Tua Tagovailoa wins in his first NFL start for the Dolphins.

Pressure Point: Dolphins’ defense picks up Tua; he’ll return the favor

Of all the likely scenarios for Tua Tagovialoa’s first career start for the Dolphins, what transpired Sunday was beyond imagination.

Consider: The Dolphins win convincingly against a good Los Angeles Rams team, 28-17, and the vaunted rookie quarterback is limited to a supporting role.

Dolfans tuned in Sunday to see if the franchise has finally ended its long search for a quarterback to lead in pursuit of a championship. They received a better answer: It was another indication that the Dolphins have finally found the coach for that objective.

The occasion will be remembered as Tagovailoa’s first NFL start and first win. More significant, it pushed the Dolphins (4-3) above .500 for the first time in Brian Flores’ two seasons as Dolphins coach.

Tua didn’t dazzle, as fans and South Florida media were hoping he would. He had a shaky beginning, getting strip-sacked on his first drop-back, yielding a fumble that gifted the Rams a 7-0 lead.

His longest completion was for 15 yards. But he consistently showed the accurate touch that enabled him to post the NCAA record passing rating while at Alabama.

Modest first step for Tua

It wasn’t a debut performance that portended greatness. But Tagovailoa displayed the skill and poise to suggest he’ll be fine once he settles in.

“We have a lot of confidence in him,” Flores said. “Obviously, it’s his first NFL game against a real good defense. They’re hard to move the ball on. You’ve got to take that into account as well.

“The rest of the players on the team picked him up. Tua’s going to pick us up at some point. It’s a team game. We’re going to pick each other up.”

That’s the encouraging part for Dolphins fans. They came for Tua’s debutante ball. They were treated to an extravaganza of defense.

The Dolphins D did what the Brian Flores-led Patriots’ defense did in shutting down Jared Goff and the Rams in Super Bowl 53 just before he took the Dolphins’ job.

What stood out Sunday was how far the Miami defense has come since the beginning of the season, turning in a dominant performance for the third consecutive game — all double-digit victories.

Dolphins defense dazzles

The Dolphins created four turnovers in the first half, including Andrew Van Ginkel’s 78-yard return of a fumble recovery for a touchdown. The defense took over the game after Tagovailoa was stripped of the ball by Rams otherworldly defender Aaron Donald on his first attempt to pass.

Throw in a stunning 88-yard punt return by Jakeem Grant and it was 28-7 Miami in a blink of an eye.

Tua’s contribution was leading a 33-yard touchdown drive following one of the takeaways, capped by a 3-yard toss over the middle to DeVante Parker on the final play of the first quarter.

Show of hands: How many in the Tua’s First TD Pass Sweepstakes had No. 1 to No. 11 on 11/1?

It was a dart through a tight window from the pocket to Parker over the middle.

“That was really fun. It always feels good throwing a touchdown and being able to celebrate with your team, and teammates on the sideline are celebrating as well,” Tagovailoa said of his first touchdown since throwing for 88 in his college career.

“It’s not easy scoring against a defense like that. But just enjoying the moment every time. And I’m keeping the ball.”

Aside from that, Tagovailoa wasn’t asked to do a lot, as offensive coordinator Chan Gailey called a conservative game. The big lead made that possible.

Shades of Super Bowl 53

It was an odd game in that instead of it being in the hands of the quarterback, it was the Dolphins defense that controlled the game.

The defense was on the field for an astounding 92 plays, to only 48 for the Tua-led offense.

It is tough to remember when it was so much fun to watch a Dolphins defense. The unit pressured and befuddled Goff with a variety of looks, much like Flores’ Patriots defense did in the Super Bowl win. Two transplants from that Super Bowl crew, Elandon Roberts and Kyle Van Noy, were key contributors. Eric Rowe, another former Patriot, had an interception and should have had another for a pick-6.

They forced Goff to fumble twice, deflected several of his passes and intercepted two of them.

Goff threw 61 passes, completed 35 for 355 yards, but had subpar passer rating of 65.9.

Tua completed 12 of 22 for 93 yards, with a passer rating of 80.3. There were four drops — Preston Williams dropped two on one series. Myles Gaskin somehow dropped another right in the midsection that prevented a first-down conversion when the Dolphins were trying to run out the clock in the fourth quarter.

“We won the game. Again, it’s a team game — I can’t stress that enough. It’s not a one-man show. I think he made enough plays for us to win the ballgame,” Flores said of Tagovailoa.

Rude welcome to the NFL for Tua

The main thing that Tua accomplished Sunday was getting the first-game jitters out of the way.

Remember, this was the first full game he has played in nearly a year. In between, there was a major injury that jeopardized his career. And there were no preseason games, due to COVID, to get acclimated to the NFL.

Notably, Tagovailoa took the rude welcome as an NFL starter by Donald and Co. in stride.

“That was a good hit. It’s football,” he said. “Tried to step up and make the throw, and Donald swiped at the ball behind me. I don’t know who the guy was that took me off my feet and pretty much body-slammed me. But hey, that’s football.

“I’m not going to lie, I did enjoy getting hit that first time.”

Now that that’s out of the way, Tua can focus on making his presence felt against upcoming opponents.

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

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