Tua Tagovailoa, with Dolphins coach Mike McDaniel, had an uncharacteristically poor performance in the loss against San Francisco.

Pressure Point: Dolphins need Tagovailoa to bounce back like franchise QB

This one was (mostly) on Tua, and he knew it.

“No one really to blame but myself,” Tua Tagovailoa said after he misfired early and often in the Miami Dolphins’ 33-17 loss Sunday at San Francisco. “It sucks that we didn’t come out and do what we wanted to do collectively. Obviously, it starts with me offensively.”

This was prime example of why a franchise quarterback is so essential to rise to the top in the modern NFL.

It’s what distinguishes the rare breed that can make everything right when everything is going wrong.

Like when your defense is getting picked apart by a third-string rookie quarterback who entered the league as Mr. Irrelevant. And when you’re sophisticated zone-blocking running game is getting schooled by the one it was modeled after. And you’re facing the top-rated defense in the league without your best offensive lineman.

That’s what the Dolphins needed against the 49ers and Tagovailoa failed to deliver in the first big test of the late-season playoff push.

The frustrating part is that it was within his reach. There were ample opportunities that were missed, particularly in the first half. Receivers were open for significant gains. Pass protection was often better than may have been expected in the absence of cornerstone left tackle Terron Armstead.

Time and again Tua missed the open man. Badly.

Tagovailoa uncharacteristically inaccurate

The familiar Tua touch got misplaced somewhere on the way to Santa Clara. Several throws were too high for leaping receivers. Others fell short or off line.

It was so glaring that you started to wonder, who kidnapped Tua?

Particularly in the first half when he completed only 8 of 18 for 162 yards.

Tagovailoa came into the game second in the NFL in completion percentage 71 percent (on pace for a Dolphins season record). He finished Sunday completing just 54.6 percent of his attempts (18 of 33).

There were also interceptions on back-to-back possessions in the third quarter. The first came when intended target Jeff Wilson Jr. fell and ended Tua’s string of 193 passes without a pick.

His very next pass was also intercepted. The picks led to a pair of 49ers field goals.

“I missed guys. There is also some miscommunication of where guys should be breaking. But a poor performance on my part,” Tagovailoa said. “It’s hard to win a game when you’re not on your P’s and Q’s and you’re not dialed in.”

Third-string rookie Purdy golden for 49ers

For whatever reason, he wasn’t the accurate, efficient Tua we’re accustomed to seeing. Maybe he was rushing his throws in anticipation of the 49ers relentless pass rush.

Understandable with Nick Bosa bringing the heat all day. Bosa, the NFC’s Defensive Player of the Month for November, got a great start on December with three sacks, four quarterback hits, a forced fumble and two tackles for loss.

The NFL is a test of adversity, and the 49ers handled theirs much better with Brock Purdy, the final pick in the 2022 draft, stepping in after Jimmy Garoppolo exited on a cart with a season-ending foot injury and outshining would-be MVP candidate Tagovailoa.

Purdy had a huge conversion on under pressure on third-and 10 on touchdown drive just before the half that put San Francisco ahead to stay.

Games tend to turn on pivotal moments. Even with so much going awry for the Dolphins, the tide seemed to be swinging in their favor when they forced a punt on the first possession of the second half and an unsportsmanlike penalty on the return set up them up in 49ers territory. They advanced farther on a roughing-the-passer call against Bosa and then Raheem Mostert went 18 yards on what would have been Miami’s longest run of the game. But a phantom holding call on Robert Hunt negated it. Tua threw the first interception on the next play.

Loss not devastating to Dolphins’ playoff chances

The result certainly wasn’t all on Tagovailoa. He finished with 295 yards and two touchdowns, including a 45-yard toss to Tyreek Hill that pulled the Dolphins within a touchdown early in the fourth quarter. But it wasn’t the elite-level performance the Dolphins needed against an opponent like the 49ers.

It happens to the best of them. Patrick Mahomes fell short of his standards Sunday in the Chiefs’ loss to the Bengals.

Tua looked like a franchise QB in the early season comeback against the Ravens and in some dazzling efforts against lesser opponents.

The Dolphins need him to produce as that level in the vital games ahead, starting next Sunday night against the Justin Herbert and the Chargers. A win would enable the Dolphins to regain command of the AFC East the following week at Buffalo against Josh Allen and the Bills.

A very tall order indeed, made more difficult by the game being moved up a day to Saturday, Dec. 17.

It’s the sort of challenge that separates a franchise quarterback from a pretender.

Craig Davis has covered South Florida sports and teams, including the Dolphins, for four decades. Follow him on Twitter @CraigDavisRuns

Tua Tagovailoa has thrived in coach Mike McDaniel's offense with the Miami Dolphins.

Pressure Point: Tua, Dolphins in position to prove themselves on field, defy doubters

The narrative around Tua Tagovailoa has always been a rush to judgment. Not only in the voices writing him off in his first two seasons with the Miami Dolphins, but even now that the song has changed to a chorus of lavish praise.

The transformation of Tua this season in Mike McDaniel’s offense has been heartening and given long-suffering Dolfans a sense they may finally have a quarterback to lead the team to genuine success.

It has certainly been fun to watch the third-year quarterback leading the most prolific Dolphins offense since Danny Boy was letting it fly to the Marks Brothers.
In just a few weeks Tagovailoa has gone from much-maligned to canonized.

I prefer to withhold assessment until this season’s body of work is complete.

