Don’t crown Tua Tagovailoa and the Miami Dolphins just yet.
Just as the Dolphins started rolling under coach Brian Flores, when the defense appeared fearsome and their rookie quarterback appeared to be getting more comfortable, all of those positive trends came to a crashing halt on Sunday.
Tagovailoa was benched for veteran Ryan Fitzpatrick after his sixth sack of the day, and the Dolphins endured a 20-13 loss to the Denver Broncos on Sunday inside Empower Field at Mile High that ended their five-game win streak.
The Dolphins fall to 6-4, unable to tie the idle Buffalo Bills atop the AFC East standings with the loss.
Miami also entered the game sitting in sixth in the AFC playoff standings but could be bounced from the Top 7 playoff threshold, depending on how the rest of Sunday’s game shake out.
The Dolphins nearly made things interesting in the final 5:13 of the game after outside linebacker Andrew Van Ginkel forced Broncos running back Melvin Gordon to fumble near the 1-yard line, preventing a touchdown that would have put the game out of reach.
It just delayed the inevitable.
Fitzpatrick, the 16-year veteran who started the first 22 games of the Brian Flores era, came on in relief two days before his 38th birthday. He was able to lead a field goal drive than saw kicker Jason Sanders make a 53-yard kick to narrow Denver’s lead to 2013 with 7:51 left on his first series.
But as Fitzpatrick’s FItzMagic seemed to be brewing for a comeback victory, he threw an interception while looking for receiver DeVante Parker in the end zone on a drive that started in the Broncos’ end zone.
All of the Dolphins’ flaws came to light in their first defeat since Oct. 8.
Lack of adequate running back and receiver depth. A developing offensive line.
A defense, that although forces turnovers and keeps points off the scoreboard, is unable to stop the run.
A rookie quarterback making his fourth career start, too.
The Dolphins had 50 yards passing and 50 yards receiving before Tagovailoa, their No. 5 pick, was benched after he endured his sixth sack of the day with 10:44 left in the fourth quarter.
Tagovailoa’s left foot nearly got caught between a Broncos defender and the field on his final sack of the day, so it’s unclear whether the Dolphins made their quarterback switch with hopes of preserving their future or winning Sunday’s football game.
The Dolphins did not announce an injury during the game.
Fitzpatrick completed 12 of 18 passes for 117 yards and his interception in relief, outpacing Tagovailoa, who finished 11 of 20 with 83 yards and a touchdown.
The Dolphins got off to a 7-0 lead as Tagovailoa threw a soft floater to Parker in the end zone in which Parker got both feet inbounds.
Miami took advantage of cornerback Xavien Howard’s sixth cornerback of the season to take the lead.
But they would never lead again in the game.
Broncos quarterback Drew Lock started the game throwing six incompletions and his interception but rattled off seven straight completions to finish the first half. Lindsay and Gordon both had decisive runs of 20 yards or more.
But the Dolphins defense was able to limit the Broncos to two field goals in the second quarter, including one in the closing seconds to give Denver a 13-10 lead into halftime.
When the third quarter began, the Dolphins defense had some momentum they unfortunately could not turn into anything positive.
They forced a turnover on downs, which the offense turned into just 3 yards on three plays and a punt.
The Dolphins’ next defensive drive saw them stop the Broncos on another third down play that saw rookie defensive tackle Jason Strowbridge, a rookie fifth-round pick who attended Deerfield Beach High, called for a roughing the passer penalty to extend Denver’s drive.
Two plays later, Gordon broke free for another long run of 20 yards and his second touchdown to give the Broncos a 20-10 lead late in the third quarter.
The Dolphins were looking to improve to 7-3 for the first time since 2001 and their fourth consecutive road victories for the first time since 2010.
Instead, they’ll go back to the drawing board.
And may have a quarterback controversy on their hands for the rest of the season.
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