Staying reasonably competitive with the Seattle Seahawks and MVP candidate Russell Wilson in a 31-23 loss Sunday is of little consequence for the Miami Dolphins.
It only served to set back the time table of their mission.
The 1-3 Dolphins are no playoff contender. This season is about the future, and it is time to take the next vital step in that direction.
Yes, it is time to take the wraps off Tua Tagovailoa.
I say that knowing full well coach Brian Flores doesn’t agree. He will say Ryan Fitzpatrick gives the Dolphins the best chance to win, despite plenty evidence on Sunday to the contrary.
Three promising drives deep into Seahawks territory in the first half netted only three field goals because Fitzpatrick wasn’t sharp. He couldn’t make the money throw when he needed it.
Unlike Wilson, who after the Dolphins pulled within 10-9 with 24 seconds remaining in the half, took the Seahawks 75 yards in four plays in the span of 21 seconds for a 17-9 lead.
Can’t win with field goals
There would be two more field goals in the second half before Fitzpatrick scrambled for Miami’s lone touchdown in the final two minutes with the Seahawks firmly in control.
Flores’ displeasure was evident: “For the most part I felt we moved it well. Fitz ran it, threw it, but at the end of the day you’ve got to finish in the red zone.”
Keep in mind, the Seahawks came in ranked 32nd — dead last — in pass defense and total defense. That’s right, worse than the Dolphins’ porous defense, which ranked 25th in both categories. Seattle was allowing 28.7 points a game, and their defense was banged up.
Yes, give the Miami defense a gold star for a commendable job against Wilson and keeping the Dolphins in the game until the final minutes — until Fitzpatrick threw the game-sealing interception.
But you’re not beating playoff-caliber teams with a flurry of field goals, as Flores also pointed out.
It is abundantly clear at this point what the Dolphins need.
They need to see if Tagovailoa is the talent he is touted to be.
Let’s see what Tagovailoa can do
Some intriguing footage appeared on Instagram last week of Tua scattering pinpoint completions around the field during Dolphins practice.
Right, it was practice. It proves nothing. But it sure whets the appetite to see what Tua can do in a game.
— josh houtz (@houtz) October 2, 2020
And for him to begin acclimating to the NFL, like Justin Herbert, taken one pick later in the draft, is doing quite well with the Los Angeles Chargers.
For those keeping track, Herbert was 20-of-25 for 290 yards and three touchdowns with a 137.9 passer rating in a 38-31 loss to Tom Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Sunday.
By every indication, Tagovailoa is fully recovered from the serious hip injury that made it possible for the Dolphins to draft him with the No. 5 overall pick in April. Being active as the backup quarterback in each game so far verifies that.
The other vital question going into the season was whether a rebuilt offensive line would be adequate to protect a franchise quarterback. The play of the line has been the most positive development on offense for the Dolphins.
Rookies Austin Jackson and Solomon Kindley are not exhibiting the growing pains that generally come with first-year players immediately thrust into the starting lineup.
Rebuilt line passes early tests
Considering the line has newcomers at four of five positions — veterans Ereck Flowers and Ted Karras were also offseason additions — it is impressive how quickly it has messed as a unit, and with no preseason. Pass protection has been solid from Week 1 and run blocking has improved the past two games.
Now the line needs a playmaker working behind it. Fitzpatrick has served the Dolphins remarkably well, but FitzMagic isn’t taking this team anywhere meaningful after a 1-3 start.
This is not a knock on Fitzpatrick, who has been everything that could have been asked of a veteran leader and bridge quarterback for a rebuilding team.
He is a delightful personality and an inspiration with his daring dashes for first downs and touchdowns. Really, a marvel as a 37-year-old starting for the eighth team in a long career.
The bottom line on Fitzpatrick’s performance Sunday was no touchdown passes, two interceptions and a 66.4 passer rating.
“Red zone execution really falls on the quarterback,” Fitzpatrick said. “For me, I walk out of this game feeling terrible in that. I felt like there [were] a lot of guys on our team that played well enough to win and I, unfortunately, was not of them. When that happens and your quarterback doesn’t play up to his ability, then you’re not going to win a whole lot of games in this league.”
That sums up the frustration of the present. Plenty of reason to get started on finding out if Tua can change the narrative as soon as possible.
Craig Davis has covered South Florida sports and teams, including the Dolphins, for four decades. Follow him on Twitter @CraigDavisRuns