49ers defense formidable adversary

The NFL season doesn’t begin in earnest until Thanksgiving. It is about to get very real for Tua and the Dolphins with a six-pack of treachery standing between them and the playoffs.

The first foray into the gauntlet, Sunday at San Francisco, will give a more telling read on this Dolphins offense than the current five-game winning streak, attained against some of the most porous defenses in the NFL.

They will be up against the top-ranked 49ers defense with a punishing pass rush led by Fort Lauderdale native Nick Bosa, who has 11.5 sacks and was just named the NFC’s Defensive Player of the Month for November. Oh, and the Dolphins are holding out hope that star left tackle Terron Armstead, who strained a pectoral muscle last Sunday, will be available to try to slow him down (he’s listed as doubtful).

The most significant images from the 30-15 win over the lowly Texans were the four rapid-fire sacks of Tua after Brandon Shell took Armstead’s place.

This is not a forecast of doom. The 49ers aren’t infallible, despite allowing only 40 points while winning their past four games. That was preceded by giving up 44 points in a loss to the Chiefs.

Dolphins face tough stretch run

It is cautionary. Miami’s five-game winning streak has come against five sub-.500 teams that are a combined 16-39-1.

The Dolphins’ six remaining opponents are a combined 39-30. Five of them are in playoff position now or contending for a wild-card spot.

The next three are on the road: Sunday at the 7-4 49ers, then at the 6-5 Los Angeles Chargers and at their primary AFC East nemesis, the 9-3 Buffalo Bills.

Only the 4-8 Packers at home on Christmas Day seems like a potential breather.

They finish with a cold-weather visit to New England for New Year’s before the season finale at Hard Rock Stadium against the Jets.

Are these Dolphins worthy of their current lofty status (the No. 2 seed in the AFC before the Bills won on Thursday night)?

Is Tua true to the numbers he’s been putting up the past five games and now ready to lead them in serious championship pursuit?

Heat always on Tua

It doesn’t matter how the talking heads and prognosticators weigh in. The beauty of what the Dolphins have achieved to this point is they will have a chance to answer all the questions on the field.

It starts with the Protege vs. Mentor matchup in McDaniel’s return to San Francisco. Then the Tua vs. Justin Herbert Forever Debate gets an on-field airing. (Remember, Tua and the Dolphins won their previous meeting in 2020).

There will also be two episodes of Whose Weather is Tougher on Division Rivals with the Dolphins’ visits to Buffalo and New England.

For what it’s worth, CBS Sports projects the Dolphins to end up seeded No. 5 as the AFC’s top wild card with the Bills winning the East. That is based on the SportsLine computer simulation of the remainder of the NFL season.

There is no shortage of doubters out there. ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith suggested that the 49ers’ rush is a threat to “fragile” Tua’s health.

Sure, it’s a concern. The onus is on the line — Miami’s offensive line, that is — to protect its quarterback whether Armstead is there or not.

Battle to control middle of field

It’s up to Tagovailoa to continue to do what he’s been doing well in going through his progressions quickly and getting the ball to a corps of receivers that has to put fear into any defense.

The intriguing area of focus in Sunday’s game will be the intermediate middle of the field that Tua has exploited so successfully. Defending that area, where middle linebacker Fred Warner roams, happens to be what the 49ers do best.

Next Gen Stats Analyst Keegan Abdoo highlights two telling stats:

“[Tagovailoa] has 38 completions when throwing to the intermediate middle this season, a whopping 16 more than any other quarterback — and that’s despite Tua missing two whole games. [Tyree] Hill and [Jaylen] Waddle’s burst and ability to separate have been key to Tagovailoa’s success in this area, allowing the quarterback to sling it as soon as he hits the back of his drop. …

“Since Warner arrived in San Francisco, opposing quarterbacks have had as much trouble finding affordable real estate as Bay Area residents themselves. The 49ers have allowed just 71 completions to the intermediate middle over the last five seasons, 15 fewer than any other defense.”

So, something has to give Sunday, and that’s the reason for tuning in every week.

Embrace the difficulty of the task ahead. There’s no dodging it anyway.

It’s what Dolfans have been waiting years for, to see their team this relevant in the most vital stretch of a season.

Proof is in the Dec. 11 game against the Chargers being flexed to “Sunday Night Football.” The network sees ratings in Tua vs. Herbert and all the fireworks that promises.

This Dolphins franchise has endured tons of December/January heartbreak in the past. The first 11 games have given reason to believe this season may be different.

The next month and a half will determine whether there will be reason to toast a viable playoff run or face another offseason crying in our beer.

Craig Davis has covered South Florida sports and teams, including the Dolphins, for four decades. Follow him on Twitter @CraigDavisRuns

Miami Dolphins Tua Tagovailoa and Trent Sherfield dance in celebration of a touchdown against the Browns.

Pressure Point: First-place Dolphins well positioned for playoff push

Tyreek Hill said he’s going to the Bahamas to “sit by the beach and drink some mimosas” during the Miami Dolphins’ bye week.

The star wide receiver has certainly earned it, a major reasons the Dolphins are 7-3 and alone in first place in the AFC East following Sunday’s 39-17 romp over the Cleveland Browns — and Buffalo’s subsequent loss to Minnesota.

It wouldn’t be surprising if Jeff Wilson Jr. followed Hill all the way to Paradise Island, just as the running back did on the way to the promised land of the end zone Sunday with his speedy teammate waving him through like a motorcycle cop clearing the express lane for a VIP.

