While Ryan Fitzpatrick has performed admirably for the Miami Dolphins, it’s no secret that he’s not the long-term answer at the position. On Tuesday, the 37-year-old journeyman watched his reign as the team’s starting quarterback come to an abrupt end. And with Fitzpatrick heading to the bench in favor of Tua Tagovailoa, the Dolphins just drastically changed the fate of the 2020 NFL season.
Miami is in the hunt for a playoff spot
Coming off a 5-11 season, the Dolphins have shown tremendous improvement in 2020. Of course, Miami spent millions in free agency to upgrade the league’s worst defense from a year ago. With Byron Jones and Kyle Van Noy in the fold, the Dolphins currently rank fourth in points allowed.
Meanwhile, Fitzpatrick’s strong play helped Miami rattle off three wins in the last four weeks to move to 3-3. While he has thrown five interceptions, the father of seven has also thrown 10 touchdowns while completing 70.1% of his passes. His 95.0 quarterback rating easily outranks his career average of 82.1.
Currently, Miami sits in second place in the AFC East behind the Buffalo Bills. And with the New England Patriots struggling, the Dolphins have a legitimate shot at making the playoffs for only the second time in the last decade.
The Dolphins just drastically changed the fate of the 2020 NFL season
Despite Fitzpatrick’s strong play, Miami elected to make a change at quarterback. On Tuesday, ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported via Twitter that the Dolphins will move forward with Tua Tagovailoa as their starter. While the move may come as a surprise, it certainly sends a strong message that Flores believes the first-year signal-caller can put the team in a better position to win than the battle-tested veteran.
By handing the keys to Tagovailoa, the Dolphins just drastically changed the fate of the 2020 NFL season. Fitzpatrick may have the edge in experience, but there’s no doubt that a healthy Tua gives the Dolphins much more upside on offense. He thoroughly dominated at Alabama and has all the tools necessary to succeed in the NFL.
Moreover, this makes Miami a legitimate playoff contender moving forward. The Bills may sit in first place, but if the Dolphins maintain their elite level of play on defense and take a step forward on offense under Tagovailoa, Buffalo could face stiff competition for the AFC East title.
Plus, even if the Bills maintain their top spot, Miami could still make the playoffs as a wild card team. Now, teams like Las Vegas Raiders (3-2) and Indianapolis Colts (4-2) cannot afford any slip-ups with the Dolphins nipping at their heels. Don’t forget that the NFL added a seventh playoff team to each conference this season, too. Ultimately, the entire landscape of the playoff picture changes if Tagovailoa lives up to his All-Pro potential.
Tua Tagovailoa faces a tough test against the LA Rams
Now that the Dolphins have made #TuaTime official, it will be interesting to see how the rookie does in his first NFL start. He doesn’t exactly have an easy matchup, as Miami hosts the LA Rams on Nov. 1.
Sean McVay’s squad ranks fifth in points allowed due in large part to the presence of Aaron Donald. The two-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year looks like an early favorite to win the award again. Donald has totaled 7.5 sacks and 14 quarterback hits through six games.
Meanwhile, according to Football Outsiders, the Dolphins’ offensive line ranks just 15th in pass protection with an adjusted sack rate of 6.3%. Miami will need its interior trio of Ereck Flowers, Ted Karras and Solomon Kindley to step up against the best defensive lineman in the NFL.
The Dolphins cannot afford any major slip-ups in pass protection, especially given their new quarterback’s injury history. Tagovailoa suffered a brutal season-ending hip injury last fall and must prove he can withstand the physicality of the NFL.
But based on his track record of production and his competitive, focused demeanor, expect the former Alabama star to find success early in his career. And if he can harness the skills that made him a college football legend, Tua Tagovailoa will completely transform the outcome of the 2020 NFL season.
All statistics courtesy of Pro Football Reference.