This loss also pushed Miami from the postseason picture. The Dolphins are on the outside looking in at the AFC playoff bracket. They currently hold the No. 9 seed, losing tie breakers to both Baltimore and Las Vegas, the other 6-4 teams.
Here’s a look at five takeaways from the Dolphins loss to the Broncos.
Offensive Line Failure in Dolphins Loss to Broncos
One of the big questions heading into the quarterback switch from Ryan Fitzpatrick to Tagovailoa focused on the ineffectiveness of the offensive line. National pundits panned the move at the time, saying Miami’s line lacked the ability to properly protect their young QB. But local media pointed out that analysis as lazy, and it was.
The Dolphins offensive line had protected Tagovailoa well in his previous three starts. They’d handled pressure and kept Tagovailoa’s pocket relatively clean. Sunday, though, was a different story.
The Dolphins o-line surrendered a season-high six sacks, double the previous high. Beyond just the sacks, the line regularly allowed pressures and failed to open consistent holes for the running game.
The loss of rookie right guard Solomon Kindley in the second quarter hurt. And Tagovailoa also didn’t help his cause by holding the ball for too long.
Rushing Woes Continue
The Dolphins hoped they had something in rookie Salvon Ahmed. After a solid performance against the Chargers, Ahmed’s emergence led, in part, to the release of veteran Jordan Howard. The return of Matt Breida from recent injury also had Miami’s running game trending up. What’s more, they were facing a Denver rushing defense in the lower third of the league.
But against the Broncos, Miami’s ground game remained absent. The team totaled just 56 yards. Ahmed led the way with 43 yards on 12 carries. Breida picked up just four yards on two carries.
This lack of a consistent rushing attack shifted the offensive onus to Tagovailoa. It also allowed Denver to dial up the pressure on a rookie quarterback making just his second career road start. The result? Another anemic performance.
The solution to this issue remains unclear. A return by Myles Gaskin may help, but an ineffective ground game has plagued Miami for two seasons, through two different offensive coordinators. Opening up the playbook to allow the pass to set up the run may be the only way forward at this point.
No Fitzmagic in Dolphins Loss to Broncos
When Dolphins head coach Brian Flores pulled Tagovailoa from the game in the fourth, some speculated injury. Tagovailoa had just suffered a sixth sack, one that wrenched his lower right leg. The rookie had been on Miami’s injury report in the leadup to this game. Flores, though, dismissed that idea.
“Tua wasn’t injured. We just felt like it was the best move at that point of the game,” he said.
Fitzpatrick entered and immediately led Miami’s offense on a scoring drive. The veteran QB marched Miami down the field twice and flashed a chemistry with DeVante Parker and Mike Gesicki that Tagovailoa seemed to lack.
But all for naught.
Fitzpatrick maneuvered Miami into scoring position with a chance to tie the game. However, instead of connecting with Parker for a touchdown, Fitzpatrick failed to look off Broncos safety Justin Simmons and threw a game-sealing interception. Simmons secured the pick in the closing moments, though the Broncos had the chance to intercept two previous passes by Fitzpatrick.
Fitzpatrick finished 12-of-18 passing for 117 yards and the interception.
Seemingly Still Tua’s Team
Despite the late quarterback change, the Dolphins seemingly remain Tagovailoa’s squad. Miami made the switch from Fitzpatrick to the rookie after a 3-3 start with Flores citing Tagovailoa’s readiness to assume the role. The Dolphins kept rolling. But on Sunday, the rookie showed his youth.
What’s interesting here, though, is the move to Fitzpatrick implies Tagovailoa isn’t a ready as Miami made it seem.
“We had to get in two-minute mode, and we felt like [Fitzpatrick] gave us the best chance to win the game, and we had an opportunity at the end to tie it,” Flores said.
Tagovailoa went 11-of-20 for 83 yards and a touchdown, but showed little effectiveness moving the ball. The offensive playcalling didn’t help.
“When I was in, we couldn’t really get things going,” Tagovailoa admitted. “I couldn’t get the ball in the hands of our playmakers and our guys consistently to get a rhythm going.”
Sure, offensive line issues submarined Tagovailoa’s efforts, but so too did his ineffectiveness. He needs to develop a stronger chemistry with his receivers and find a rhythm for this offense to take the next step.
That said, Fitzpatrick admitted after the game that the Dolphins were still “Tua’s team.”
He said: “Tua is going to continue to get better and grow. There’s no controversy. This is his team. He’s going to lead this team and continue to lead the team.”
To his credit, Tagovailoa wants to learn from this. He remained engaged in the contest and picked Fitzpatrick’s brain on the sideline.
“For me, it was a great learning experience,” Tagovailoa said. “I felt like I was holding the ball a little too long. Just got to get completions and get the ball in the hands of our guys to make plays for us.”
Dolphins D Didn’t Do Enough in Loss to Broncos
Miami’s defense buoyed the team’s five-game win streak. Over that span, the Dolphins defense ranked first points-per-game allowed (17.2) and second in quarterback pressures (86) and completion percentage allowed (57.0 percent). They put up 10 takeaways, too.
In Denver, though, the Dolphins didn’t make enough stops. Although the defense extended its takeaways streak to 16 consecutive games, the longest active streak in the NFL, it wasn’t a banner day for the D.
Perhaps the biggest failing was the inability to stop Denver’s ground game. The Dolphins allowed a season-high 189 rushing yards and two touchdowns. The 5.7 yards-per-carry average stands as a full yard more than the previous season-high allowed (4.7).
What’s more, the Dolphins couldn’t seem to confuse Denver’s Drew Lock in the same way they did LA’s Justin Herbert a week prior. Lock piled up 270 passing yards, the most Miami’s allowed in more than a month. They also failed to pressure Lock consistently and did not sack him once. It’s the first time this season the Dolphins failed to secure at least one sack.