That was one of an inordinate number of giddy, feel-good moments in the Dolphins’ fourth consecutive win that featured so much dancing and jiving and celebrating it was as if everyone at Hard Rock Stadium had taken a deep hit of helium and was jabbering with high-pitched glee like Minnie Mouse.

I mean, when have you seen this team so well in sync?

There was Wilson, who seemingly materialized out of thin air in an oh-by-the-way trade deadline deal by GM Chris Grier, running for 117 yards at a 7.0 per-carry average.

Kudos to Dolphins’ O-line

The much-maligned offensive line not only kept Tua Tagovailoa sack free, it paved the way for a team total 195 yards rushing, with Raheem Mostert going for 65 yards while averaging 8.1 a carry including a 24-yard touchdown gallop that broke the game open on the first possession of the second half.

There was the defense overcoming a shaky start and turning in one of the better efforts of the season with newcomer Bradley Chubb beginning to show the impact he can have with half a sack and three quarterback hurries.

And most significant, Tagovailoa summoning chants of “MVP, MVP, MVP” with a third consecutive sublime performance of three touchdown passes, no interceptions and passer rating of 135.0 or better.

Not only has he not thrown so much as a near interception in the past three weeks, it’s tough to recall a pass that wasn’t right on target. The absolute dime he delivered to Trent Sherfield in the corner of the end zone was worth watching over and over again.

One other thing of note: the Dolphins didn’t punt in the game.

Dolphins haven’t been 7-3 since 2001

Considering Tagovailoa missed 2 ½ games with a concussion (or two) and there were serious questions about his health and future, the Dolphins arrived at their well-deserved week off sitting about as pretty as anyone could have dreamed.

Then the first round of mimosas was delivered on the house courtesy of the Minnesota Vikings winning 33-30 in overtime at Buffalo in as compelling of a regular-season game as you’ll see this or any season.

That gifted the division lead to the Dolphins, who had already lifted themselves into a rarefied place.

That was noted in the tweet of the day by Tim Reynolds of the Associated Press, who wrote:

“The last time the Dolphins were 7-3 was 2001.
– 24 starting QBs ago
– 8 head coaches ago
– 7 stadium names ago
– Heat had zero titles
– LeBron was in HS
– iPod came out
– iPhone was 6 years away
– Tua was 3
– Mike McDaniel was a Yale freshman
– Tom Brady was a first-year starter”

Plenty of work ahead for Dolphins

In diverging from the frustrating past two decades (at least to this point), the Dolphins have positioned themselves well for the final seven-game push for playoff position, a stretch that features ample opportunity but is certain to deliver plenty of adversity along the way.

Already some on the horizon. According to various media reports Sunday night, defensive end Emmanuel Ogbah suffered a season-ending triceps injury.

Of the four remaining games outside the AFC East, only the Los Angeles Chargers (away on Dec. 11) are over .500.

Ultimately it will be the final round against the three division rivals — Dec. 17 or 18 at Buffalo, Jan. 1 at New England and the season finale on Jan. 7 or 8 at home against the Jets — that will determine whether the Dolphins will be toasting success or drowning their sorrows at season’s end.

At 7-3 entering the bye week, they have good season to feel pretty damn good about themselves for this momentous moment.

Craig Davis has covered South Florida sports and teams, including the Dolphins, for four decades. Follow him on Twitter @CraigDavisRuns

Tyreek Hill does a flip in celebration of scoring a touchdown for the Dolphins in the win against the Bears.

Pressure Point: Dolphins count on high-flying offense to keep pace in tight AFC East

The plot has certainly thickened in the AFC East race after the Miami Dolphins held off Justin Fields and the Bears in Chicago and the resurgent New York Jets put the kibosh on Josh Allen and the Buffalo Bills in the second half at the Meadowlands on Sunday.

That left the Bills, Dolphins and Jets each with six wins, Buffalo holding a thin grip on first place at 6-2, having played one fewer game. The Dolphins and Jets, each 6-3, have a tiebreaker advantage over Buffalo, as New York does over Miami.

With New England close behind at 5-4, the division couldn’t offer more intrigue entering the second half of the season. All four teams are over .500 after nine weeks of play.

This would be an opportune time for the Dolphins to have a bye week and catch their breath after chasing Fields all over Soldier Field. But first they must face the Browns, with one of the league’s best rushing offenses, before getting a week off to sort out their defensive woes.

Tua, Fields put on memorable show

Meanwhile, the Dolphins are on a three-game winning streak after prevailing in one of the wildest games of the season, 35-32 in what was a showcase of two of the NFL’s most exciting young quarterbacks.

The numbers were insane.

Tua Tagovailoa completed 21 of 30 passes for 302 yards, with three touchdowns, no interceptions and no sacks.

Fields not only threw for three touchdowns, he ran for another while setting a regular-season rushing record by a quarterback with 178 yards on 15 carries.
As frustrating as it was to watch Fields run around and through the Miami defense, including a 61-yard touchdown scamper, it sure was entertaining to watch Tagovailoa shredding the Bears’ pass defense, averaging 10.1 yards per attempt.

Can’t cover Tyreek Hill

Tyreek Hill had seven catches for 143 yards and a touchdown, and is now over 1,000 yards receiving for the season. Jaylen Waddle also had a TD grab while catching five passes for 85 yards.

Running back Jeff Wilson, whose acquisition from the 49ers last week was overshadowed by the trade for pass-rush stud Bradley Chubb, ended up leading Miami with 51 yards rushing while averaging 5.7 a carry and caught what proved to be the winning touchdown pass.

