Tua walking off the field after throwing another touchdown pass vs the LA Chargers

The Difference a Year Makes – For Many Reasons

A lot has changed since November 16, 2019, to November 16, 2020. On this date a year ago, the Dolphins wrapped up week 10 with an abysmal 2-7 record and soon to be Dolphins QB Tua Tagovailoa suffered a dislocated hip and posterior wall fracture. There was uncertainty, doubt, and hesitancy surrounding both Tagovailoa and the Dolphins. Not only was the “Tank for Tua” campaign in question, but Tagovailoa’s career in football was also. As for the Dolphins, they opened the 2019 season on a seven-game losing streak and were labeled as one of the worst teams in NFL history at the time. Coach Brian Flores’ coaching career was off to a rocky start and yet again, there were question marks surrounding Miami’s choice in a head coach. Meanwhile, fans were passionately rooting for losses in hopes of premium draft stock. At this point in time, the franchise was at one of its lowest points in team history with virtually no reason for optimism. Another person that seemed to be at their lowest point was Tua Tagovailoa. Tua’s football career was in jeopardy when he got sandwiched between two Mississippi State defenders, ending his junior season at Alabama. With injuries of this magnitude, timing from the doctors was paramount. Tagovailoa’s hip was popped back into place immediately after the injury, and he was airlifted that day to receive surgery on his hip. Doctors admitted that everything had to go perfectly for Tua to ever return to the football field. One year later, it is safe to say they have, and for the Dolphins as well.

As for Tua…

Tua Tagovailoa faced a long road to get to where he wanted to be. Daily rehab, media criticism, and mental toughness were all obstacles standing in the quarterback’s way. Just like he did in the 2018 National Championship game, he tackled a brand new situation head-on. He never backed down and came out on top. There have never been so many questions surrounding a player going into the draft as there were for Tagovailoa. Will his hip ever be the same? Will he be the same player he was before the injury? Is he too injury prone? With COVID-19, teams were not allowed to bring Tua in for visits or medical checkups. They simply had to rely on word of mouth and a short pro-day video Tagovailoa released before the draft.

Leading up to draft night, only Chris Grier and Brian Flores knew which QB the Dolphins preferred. Many Miami beat writers and national media members linked Justin Herbert to the Dolphins. As the first few picks came off the board, it came down to the Dolphins to choose the quarterback of their liking. As we all know the Dolphins ultimately took the chance on the Alabama star and selected Tua Tagovailoa with the 5thpick.

We can fast forward to November 16, 2020, where the Dolphins are 3-0 with Tua as their starter. Fellow rookie quarterbacks Joe Burrow and Justin Herbert are not struggling statistically, but are a combined 3-13-1 in their starts this season. Tua has already matched their win total in the three weeks he has been the Dolphins starting quarterback. You have to wonder if teams like the Washington Football Team, Detroit Lions, or New York Giants are second-guessing passing on Tua at this point in his career. Tua has put together a solid start to his rookie year with 5 TD passes and 0 interceptions. He’s taken care of the ball and executed most of the plays he’s been asked to run. Offensive coordinator Chan Gailey has eased Tua into the NFL by having more conservative play calls. In his first-ever NFL start, Tagovailoa was not asked to do much to win the game against the Rams. The following week was different and Tua was asked to make big throws at big times in order to beat a very solid Arizona Cardinals team on the road. Through three starts, we have seen glimpses of what made Tagovailoa so special in college. His accuracy and anticipation have been incredible to watch, but the way the young rookie has escaped the pocket and used his legs is impressive. Whenever a team makes a switch to a rookie QB, a drop-off is expected. That has not been the case with Tua and the team is operating the same (if not better) as they were with Ryan Fitzpatrick. In the coming weeks, we will start to see the playbook open up a little more each game, and the confidence in Tagovailoa from the coaching staff to rise as well.

Right now the Dolphins are playing conservatively with leads in the fourth quarter and have elected to run the ball most of the time. As time goes on, we will see more pass plays get called to get first downs and chew more clock. With every week and every win, the memories of Tagovailoa’s hip injury begin to fade more and more. The rookie QB is destined for greatness and has defied the odds each and every time. To suffer the type of injury he did and be 3-0 as an NFL starter one year later, is something that just does not happen too often. Who knows, if Tua did not get hurt, the Dolphins might not have been able to take a chance on a kid who has the ability to change Miami Dolphins history. Tagovailoa was on course to becoming the #1 overall selection in the draft but that just was not in the cards for the football Gods. Everything happened for a reason and all Dolphin fans have to be thrilled with the outcome so far.

As for the Dolphins…

The Dolphins of 2020 are riding a 5-game winning streak and are just half a game out of first place in the AFC East with a record of 6-3. Not only is the team winning, but they are also doing so convincingly. During their 5-game win streak, Miami’s defense is holding opponents to 15.8 points per game. They also own a plus-5 turnover margin through nine games and have forced a turnover in 15 straight games.

At this point last season, the Dolphins were minus-12 in the turnover category. The offense has scored at least 21 points in eight consecutive games, which is their longest streak since 2001. Brian Flores is making a strong case for coach of the year, squandering any thoughts a year ago of him not being the right man for the job. The winning atmosphere and culture Flores has brought to Miami is invaluable. Every single coach and player has bought into his philosophy and it is paying dividends for Miami. In Sunday’s week 10 win over the Chargers, the Dolphins were on their fourth and fifth string running backs, down two starting defensive tackles and starting wide receiver, and were still able to win the game. Brian Flores is able to insert anyone on his roster and has confidence they will do their job.

This team is playing complete football and all three phases are contributing to every victory. The offense is scoring points, special teams are returning kicks and blocking punts, and the defense is smothering opposing offenses. The next three games for Miami are all winnable and come against opponents with a combined record of 5-21-1. If the Dolphins can continue to play the way they have over the past month and a half, the sky is the limit for this team. As much as the Dolphins have changed since last November, I hope to revisit this article a year from now to see how much they have improved yet again.