Despite an uneven performance from rookie quarterback Tua Tagovailoa in his first career NFL start, the Miami Dolphins upset the Los Angeles Rams 28-17 at Hard Rock Stadium on Sunday.
After veteran Ryan Fitzpatrick played well and led the Dolphins to a 3-3 start, Dolphins head coach Brian Flores announced prior to last week's bye that he was making the switch to Tagovailoa. The No. 5 overall pick out of Alabama finished with just 93 yards and one touchdown, but he did enough to win.
Mistakes loomed large for the Rams in their road loss, as they turned the ball over four times, with quarterback Jared Goff accounting for two interceptions and two fumbles lost.
By virtue of Sunday's win, the Dolphins are a surprising 4-3, which is good for second place in the AFC East. Meanwhile, the Rams are now 5-3 and third in the highly competitive NFC West.
Tua Tagovailoa, QB, MIA: 12/22, 93 YDS, 1 TD, 0 INT
Myles Gaskin, RB, MIA: 18 CAR for 47 YDS, 1 TD; 3 REC, 16 YDS
DeVante Parker, WR, MIA: 1 REC, 3 YDS, 1 TD
Jared Goff, QB, LAR: 35/61, 355 YDS, 1 TD, 2 INT
Darrell Henderson, RB, LAR: 8 CAR, 47 YDS; 1 REC, 11 YDS
Robert Woods, WR, LAR: 7 REC, 85 YDS, 1 TD; 2 CAR, 9 YDS, 1 TD
Cooper Kupp, WR, LAR: 11 REC, 110 YDS
Tua Shows Flashes Despite Modest Stat Line
Although Tagovailoa didn't light up the scoreboard or pile up the passing yardage, he secured the most important stat in his first career NFL start—a win.
While the game ended well for Tua and Co., his NFL career as a starter got off to an inauspicious start, as all-world defensive tackle Aaron Donald sacked and stripped Tagovailoa, leading to the Rams taking a 7-0 lead:
That type of setback could have conceivably rattled the 22-year-old, but he managed to bounce back and get the Dolphins on the board at the end of the first quarter.
After a Goff interception, Tua threw a laser to DeVante Parker for a three-yard touchdown, which helped tie the score at 7-7:
The Alabama product displayed youthful exuberance and unbridled enthusiasm after throwing the first touchdown pass of what could be a long and fruitful career:
That would be Tagovailoa's only touchdown of the game, but in some ways that was a case of him not needing to do any more than that.
Miami's defense victimized the Rams, and the Dolphins made some big plays on special teams that contributed to the victory.
The Dolphins also got a rushing touchdown out of running back Myles Gaskin, which suggests head coach Brian Flores wasn't necessarily worried about forcing passes in the red zone to pad Tua's stats.
With Miami playing so well on defense and special teams, Albert Breer of The MMQB took the time to praise Flores for his decision to make the switch from Fitz to Tua when he did:
In contrast, Pro Football Talk's Michael David Smith expressed his belief that Miami's lack of production on offense Sunday proved that benching Fitzpatrick was the wrong move:
Tagovailoa will likely need more than one game to prove Flores right or wrong, but the offense's poor numbers can't be placed solely on his shoulders.
Miami got next to nothing out of the running game with 55 yards on 25 carries, which is something that must improve in order for Tagovailoa and the Dolphins to enjoy sustained success.
Turnovers, Mistakes Loom Large in Rams Loss
Tua may not have made the greatest first impression as a rookie quarterback, but he didn't lose the game for his team. The same cannot be said for Goff.
Goff is a fifth-year quarterback who led the Rams to the Super Bowl two seasons ago, but as pointed out by ESPN NFL analyst Ryan Clark, he was the one who looked inexperienced and out of sorts at times:
The first half was a nightmare for Goff and the L.A. offense, as he turned the ball over four times.
His first turnover was an interception by defensive tackle Christian Wilkins, which led to Tagovailoa's only touchdown pass:
Then, with the score tied 7-7, Goff was sacked and fumbled, and Dolphins linebacker Andrew Van Ginkel returned it 78 yards for a touchdown:
Goff threw his second interception and lost a second fumble during the first half as well, the latter of which led to another Miami touchdown.
WPLG's Will Manso noted the Dolphins getting after Goff played a huge role in his mistakes:
Goff's inability to protect the football was one of the biggest reasons why the Rams lost Sunday, but it was far from the only factor.
Los Angeles largely played great defensively, but the Rams' special teams unit had a major gaffe in the second quarter, as it allowed Jakeem Grant to return a punt 88 yards for a touchdown:
That score helped put Miami up 21-7 and came right after the fumble return for a touchdown, so momentum was firmly on the Dolphins' side at that point.
There was seemingly no coming back for the Rams at that point, and although Goff made the score look a bit more respectable in the second half with a touchdown, Miami was never in danger.
Sunday's game was one L.A. easily could have won with the defense shutting down a rookie quarterback making his first start, but Goff did not rise to the occasion.
Tagovailoa will look to improve next week when the Dolphins face a tough road challenge against the 5-2 Arizona Cardinals.
Meanwhile, the Rams are on bye and return the following week for a pivotal home game against the NFC West rival Seattle Seahawks.