Ironically, Tua put the victory in jeopardy by misfiring on fourth-down passes on consecutive drives into Chicago territory in the second half. But the Dolphins defense finally got the game-sealing stop with a sack by Duke Riley followed by two incompletions.

The hope is Chubb’s presence will elevate the defense when he gets fully integrated into the unit — he provided pressure that helped force a punt in the third quarter. But there are more problems in containment and coverage than one player can solve.

Pro Bowl cornerback Xavien Howard isn’t playing at that level as he copes with a lingering groin issue and counterpart Byron Jones still has not played this season and who knows if he will.

Fortunately for Miami, Tagovailoa is healthy and playing the best he has in his career, making full use of the most dynamic receiving duo in the game. Hill is a legitimate MVP candidate.

Dolphins go as far as Tua and Co. take them

The teams Miami is vying with in the division are in sharp contrast to the Dolphins’ strengths. The Jets are getting it done with defense and running the ball; that was a winning formula Sunday against Buffalo. The Bills have one of the league’s top defenses and the sort of running quarterback in Allen that has given Miami fits.

Having to win high-scoring games may not be the classic formula for success. But as long as the Dolphins keep Tua upright and he can keep the offense rolling like the past couple of weeks, they have a chance to make it interesting and entertaining the second half of the season. Sunday’s win at Chicago was all of that.

Craig Davis has covered South Florida sports and teams, including the Dolphins, for four decades. Follow him on Twitter @CraigDavisRuns

Tyree Hill and Jaylen Waddle are giving the Miami Dolphins the most dynamic receiving duo in the NFL.

Pressure Point: Dolphins’ offense spectacular in win, but porous pass defense worrisome

The Miami Dolphins’ uneasy 31-27 comeback win Sunday at Detroit brought more relief than satisfaction.

It looks a lot better concealed in a 5-3 ledger — which keeps Miami in the thick of the AFC East race — than it did in the light of day.

Falling behind 14-0 and 21-7 against a 1-5 team (now 1-6) that didn’t score a touchdown and only six points total the previous two games was ominous for a team with playoff aspirations.

Jared Goff shredded Miami’s injury-riddled secondary like soft cheese and special teams got burned on a fake punt during the Lions’ 27-point first half.

Fortunately, the Dolphins have an unstoppable force named Tyreek Hill, who had 12 catches for 188 yards and is on pace to break Calvin Johnson’s single-season receiving record and the first 2,000-yard receiving season. The Cheetah had two key catches on the final drive that sealed the win, and was clearly the best player on the field all day.

Tua on target

Tua Tagovailoa turned in one of his best performances: 29-for-36 for 382 yards three touchdowns, no interceptions and a 138.7 rating. The accuracy absent last week in Tua’s return from a concussion (or two?) was back to his standards Sunday.

He threw some beauties, such as the second of two touchdowns to Jaylen Waddle.

Hill’s sidekick Waddle had another 100-yard receiving day (eight catches for 106 yards), and with 727 yards and five touchdowns is tracking toward a 1,500-yard season of his own.

Meanwhile, Mike Gesicki had another TD-grab as he becomes more of a factor in the passing game, and Trent Sherfield continues to contribute timely catches.

All of those gaudy numbers on offense (476 total yards including 107 rushing) are fun to talk about and the replays entertaining. Particularly after the Dolphins failed to score 20 points in the previous four games.

Offensive eruption overdue

Essentially, Tua and Co. finally delivered what has been missing since the 28-point fourth quarter against the Ravens in Week 2. They needed every bit of it to outlast one of two remaining one-win teams in the league.

It was a win to feel grateful for but queasy about after watching Goff and the Lions score on all five first-half possessions.

The Dolphins’ offense consumed most of the third quarter with nearly 11 minutes of possession and the defense got a vital fourth-down stop on Detroit’s final drive of the game.

For the Dolphins, moving on means trying to somehow put together a patch for a secondary that is going to be targeted every week. Brandon Jones and Nik Needham are gone for the season and it’s beginning to look like veteran cornerback Byron Jones may not surface at all. He has yet to practice since offseason ankle surgery.

There just isn’t a cache of viable defensive backs lurking on the waiver wire and practice squads midway through the season.

Odd that veteran Erik Rowe was left inactive Sunday. Supposedly it was for the benefit of special teams, which didn’t exactly justify the decision as it turned out.

Ranks thin in secondary

Surely, some unemployed DBs will be brought in for auditions. Realistically, thought, the current cast is going to have to cowboy up and hope to get more help with pressure up front than we’ve seen.

Good news for Miami is the Dolphins are into the softest stretch of the season: Bears, Browns, Texans, 49ers, Chargers in the next five games. All currently under .500 except the 4-3 Chargers.

Those are winnable games, but by no means gimmees. Sunday’s close call at Detroit was proof enough these Dolphins can’t take anything for granted. Not with a defense that showed vulnerabilities early in the season and is now greatly diminished in pass coverage.

So, celebrate the highlight-reel showcase of Tagovailoa, Hill, Waddle Raheem Mostert and the rest of the playmakers. They put on a spectacular show Sunday.

They’ll need to repeat it every week for this team to remain on a playoff course.

Craig Davis has covered South Florida sports and teams, including the Dolphins, for four decades. Follow him on Twitter @CraigDavisRuns

Dolphins quarterback Teddy Bridgewater was knocked out of the game on the first play against the Jets.

