Miami Dolphins coach Brian Flores does not want to put any labels on his quarterback situation.
But it appears the Dolphins have two clear options as they inch one game closer to their first postseason since the 2016 season.
Rookie Tua Tagovailoa is the Dolphins’ starting quarterback. And 16-year veteran Ryan Fitzpatrick, who led the team to a 26-25 victory over the Las Vegas Raiders on Saturday night, is the relief pitcher or closer.
Flores insists he is going to make whichever decision he must to ensure the Dolphins pull out a victory.
“The label is we’re going to do what we have to do to win. I owe that to Dolphins fans, players in the locker room and people in the organization,” Flores said on Sunday a day after the Dolphins’ win.
“Whatever we need to do to try to win, that’s what we’ll try to do.”
Flores said Tagovailoa will keep his starting job for the regular-season finale on the road against the Buffalo Bills next Sunday in a game Miami needs to win to reach the playoffs.
The Dolphins (10-5) are hanging onto the No. 7 and final playoff seed in the AFC playoff race coming into Sunday’s slate of games. They have made the postseason just twice (2008 and 2016) since 2001.
While some may believe Fitzpatrick should start in the finale and gives the Dolphins a better chance to win, Flores strongly believes it would be shortsighted to bench Tagovailoa simply based on the outcome of the Raiders game.
Fitzpatrick completed 9-of-13 passes for 182 yards and a touchdown, while also leading two field goal drives in relief of Tagovailoa.
The play of the game was Fitzpatrick’s 34-yard pass down the left sideline to receiver Mack Hollins while a Raiders defender pulled his facemask and head to the side. The pass, and 15-yard facemask penalty set up Dolphins kicker Jason Sanders’ game-winning 44-yard field goal.
Tagovailoa, on the other hand, completed 17-of-22 passes for just 94 yards and a touchdown. His longest completion went for 14 yards to Jakeem Grant on the second drive of the game. He was sacked three times.
“I don’t make judgments or decisions based on one instance. There’s a lot that goes into the decisions we make. Not just one game or one quarter. Tua has done a lot of good things for this team. He knows that. This team knows that,” Flores said when asked why Fitzpatrick won’t be the Dolphins’ starter.
“The speculation on whatever people want to speculate about on what we should or shouldn’t do based on last night, I wouldn’t do that and forget the body of work over the course of the season. … I think he’s played fairly well. People may disagree, but we can agree to disagree in that instance.”
Flores also added Tagovailoa’s full body of work includes his work, which no one sees, like practices, meetings and walkthrough sessions.
“Everyone wants to make a judgment and try to make a decision for us on what we should do without all that information,” Flores said.
Some more information: Fitzpatrick’s overall quarterback rating of 76.6 ranks seventh in the NFL behind Aaron Rodgers (83.5), Patrick Mahomes (83.4), Josh Allen (79.6), Dak Prescott (78.5), Ryan Tannehill (78.0) and Baker Mayfield (76.8), while Tagovailoa ranks 24th with 58.2.
Flores has faith in Jones
Dolphins cornerback Byron Jones, Miami’s highest-paid player, was on the unfortunate end of two plays that nearly swung the game in the Raiders’ favor.
Raiders receiver Nelson Agholor scored an 85-yard touchdown pass with 3:37 left to give Las Vegas a 22-16 lead on a play where he may have pushed off on Jones to create separation.
After the Dolphins retook the lead with Myles Gaskin’s 59-yard touchdown catch and run, Jones was called for pass interference for touching Agholor’s shoulders on a deep pass that set up Raiders kicker Daniel Carlson’s 22-yard field goal, which gave Las Vegas a 25-23 lead with 19 seconds left.
Flores said Jones was part of two plays that could have gone either way.
“I have a lot of confidence in Byron. He’s played well all year,” Flores said. “We were able to overcome it. It speaks to the guys we have on this team.”
Flores was also cognizant of the Raiders’ attempt to run the clock and kick the field goal in the final minute with hopes the Dolphins would not comeback.
“Yeah, there were a lot of situations there at the end. They were trying not to score. We were trying to let them score. At the end of the day, they were okay with taking the lead with 19 seconds. There’s a high probability of wining given that situation,” Flores said.
“But we made a couple plays at the end.”
Gesicki in, Parker could return
Dolphins tight end Mike Gesicki returned from a shoulder injury and finished with four catches for 54 yards, including a 31-yard pass from Fitzpatrick to set up a field goal early in the fourth quarter.
“It’s great to have Mike back out there,” Flores said of Gesicki, who leads Miami with six touchdowns. “He’s battled through the injury from a couple weeks ago. He was productive for us last night. I was happy to have him back.”
Flores said receiver DeVante Parker, who missed his second straight game due to a hamstring injury, could return for the finale at Buffalo.
“DeVante doing everything he can to get back out there,” Flores said of Parker, who leads Miami with 57 catches for 677 yards. “He was at practice last week. He’s doing everything he can and he’s close.”
Playoffs on the line
If the Dolphins beat Buffalo, they’ll reach the playoffs for just third time since 2001 (2008, 2016).
They’re going to enjoy the Raiders win before preparing for the Bills this week.
“We’re excited. We’re excited to win. It was a tough game, a good team win. I think they fought to the bitter end,” Flores said.
“It was a good team win. We’re excited. We’re going to enjoy this one. But we’re going to turn the page and move on.”