continue to have him develop and see how quickly he can get ready to play whenever that may be.”

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Flores, who has not spoken publicly since the quarterback switch leaked, said this on Monday about his decision to play Tagovailoa late against the Jets:

“It was just a situation to get him in and get him some snaps. We thought it was good for him, just like any young player, to get in there and get a feel for what it’s like to play in a National Football League game. That was really it.”

Gailey hinted that Tagovailoa’s time might be near earlier Tuesday when he wondered allowed “how much can we get him to continue to improve, getting the reps he gets in practice, getting him whatever snaps we can get him?”

So the decision might be less about how Ryan Fitzpatrick has played than it is about getting on with the business of the franchise’s future.

Fitzpatrick completed 70.1 percent of his passes for 1,535 yards, 10 touchdowns and 7 interceptions in the season’s first six games. He ranks 17th in NFL passer rating at 95.0, is tied for 13th with 10 touchdown passes and is 18th in yards passing per game (255.8).

But only Kirk Cousins (10) and Carson Wentz (9) have thrown more interceptions than Fitzpatrick this season.

“Fitz makes some great plays and he throws the ball sometimes in a spot that’s tough,” Gailey added. “... He’s made a lot of great decisions though, that’s for sure.”

Tagovailoa is as much a marketing phenomenon as he is a high-level quarterback, and either he or his team didn’t miss an opportunity to maximize Tuesday’s news.

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On Instagram, Tagovailoa including his most recent story a message of congratulations from Miami’s own Rick Ross.

“Just got news that Tua’s been named the starting quarterback for the Miami Dolphins,” Ross said. “Congratulations little bro. You know what it is, baby. 305. We turn it up.”

Tagovailoa has two challenges as Dolphins’ starter: To play well, and to win and keep the support of a locker room that absolutely loves Fitzpatrick. Taking care of one should take care of the other, and he starts in a good position.

Veterans on Tuesday were surprised by the timing of the switch, but excited about the move, the Herald has learned. Dolphins coaches kept their own counsel on this matter, so while a switch was probably inevitable in 2020, it happening now — with the team playing well — was unexpected.

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