Pressure Point: Loss to Jets shows how much Dolphins miss Tua

Quick, pass the Scope. This 40-17 debacle Sunday at the Meadowlands has to leave a sour taste in the mouth of everyone with any association or interest in the Miami Dolphins — players, coaches, fans.

That was a game the Dolphins could have and should have won, despite a mountain of adversity that began on their first offensive play when they lost quarterback Teddy Bridgewater to a dubious concussion ruling following a dubious intentional grounding call that spotted the New York Jets a 2-0 lead on a safety.

Yes, it took exactly one play for the NFL’s new amended concussion protocol to open a proverbial can of worms. Ironically, the Dolphins were first to be bitten by it, although those who claimed Miami gamed the previous protocol in handling Tua Tagovailoa’s head knock in Week 3 against the Bills (though the NFL investigation determined they did adhere to procedure) might call it karma.

On Sunday, Bridgewater passed the concussion evaluation but he was prohibited from returning to the game because the ATC spotter in the booth believed he saw the quarterback stumble.

Thus, we had our first brush with the term ataxia, defined as abnormality of balance/stability, motor coordination or dysfunctional speech caused by a neurological issue. That’s the new no-go trigger in the concussion assessment.

Concussion protocol still needs work

With that, the Dolphins were down to their third-string quarterback, rookie seventh-round draft pick Skylar Thompson with nobody else in reserve.

If players are going to be a stumble away from being removed from a game — and this isn’t confined to quarterbacks — then the league is going to need to allow more players to be active or at least available for emergency duty.

Still, the show always must go on, and the Dolphins seemed on their way to adding to an impressive resume of resiliency beginning the fourth quarter — despite also losing their best offensive lineman, left tackle Terron Armstead, and falling into a 12-0 hole.

Dolphins squander opportunity

Having cut the deficit to 19-17, they were driving for a go-ahead score to begin the fourth quarter at the New York 36. Running back Raheem Mostert was chewing up big chunks of yardage on the way to his first 100-yard rushing day as a Dolphin (113 yards, 6.3 yards per carry).

A false-start penalty followed by tight end Tanner Conner dropping a would-be first-down reception halted momentum. Jason Sanders missed a 54-yard field goal attempt that would have given Miami the lead.

Then a Jets storm surge swept away the Dolphins with 21 unanswered points. Just like that, Miami plunged from first to third in the AFC East, the formerly 3-0 Dolphins reduced to 3-2 with leaks springing every which way.

Perhaps most alarming, superstar receiver Tyreek Hill had his left foot in a walking boot after the game.

Dolphins defense a concern

Three-time Pro Bowl cornerback Xavien Howard missed the game with a groin injury, and their other star cornerback, Byron Jones, has yet to play this season.

The defense, which was regarded as such a strength of the team that it was kept virtually intact from 2021, has been looking more like unit that struggled the first half of last season than the one that earned that much respect during the second half. The pass rush has been paltry all season and coverage issues were magnified by Howard’s absence.

Next week they face the Vikings and Kirk Cousins, a top-10 quarterback who lit up the Bears on Sunday.

Most notably, the losses the past two weeks have shown how much Tagovailoa means to this offense. That was evident after Bridgewater replaced him against the Bengals. Then Thompson, who gained a cult following with an impressive preseason, demonstrated how different it is for rookie quarterbacks when pressed into emergency service in the regular season.

When will Tagovailoa return to action? That is the great unknown for a team that has fallen quickly off course.

While Mike McDaniel and his staff have plenty of concerns to deal with this week, it is clear that the hopes for a season that started so promising now hinge on Tagovailoa’s health.

Craig Davis has covered South Florida sports and teams, including the Dolphins, for four decades. Follow him on Twitter @CraigDavisRuns

I Still Believe in a Place Called Hope

Some of you might get the reference in the title, as it echoes out of my childhood.

Bill Clinton, from Hope, Arkansas, famously ended his acceptance speech for the 1992 Presidential Campaign by saying, “I still believe in a place called Hope.”

Former President Clinton played an outsized role in how I grew to love this country, and always continue to believe in it. I even read his 1000+ page autobiography. He not only believed in a place called Hope, he made me believe in a place called Hope.

And as I found myself stunned, watching Middle Tennessee score touchdown after touchdown, watching the preseason positivity disintegrate, I shook a little. How could this be happening again? This 20 year nightmare we appear to be watching on repeat, this endless cycle of never getting it right, of never seeming to have things go Miami’s way.

Even the most optimistic of fans must have had their faith tested.

Reflections of the Way Life Used to Be

This weekend, as Alabama flipped a switch to pull away from Arkansas, my sister-in-law commented on how it must be strange to go to a school that just expects to win every game.

That was Miami at one time.

And while no one expects to get back to that, it’s hard to believe that this was once THE program. The default Top 5 ranking, the expectation that they’d win every game, the shockwaves at any loss, the opponents storming the field if said loss happened on the road.

What we experienced against Middle Tennessee was radically different. Yes, it made national waves. The Canes, after all, were still ranked. And a ranked team getting dominated by Middle Tennessee at home is always going to make headlines.

Of course, the community has to own that loss. We took it on the chin. Everyone made fun of us, the coach had to stand in front of everyone and try to explain what happened. Explain the inexplicable.

Nope, none of that was any different from what it would have been 15-20 years ago. The difference, however, was in the word “again.”

FIU, Louisiana Tech….now Middle Tennessee. It happened…again.

