As debuts go, it was successful. A win. A touchdown throw. Tua Tagovailoa is 1-0 as a starter after the Miami Dolphins beat the Los Angeles Rams, 28-17, Sunday at Hard Rock Stadium.
As theater goes, it wasn’t much, though. You weren’t wowed. You didn’t learn anything about what he can do. The defense was the force behind this win — and that’s fine. A win is a Dolphins win.
The Dolphins move to 4-3. That’s the first winning mark under Brian Flores as Dolphins coach.
Here are 10 thoughts on the game:
1. Tua’s first game? A C-minus grade. He lost the ball on his first dropback and he later threw a touchdown. In all, he didn’t do much except escort the defense to a win. That’s OK. He completed 12 of 22 passes for 93 yards, the touchdown and an 80.3 rating against one of the better defenses. Here’s the other stat of note: Zero rushes. He didn’t run the ball at all. He just wasn’t asked to do much as the game stretched on and the Dolphins lead stretched with it. It was only after the Rams scored to make it 28-17 in the fourth quarter, Tua had a bit of pressure with 9:58 left. The hope was to run off some clock with a couple of first downs and seal the win. The Dolphins weren’t throwing the ball downfield to do so mixed with some runs. He threw short to the right for 8 yards to Durham Smythe. He found Isaiah Ford short to the left for what became a 10-yard reception and first down. He threw short to the left to Mike Gesicki for 8 yards. All of that ran 3:28 off the clock and got the ball to the 48-yard line. That set up a punt that put the Rams back to their 8-yard line. That was big. Not headline by Tua. stuff. But it was enough this day.
2. You seeing why Dolphins coach Brian Flores wanted two lock-down cornerbacks. It allows a defense to confuse the quarterback elsewhere and dial up pass rushes from everywhere. Since Byron Jones returned three games ago to be paired opposite Xavien Howard, the Dolphins defense has given up 13 points to San Francisco, zero to the Jets and … against the Rams. It created more points (14) than it gave up (10) in the first half. Emmanuel Ogbah strip-sacked Goff and Andrew Van Ginkel picked up the ball for a 78-yard touchdown return to make it 14-7. Shaq Lawson then strip-sacked Goff and Kyle Van Noy returned the fumble 28 yards to the Rams 1-yard line. One play later it was 28-7.
3. As curtain-raising moments go, it was, well, memorable. On the first with Tua as starter, Myles Gaskin ran up 3 yards up the middle. On the second play, Tagovailoa went to pass, Rams defensive tackle Aaron Donald stormed in, swatted the ball away for a strip sack, Michael Brockers leveled Tua and the Rams had the ball at the Dolphins 15-yard line. Three plays later it was Rams, 7-0. Hey, Dan Marino threw an interception his first play. So Hall of Fame ahead?
4. For fans of numerology, here you go: Tua’s first TD pass was 1 to 11 on 1/1. Translated: No. 1 Tua to No. 11 Parker on Nov. 1. It was set up by defensive tackle Christian Wilkins dropping off the line and intercepting Rams quarterback Jared Goff at the Rams 33-yard line. Five plays later, on third and goal at the 3, Tua threw a fastball over the middle to Devante Parker for the score.
5. Jared Goff looked like a child lost in the airport much of this day. He didn’t know where to go. He had plenty of chances, too. He completed 35 of 61 passes for 355 yards, an interception and two touchdowns. His rating: a dismal 65.9. It could have been worse, too. Beyond the big plays the defense made (and mentioned above), Xavien Howard had a good chance for an interception in five straight games, and Eric Rowe missed an even better chance at an interception. The previous two weeks, the Rams offense looked good against San Francisco and Chicago. This day, Goff was under pressure all day and never figured out the Dolphins defense. A missed field goal with under four minutes to go effectively ended the game.
6. Stat of the day: 34-6: The number of plays the Rams ran in the second quarter compared to the Dolphins. The adjoining stat is with six offensive plays the Dolphins outscored the Rams in the quarter, 21-3. A fumble return for a touchdown, a punt return for a touchdown and another fumble returned to the 1-yard line to set up a touchdown will have that affect on the stat book. It added up to a bizarre-by-the-numbers first half where the Rams ran 52 plays to the Dolphins 21, had the ball 20 minutes and 44 seconds to the Dolphins 9 minutes, 16 seconds. And the Dolphins led at half, 28-10.
7. When Jakeem Grant returned a punt 88 yards in the second quarter, it was just the latest reminder what a nice piece he is in the offensive arsenal. That’s the fifth punt or kickoff return for a touchdown Grant has in his career. Throw in the 15-yard reception he had to set up the Dolphins’ first touchdown and you see another emerging part of his game. He has 14 catches (21 in 2018 is his career high) for 10 first downs. So he helps keep the first-down chain moving, puts the ball in the en zone .
8. State of the game II: 12,397. That’s the number of fans announced at the game. That’s under the allowed 13,000 in Hard Rock Stadium for games. So even Tua’s debut couldn’t bring South Florida out of a Coronavirus hiding (not that I’m judging at all). Or maybe it also tells how lifestyle has changed over the past several months. We’ll see coming out of this.
9. Around the League:
— New England is 2-5. Who’d have predicted that? Cam Newton fumbled in the final minute deep in Buffalo territory and the Patriots lost, 24-21.
— Houston was off this week, and it looks like their draft spot hung at No. 4. That’s the Dolphins pick from the Laremy Tunsil trade.
— The Jets fell to 0-8 in the no-brainer of all time against Kansas City and inched closer to Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence.
10. Next week: Dolphins at Arizona. The Cardinals look to be for real. They’re 5-2 after Thursday’s win against Seattle. Their offense under Kyle Murray ranks second in the league at 29 points a game. Their defense ranks 10th in allowing 20.9 points a game. There are only four teams better than their plus-57 point differential. They’re not quite the ‘27 Yankees – their two losses are to Detroit and Carolina. But Arizona is emerging as a much better team than recent years.
©2020 Sun Sentinel (Fort Lauderdale, Fla.)
Visit the Sun Sentinel (Fort Lauderdale, Fla.) at www.sun-sentinel.com
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.