Tua Tagovailoa Earns Win in 1st Career Start as Dolphins Upset Jared Goff, Rams

Mike Chiari@mikechiariFeatured ColumnistNovember 1, 2020

Miami Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa (1) gestures during the first half of an NFL football game against the Los Angeles Rams, Sunday, Nov. 1, 2020, in Miami Gardens, Fla. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)
Lynne Sladky/Associated Press

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.


Notable Stats

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:

Los Angeles Rams @RamsNFL

💪 Defenseeeee 💪https://t.co/I3FOKLVyZp

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:

Miami Dolphins @MiamiDolphins

Welcome to the league, Tuanigamanuolepola Tagovailoa. @Tua ➡ @DeVanteParker11 📺 @NFLonFOX https://t.co/0eMVRfQQPr

The Alabama product displayed youthful exuberance and unbridled enthusiasm after throwing the first touchdown pass of what could be a long and fruitful career:

Bleacher Report @BleacherReport

Tua hits the Griddy after scoring his first career TD 😂 (via @thecheckdown) https://t.co/vHbyTmWKhQ

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:

Albert Breer @AlbertBreer

Dolphins QB Tua Tagovailoa is 5-of-11 for 34 yards and a touchdown, and Miami is up 28-7. And that perfectly illustrates why this was the perfect spot for Brian Flores to turn to Tua. Best situation for a young QB: One where you're not putting the world on his shoulders.

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:

Michael David Smith @MichaelDavSmith

The Dolphins are probably gonna win anyway but Fitz is way better than Tua right now. Not even close. I'm not a fan of teams not playing their best players. https://t.co/YW0HnOcTvI

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:

Ryan Clark @Realrclark25

Well!! Doesn’t matter if the Dolphins’ QB can play because the Rams’ QB can’t today... Goff is under constant pressure, looks more like the newbie, than young Tua, & his eyes are bigger than a brand new millionaire in his first visit to Tootsie’s Cabaret.

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:

Miami Dolphins @MiamiDolphins

WHITE RANGER @cwilkins42 🔥 📺 @NFLonFOX https://t.co/ACvRnisDfd

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:

Miami Dolphins @MiamiDolphins

.@AndrewVanGinkel WENT ALL THE WAY 😳 📺 @NFLonFOX https://t.co/BAlkcbynLZ

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:

Will Manso @WillManso

The Dolphins defense has made life hell for Jared Goff so far, and Ogbah has been a huge part of both turnovers.

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:

Miami Dolphins @MiamiDolphins

THINGS ARE HAPPENING FAST 😱😳🤩 @_TheDreamIsHere | 📺 @NFLonFOX https://t.co/pIwzVslOs1

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.


What's Next?

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.


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