I don’t think anyone expected to be the program that Miami was in the 80s and early 2000s, to essentially be Alabama. And we knew it would take time to build the program into perennial contenders for the playoffs and for ACC titles.

But this wasn’t supposed to happen anymore. All told, you could easily argue the 4 worst losses in program history were in the last 4 seasons (2019 to FIU, Louisiana Tech, and Georgia Tech and 2022 to Middle Tennessee).

Not only do the Canes appear to not be on the always promised but never delivered upward trajectory, but they appear to be sinking as time and distance separates them from past success. 

The only thing left is to once again pull up youtube, find some old clips (in Standard Definition, of course), and reflect.

Reflect on the way life used to be. Reflect on the love they took from us. All alone with only memories.

Back in My Arms Again

The thing is this…as depressing as that gloomy day against Middle Tennessee was, this program is still bigger than any one game. And yes, bigger than any 2 decade drought.

I fully understand that we might be waiting forever to scale the mountain once more. That it might never happen, that we might be perpetually oscillating between unrequited dreams of success and the nightmares of reality.

I wish I had enjoyed the highs of yesteryear more. That is my one regret.

But give up? Why would we do that?

This dream can’t be allowed to die, however delusional it might appear in the context of the last 20 years.

Some things are too important, and extend beyond the playing field. South Florida without the Miami Hurricanes as an example for what the community can accomplish transforms a vibrant community into a rudderless ship.

While the program has appeared to drive aimlessly for 20 years, it still serves a purpose.

Monitoring social media during the 2nd half of that Middle Tennessee debacle was like watching  an obituary being written in real time. Long suffering fans giving up on the program, going numb.

There is an element of that in us all. The thought of getting national champions back in our arms again but a distant dream, waiting to be satisfied.

The Choice

That cliche is that it is always darkest before the dawn. But what if dawn never arrives?

Perpetual darkness?

In real life, the sun always rises. But in sports there is no guarantee.

Why is it that we can watch Nebraska fumble around and definitively, confidently state they will never be back and then look at ourselves and say eventually, we’ll ascend the mountaintop once more?

I’ll tell you why.


Miami still means something to me, to everyone. Whether it is obsessive “financial reporters” on twitter using any random news story to whine about Miami and NIL or national media waiting to pounce on the slightest transgression, Miami matters.

And it matters much more to South Florida.

So, as we reach the fork in the road. Do we accept what we’ve seen for the last 20 years as a permanency? Is this just Miami football now and forever?

Or, do we dare to dream? Dare to believe in the future? That a brighter Miami is always on the horizon. It’s a decision we all have to make. Do we risk pain for the potential payoff of joy, knowing that payoff may not arrive?

Miami has been too good to me and meant too much to me. I can’t extricate myself from this program and wouldn’t want to. I choose to believe.

I believe in the majesty of South Florida.

I believe that the tide can turn.

I believe that great things can be accomplished here.

I believe they can take it to North Carolina on Saturday, and many opponents out into the future.

I believe that eventually Miami will win big again.

I believe in Mario Cristobal

I believe in this U.

In the end, I know what I most believe.

I still believe in a place called Hope.

Vishnu Parasuraman is a journalist for @FiveReasonsSports. He covers the Miami Hurricanes for Sixth Ring Canes and Formula 1 for Hitting the Apex. You can follow him on twitter @vrp2003

Miami Dolphins Melvin Ingram picks up Josh Allen's fumble

Fresh Perspective: Miami Dolphins veteran leadership paying early dividends

Looking back on the past few seasons for the Miami Dolphins, one of the main things that was missing was true veteran leadership. In 2021, the oldest player on the roster was 34-year-old defensive back Jason McCourty, and he was placed on season-ending IR at the end of October.

After McCourty, the only player left over the age of 29 was utility offensive lineman Jesse Davis. Needless to say, there was a distinct lack of veteran leadership on that roster. It showed in how the team played. In spite of going 9-8 in 2021, the team often seemed unprepared for who they were facing. Simple things baffled the young players, they were taken advantage of by wily veterans.

Raw athleticism can only get a team so far.

Now, three games in to the Mike McDaniel era, and the Miami Dolphins are already seeing major improvement across the board. The added veteran leadership has a lot to do with that.

For example, take veteran pass rusher Melvin Ingram. He was signed to a 1-year, $4 million dollar contract, presumably to be a situational pass rusher. Ingram has been anything but situational so far. In three games, Ingram has two sacks, one forced fumble and two fumble recoveries. More than that, however, is how he’s making that happen.

Ingram has been in the NFL for 11 seasons. He knows what it’s like to face adversity, and he knows the taste of success. He’s learned how to use all sorts of tricks to accomplish his goals. And he’s earned the respect that a veteran should have.

“You can’t tell me nothing bad about Melvin Ingram ever in life.” Dolphins DT Christian Wilkins said after the win against the Buffalo Bills. “After seeing what he did on the last play, he has the ultimate respect. An 11-year pro beating a rusher, missing a sack, then making a play 10, 15, 20 yards down the field, that’s just a dawg mentality. That’s leadership. That’s ‘want-to.’ That’s will.”

It’s those kinds of plays that inspire a young team to greatness, and a fanbase to reach new levels of excitement.

“The atmosphere was amazing!” Ingram said. “We thank every fan that was out there screaming and everything that had us feeling the matchup. It was electrifying, and it is something that you love to play in. We feed off of them – without them, there is no us.”

