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The Miami Dolphins’ stirring 28-17 upset victory over the Los Angeles Rams on Sunday came even as newly minted starting quarterback Tua Tagovailoa looked every bit as unremarkable as the nearly two-dozen quarterbacks who came before him trying to succeed Dan Marino.
Tagovailoa, making his milestone first NFL start, delivered quite forgettable details to his day.
How else to describe it when the quarterback completed only 12 of 22 passes (54.5 percent) for 93 yards, with one touchdown and one fumble?
This wasn’t University of Alabama Tagovailoa, dominating a defense and tormenting the opposing defensive coordinator. This was an NFL rookie -- sometimes accurate, but sometimes hesitant in making a throw or stepping up in the pocket.
Watching Tagovailoa was even sometimes scary and not because he was inconsistent. That body slam he endured on the second play of the game was ugly and concerning that the next hit might be worse.
Dolphins head coach Brian Flores, asked to sum up Tagovailoa’s performance, responded in telling fashion: “We won. We won the game,” he said.
Tagovailoa was not quite so diplomatic.
“Well, I don’t think I played to the standard of what this offense is capable of,” Tagovailoa said humbly. “There were certain plays I could have stepped up and made the right throw, made the right decision.”
All of that is a fair analysis of Sunday’s reality. But you know what?
All of Tagovailoa’s troubles and inconsistencies were quite possibly the best-case scenario anyone could author for the Dolphins, short of Tagovailoa throwing for 400 yards and four touchdowns.
This win combined with Tagovailoa’s modest performance was an epiphany for the Dolphins because in one fell swoop we saw this team can beat an accomplished opponent amid a bad outing by their chosen franchise quarterback.
Think about that.
The quarterback played poorly and the Dolphins won. How many times was that said during the Marino era?
This win showed important things about the Miami Dolphins -- all of them good:
It showed the Dolphins can succeed amid adversity. And there was that immediately on Sunday because Tagovailoa fumbled on Miami’s second offensive play and the Rams scored a couple of plays later.
So, yeah, a miniature crisis.
But I’m not just talking on-field adversity because, if you haven’t heard, the Dolphins had a pretty rough couple of weeks leading up to this game.
In that time the Dolphins made a quarterback change away from a veteran playing relatively well. They made the move in the middle of a two-game winning streak. Some folks wondered if Flores had lost his mind.
And while everyone was still digesting the quarterback move, the Dolphins gave us more to chew on as trade rumors involving cornerback Xavien Howard surfaced early last week.
Amid those potential distractions and a start to the game that was nothing short of cringe worthy, the Dolphins overcame.
The Dolphins won.
“I think our guys showed a lot of mental toughness this week, a lot of quarterback change and a lot of ...” Flores said, stopping short of reminding everyone about Howard. “I thought they showed a lot of mental toughness, and I thought there was a lot of other things going on basically aside from football, I would say.
“And those guys kind of put that stuff to the back burner and really focused and prepared and played well.”
This speaks to team resiliency. It speaks to the Dolphins being more than a club dependent on one player or a club needing perfect circumstances to win.
The good news doesn’t end there. This victory shows the Dolphins don’t have to be desperate to have Tua Tagovailoa be great right away.
They can be patient.
Because even as the franchise exhibits patience for Tagovailoa to grow in experience and maturity, success for the team is still possible. That’s not a theory. We saw that manifest in this game.
“I’ve heard it many times from the guys in the locker room,” Tagovailoa said after the game, “it’s good that we still came out with the win.
“And aside from that, thank God we got a good defense. So when we do eventually start to string good plays together, we can make plays and then get the ball back and continue to try to do the same.”
Yes, it would be a nightmare if Tagovailoa doesn’t develop into a great player. Everyone knows this. But everyone also knows it typically takes a while for great players to become great.
And sometimes factors that have nothing to do with the player threaten that development.
Outside pressures like needing to win right away can lead to a quarterback being benched or even cast aside. And that kind of stuff can not only detour but derail a young quarterback.
We’ve seen the Dolphins might be able to avoid some of those outside issues, even if Tagovailoa isn’t a football savant or amazing every game. Because they can win, even when Tagovailoa’s not necessarily playing winning football.
The Dolphins are not necessarily a one-man show depending on the star to learn the routine.
“I can’t stress that enough. It’s not a one-man show,” Flores said. “I think he made enough plays for us to win the ballgame. I think collectively, look, if we don’t play well in one phase we need to play well in other phases, and we have a lot of confidence in him.
“It’s like what we talk about on a daily basis. It takes a team effort. There’s 11 guys on the field, there’s 53 guys on the roster, 16 guys on the practice squad. All these guys work hard. Everybody’s role is important. But total team effort, offense, defense, special teams.”