4 Reasons Ryan Fitzpatrick Should Be Dolphins' Starter Heading into Week 17
With playoff positioning at stake in Week 16, Flores yanked Tagovailoa from the lineup late, handing the offense over to Fitzpatrick and eventually winning 26-25 over the Las Vegas Raiders. Afterward, he said the move was like going to a "relief pitcher in the ninth," according to ESPN's Adam Schefter.
He added that Tagovailoa will get the start in Week 17 against the Buffalo Bills at Ralph Wilson Stadium. Yet with the playoffs at stake, it makes more sense to rely on the veteran.
It's a unique problem: Do the Dolphins embrace the future now and let the rookie get reps? Or do they go all-in on winning, potentially delaying their next step forward?
Here are a few reasons why they should give the nod to Fitzpatrick.
Fitzmagic Appears to Be Heating Up
Fitzpatrick's reputation as a streaky player is well earned, as he'll help lead his team to big wins before ultimately collapsing.
But if the 38-year-old veteran is heating up, why not try to leverage that into a playoff run?
He threw for 182 yards with a touchdown after entering the Week 16 matchup in the fourth quarter. According to ESPN Stats & Info, he went 5-of-6 for 154 yards and a touchdown when throwing more than five yards downfield compared to a 3-of-7 mark from Tagovailova for 35 yards.
Over his last two appearances, both wins for Miami, Fitzpatrick has thrown for three scores with no picks. That number would be even better had Mack Hollins not dropped a catch at the goal line right after Fitzpatrick entered the game in the fourth quarter on Saturday.
If the Dolphins want to make a push, it seems like Fitzpatrick is on an upswing.
Week 16 Wasn't the 1st Time
It's clear the Dolphins wanted a spark under center when swapping out Tagovailoa for Fitzpatrick.
Flores first did this in Week 11 on the road against the Denver Broncos. The results weren't as pretty, with the Dolphins coming up short 20-13. Fitzpatrick threw an interception while trying to spur a comeback.
Perhaps the Dolphins wouldn't have needed two comeback attempts against key AFC opponents had the veteran been the starter. If Flores and Co. wanted to make their opponents prep for multiple quarterbacks, they could have the rookie enter the game late to provide different wrinkles to the attack.
Walking the tightrope between development and contention is a dangerous game.
Playoffs Require Experience and Risk, Not Playing It Safe
If contention is the aim right now, Fitzpatrick is the better option.
And it's not just because of his experience. It's also about his willingness to take risks.
Fitzpatrick has averaged 7.8 yards per pass attempt to Tagovailoa's 6.3 with only 35 attempts separating them. The veteran averages 232.3 passing yards per game compared to 161.4 for the rookie.
Fitzpatrick might be more of a known commodity to opposing defenses, but he's also not playing it as safe. That can have merit, especially against a 12-3 Bills team that's only allowing 222.8 passing yards per game, ranked eighth in the NFL.
It's also clear Fitzpatrick manages the offense better when key weapons aren't available, like when the Dolphins didn't have DeVante Parker in their Week 16 win over the Raiders. Defenses have to anticipate more, which creates openings.
The Future Can Wait
Were the Dolphins playing meaningless games down the stretch, keeping Tagovailoa out there to develop would make plenty of sense.
But there's more at stake for the Dolphins, who have pulled off a masterful rebuild in a short timespan and could put an exclamation point on things if they can make some noise in the postseason.
Tagovailoa is struggling to feel pressure and fit passes into tight windows, which is expected of a rookie. He's also not excelling where Fitzpatrick would in terms of pushing the ball down the field, so it makes sense to defer to the veteran.
If the Dolphins do roll with Fitzpatrick as their Week 17 starter, there may be second-guessing if things go wrong, but there should not be any real controversy. While the No. 5 overall pick in 2020 is the future, the 16th-year veteran got Miami into the AFC playoff picture in the first place. Based on the lack of problems so far despite the unorthodox approach from the coaching staff, it's hard to imagine it would harm Tagovailoa's development or long-term confidence, either.
Flores has already shown he is not afraid to rotate his quarterbacks. Even though the Dolphins are Tagovailoa's team moving forward, nobody would bat an eye if they go with Fitzpatrick under center in Week 17.