But it isn’t just Ingram. Offensive tackle Terron Armstead is also proving he’s worth every penny of the 5-year, $75 million deal he signed with Miami. On top of being a top level player, he’s also showing that he can be invaluable in a mentorship role. During the remarkable comeback against the Baltimore Ravens, Miami was driving down the field after the two minute warning. And as the Dolphins rushed back to the line, it was Armstead who signaled Tagovailoa to stay settled and not let the rush throw him off his groove.

It seemed as if Tagovailoa visibly responded to the signal, as he made sure everyone was set and the drive continued until the eventually go-ahead touchdown was scored.

Armstead took on that role a second time during the Bills game, as he noticed the playclock ticking down and took it upon himself to call timeout. What was most telling is that no one questioned his decision. Tagovailoa did not argue with Armstead, nor did head coach Mike McDaniel. They trusted that Armstead made the right decision, and ultimately it was.

That sort of trust is not afforded to just anyone. Terron Armstead has earned the right to have that type of power in the huddle, and it’s making a massive difference for the younger players around him. His maturity is rubbing off, and the team looks much more prepared than in past seasons.

“It’s an emotional game.” Armstead told Five Reasons Sports’ Ethan Skolnick after the game. “Lot of energy going around. Lot of momentum, ebbs and flows. So it’s up to guys like myself, Tyreek (Hill), Melvin Ingram, the guys that have been around a while, been in high level games, playoff games, NFC Championship, to keep the emotions in check, keep the focus where it needs to be. It’s important just to have that, that calmness. You never want to get too up or down.”

Having that kind of anchor does wonders for a young team with so much developing talent. Instead of being forced to figure it out all on their own, they can look to their veteran mentors for guidance in real time. The previous Miami Dolphins coach withheld that luxury from his players.

Even little things like playing through injuries sets an example for others to follow. Armstead has been struggling with a toe injury for two weeks straight, and yet he keeps fighting on. Young players take notice of that, and figure if an older player like Armstead can do it, then so can they.

“There’s a lot of inspiring – our guys are really taking leadership and following leadership appropriately. Our captains, specifically, had done an unbelievable job setting the tone.” Coach Mike McDaniel said on Monday. “When you have two captains like that do everything they possibly can to contribute as much as they can to the team, there’s a trickle-down effect that I think really it’s hard to just say their own play. Not only did they play very well – both of them – but I think you’re also setting a tone for your teammates to follow. And I think there’s a lot of straining, a lot of grit, a lot of battling in that game that is a function of a lot of captains really scratching and clawing.”

That scratching and clawing has paid off. The Miami Dolphins are currently 3-0 and are on top of the AFC East. They’ve beaten two Super Bowl winning coaches in Bill Belichick and John Harbaugh. And with Sunday’s victory over their AFC East rivals, the Dolphins have beaten the early Super Bowl favorites.

Last year’s Miami Dolphins don’t manage this feat. Last year’s Miami Dolphins would not have perfected the techniques and the little tricks that can make or break a football game. Those things are learned over time. Several years worth, in fact. But it can be helped along when there’s someone who can help you learn those tricks.

Coaching is crucial, make no mistake. But there’s no substitute for having someone in the huddle who can be looked up to and offer guidance in crucial moments. That is the unmeasurable factor that the likes of Terron Armstead, Melvin Ingram and Tyreek Hill bring to the Miami Dolphins.

And clearly, it’s making a drastic impact.

Luis Sung has covered the Miami Dolphins for numerous outlets such as Dolphins Wire for eight years. Follow him on Twitter: @LuisDSung


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Tua Tagovailoa consoles rival QB Josh Allen after the Dolphins' win against the Bills.

Pressure Point: 3-0 Dolphins may be building something special

There are so many enduring images from the Miami Dolphins’ most unconventional of victories against their AFC East nemesis, the Buffalo Bills.

The final one, of Tua Tagovailoa consoling Bills all-everything quarterback Josh Allen, was due to the one that finally brought the Allen tsunami to a halt.

That was the one of the never-quit Dolphins defense exemplified by veteran linebacker Melvin Ingram on the final play Sunday at Hard Rock Stadium. Ingram, after just missing a sack on Allen on the blitz, turned and dashed 17 yards to tackle Isaiah McKenzie before the Bills receiver could get out of bounds, effectively killing the clock.

After time expired, Allen slammed his helmet on the turf and McKenzie dropped down onto his side. A few seconds later Ingram also flopped down on his back. All of them literally run down to empty, totally, utterly spent.

Dolphins win rope-a-dope

That told the story of a brutally searing September Sunday in South Florida. Rarely, if ever, have we seen so many players leave everything they have literally on the field, exhausted.

The Bills offense was like a revolving door of players leaving the field to be treated for cramping because the Dolphins defense couldn’t get them off the field all day.

Somehow the Dolphins ended a seven-game losing streak to the Bills 21-19 to improve to 3-0 despite Buffalo possessing the ball for nearly 41 minutes and piling up 497 yards to 212 for Miami.

This should be remembered as the Dolphins’ rope-a-dope win. Muhammad Ali would have been proud. They withstood all the punches Allen threw at them, and they seemed endless.

It wouldn’t be surprising if Dolphins defenders have visions of Allen in their sleep for a week. He accounted for 447 yards passing and rushing. He threw 63 passes and rushed eight times.

Dolphins overcome unlikely obstacles

The Dolphins came out of the epic struggle as the lone unbeaten team in the AFC (including 2-0 in the AFC East).

There was no way anyone could have scripted it, but for the second week in a row the Dolphins pulled off a win against a quality opponent that defied explanation.

More of those head-scratching images:

Tagovailoa wobbled off late in the first half after getting thrown down like a ragdoll. He returned after halftime and made one of the best throws of his career on third-and-22 for 45 yards to Jaylen Waddle to set up the go-ahead touchdown.

Then the ridiculous “butt punt” by Thomas Morstead off the backside of Trent Sherfield for a safety that gave the Bills one more chance to drive for a potential winning score. Credit Morstead with a quality punt after the safety to pin the Bills back at their own 23 to start that final possession.

Two weeks in a row the Dolphins have prevailed in games they really had no business winning — the 21-point comeback in the fourth quarter against the Ravens and then over a Bills team that kept on coming like a gang of zombies. It tells you there is something very different and potentially very special about this Dolphins team.

There is talent on offense that they haven’t had since the Marino years, a creative and unconventional young coach and a never-quit spirit shown by Ingram on the final play, and by the collective all day.

Which left the Bills exasperated, especially offensive coordinator Ken Dorsey, who had an epic meltdown in the coaches’ booth after Ingram’s final tackle:

Tua’s back a concern

But it is just a building block. As Tyreek Hill said, “A lot of people are gonna look at this like the Miami Dolphins are here. This is just another win.”

There are also concerns, notably Tagovailoa’s back, which he hurt on a quarterback sneak and was given as the reason he stumbled and fell after the bump on his head.

That will be evaluated further on Monday. The next game is Thursday night at Cincinnati. So no rest for these weary Dolphins. But being 3-0 helps.

Craig Davis has covered South Florida sports and teams, including the Dolphins, for four decades. Follow him on Twitter @CraigDavisRuns


More from Five Reasons: Tua, defense help Dolphins slip past Bills, lead AFC East

Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa led a comeback win from a three-touchdown deficit in the fourth quarter against the Baltimore Ravens.

Pressure Point: Tua, Dolphins merit raves for shocker over Ravens

Just savor it, Dolphins fans.

We’ve never seen the likes of the Miami Dolphins’ 42-38 comeback thriller Sunday at Baltimore.

But after Tua Tagovailoa threw for 469 yards and a Dolphins-record-tying six touchdowns, including two each to Tyreek Hill (190 yards) and Jaylen Waddle (171 yards), there is reason to look ahead with hope.

Like to next week when Josh Allen and the Buffalo Bills come to South Florida.

Tua and his speedy band of playmakers showed the tangible promise of Mike McDaniel’s offense. And you’ve gotta love this unconventional young coach, who doesn’t bat an eye in going for it on fourth-and-short in his own territory in the first half — and makes it.

Still not quite sure I believe what we just witnessed.

Dolphins’ comeback a rarity

Down by three touchdowns to what for three quarters looked like a thoroughly superior Ravens team, much-maligned Tagovailoa fired four touchdown passes in the fourth quarter for the most outrageous of comebacks. On the road.

It was the first time in 12 years any NFL team has overcome a 21-point deficit in the fourth quarter, according to ESPN Stats & Info.

The only similar in Dolphins memory was that wild comeback against the Chargers in the 1981 playoffs. Yes, ancient history. Except instead of losing at the end, the Dolphins won this time on Tagovailoa’s sixth touchdown pass of the day with 14 seconds left.

For a regular-season victory, only the 1985 upset of the Bears comes to mind as more impactful than this baffler in Baltimore.

Consider, they won despite allowing Lamar Jackson to throw a 75-yard touchdown pass and run 79 yards for another. They also spotted the Ravens seven points on a 103-yard return of the opening kickoff.

Fins looked beaten in Baltimore

It would have been easy to throw in the towel, down 28-7 at the half. Admit it, at that point you’re thinking, “Same-old Dolphins. Still can’t match up with the better teams. Just not good enough.”

That’s what I was thinking.

Tagovailoa had thrown two interceptions. The defense had offered little resistance except for the valiant goal-line stop at the beginning of the second quarter — that sure loomed large at the end.

Still, nobody could have foreseen the fireworks that would come in the fourth quarter. The Dolphins haven’t had a cast pile up points like this since Dan Marino was letting it fly to the Marks Brothers, Clayton and Duper.

Per @ESPNstatsinfo: “This is the first time the Dolphins have had two 150-plus yard receivers in the same game since Clayton and Duper in 1986.”

On Sunday, Tua was slinging a heaping portion of shut-the-F-up to his detractors. While Hill and Waddle each had 11 catches, Tagovailoa had completions to 10 different receivers.

Concerns? Yes, these Dolphins have plenty of flaws. The big deficit was a combination of porous pass defense, a nonexistent pass rush, a special teams disaster and shaky decision making by Tua in the first half.

Leading a 28-point fourth-quarter rally changes everything for Tua. Rest assured, the quarterback has the complete confidence of his locker room now.

Can Tua’s offense match Allen’s Bills?

That won’t make next week’s challenge any easier. The Bills are rightfully regarded as a Super Bowl contender.

But if this Dolphins offense can win a high-scoring affair against Jackson and the Ravens, no reason they can’t give Allen and the Bills a run for the AFC East.

As for Dolfans, you’ve seen your team pull off the nearly impossible. Maybe they can do it again — or something like it.

For the moment, just enjoy it.

Craig Davis has covered South Florida sports and teams, including the Dolphins, for four decades. Follow him on Twitter @CraigDavisRuns