The Miami Dolphins beat the Jacksonville Jaguars on Thursday night in a game that was ugly at times, then had moments of great plays, before reverting to some ugly play. Ryan Fitzpatrick started the game at quarterback for Miami, playing into the third quarter before giving way to Josh Rosen.
The first half offense was particularly ugly, with Miami only gaining 47 yards, with five first downs, three of which came by penalty on the Jaguars. Fitzpatrick finished the half 5-for-11 for 33 yards, with 28 of those yards coming on one pass to tight end Mike Gesicki. Running back Kalen Ballage carried the ball 12 times in the half, picking up 17 yards for a 1.4 yards-per-attempt average.
The star of the first half was clearly punter Matt Haack, who was called on to kick away the ball five times with a 51.8 yard average on those punts.
The second half opened up more for Miami - in part because the Jaguars were on to their depth defensive players rather than Josh Allen and the rest of the starting group. The Dolphins’ offense finished the game with 271 total yards with 19 first downs, four of which came by penalty. Fitzpatrick, who had a 52.5 passer rating at the end of the first 30 minutes, left the game in the third quarter with a game-high 105.3 passer rating and was 12-for-18 for 126 yards with a touchdown pass. Rosen, entering the game mid-third quarter, finished the contest 5-for-7 for 59 yards with a 96.7 passer rating.
The running game in the second half saw 23 carries for 72 yards with a touchdown, led by Partick Laird’s 26 yards and the touchdown on six attempts.
After the game, the Dolphins’ quarterback position battle, with Fitzpatrick assumed to be leading Rosen in attempting to become the starter in Week 1, was a major topic of discussion. Head coach Brian Flores and both quarterbacks met with the media, and faced several questions about the play on the field and the plans for the future.
“I thought offensively – (Jacksonville is) a good defense,” Flores said when asked about Fitzpatrick’s performance. “It was a tough start. The first half – running the ball, moving the ball – I think we had three or four three-and-outs. It was a tough start. It’s a good defense. I think our defense and special teams kind of kept us in the game early. We got us a couple of field goals and went into halftime 7-6. I thought they fought and played well. We had a drive to start the second half. Ryan (Fitzpatrick) went out, and Josh (Rosen) came in and had a couple of good drives himself.”
He continued, “When you’re up against a defense like that, the big thing is ball security. I think we did a good job from that standpoint. We didn’t move the ball the way we would have liked, but we didn’t give them the ball either. The defense played well. We made a couple plays in the kicking game. Look, it’s all three phases. If you put them together, you get what we had out there tonight, which is the other units picking up for the offense until the offense got rolling in the second half. That’s kind of the way this game’s played. So I thought, from that standpoint, it was a good team effort.”
Fitzpatrick summed up the first half of the game and if the offense was able to see the things they wanted to see during the game. He explained, “We had talked about what we want to see out of this game. It was obviously very sloppy in the first half, had some third down throws that I think I could have made better plays on. There was communication issues that we kind of worked through. So in terms of … Thank goodness it was a practice game I think is how we look at it, but I think we got better. I think we got a lot better. Some of the communication stuff we had to deal with no matter who it was against and who was in the huddle, we go out there and put a nice drive together in the second half. But maybe in terms of did we do what we wanted to? No. We didn’t establish a good rhythm early, a lot of three-and-outs. I’m glad it was a practice game.”
“We were backed up on the 1-yard line, and put together a nice drive there,” Flores said of the 99-yard touchdown scoring drive Rosen led in the second half. “Josh played with his feet, kept a couple of plays alive, made a couple of throws. Laird, I think he had a run in there as well. They were able to keep the drive alive.”
When asked about starting his first possession of the game on Miami’s own one-yard line and having your back against the goal line, Rosen explained, “I don’t know. I’ve got 11 dudes trying to tackle me, so it’s more focused on the here and now. I just know we tried to get on a hard count, get them to jump offsides, buy some room. Our running backs made some, definitely swept through some holes there, and it was a team effort. It was a good drive. It wasn’t like a walk off, go-ball that went 70 (yards). It was a drive, which was pretty good to feel as an offense.”
Rosen also had a beautiful 39-yard gain on a pass to Isaiah Ford when Rosen broke away from a potential sack, rolled to his right, and led Ford on a crossing route toward the sideline. “I dropped back in the pocket,” Rosen said when asked about the play. “Tackles did a really good job of keeping areas high. I stepped up and kind of flushed it a little bit, and I knew Isaiah was coming across the field on the concept we have, so I was kind of trying to run it a little bit. I just kind of knew he was back there, and, I found him.”
During the game, Rosen’s MIKE calls, identifying the middle linebacker to set the protection and route schemes that will be used on the play, were clearly audible across the television broadcast. Rosen said earlier in the summer that just needing to make that call was a new part of the game for him, and he discussed it Thursday after the game. “Most offenses, even in the NFL, I’m pretty sure a good chunk, the center still does it,” Rosen said. “But it’s not just like the MIKE point and calling out the MIKE because the MIKE could be different on any play. It more has to do with what entails with calling the MIKE. You have to sort of center the run game or the protection game and then organize your receivers on who’s blocking safeties, and you’ve got to understand who can and can’t blitz and where your hots are because, like you have options. If it’s third-and-long or something, you can’t just throw hot because you won’t get the necessary yardage. You’re probably better off trying to shore the thing off and then throw it somewhere else in some deeper routes. So that kind of control, I think, is why Tom [Brady] and Drew [Brees] and Philip [Rivers] and Aaron [Rodgers] in the toughest of crunch times, third-and-12 in a big game, will walk up to the line, and they know exactly where to go and what to do.”
He continued, after admitting that centers Daniel Kilgore and Chris Reed were assisting in making sure he was identifying the correct player, saying, “[The calls were] better than last week. I will tell you, though, that the first team and second team stuff does make a significant difference because there are some fronts out there, the ones, that I’m definitely going to have to ask (Quarterbacks Coach) Jerry (Schuplinski) to break all those down. But it’s on film now, and I’ll try to learn them and master them, so if I ever see them again, I’ll knock them down.”
Fitzpatrick has been assumed to be the leader in the position battle. “It’s still an evaluation,” Flores explained. “I think we saw a lot from both guys today. ‘Fitzy’ did a good job, Josh did a good job. I think that as a staff, we’ll get together and really talk it over, and we’ll make a decision. We’ll make the decision we feel is best for this organization, for this team.”
Rosen, however, has played well over the last few weeks and has looked more in control of the offense. “He played well, and that makes the decision harder,” Flores said of Rosen’s performance on Thursday. “I think that’s pretty clear, clear and evident. But there’s – again, there’s other things at play here. ‘Fitz’ played well, I thought, and there’s some things – when you’ve got a young quarterback, again, I’m a proponent of not rushing that, not rushing the process for young players. So we’ll make the decision for what we think is best for Josh, ‘Fitz,’ and this team.”
Flores was asked if the performances from Thursday’s game is weighed against facing the Jaguars’ starting defense versus depth players. ”It’s results oriented always,” Flores replied. “It’s a production business. I don’t care who you’re in there against. You want them to produce. That’s what we see, and that’s how we kind of evaluate it. We want to see good decision-making really at all positions, but definitely the quarterback position. When it’s time to check it down, we check it down. We don’t want to make throws into traffic. We’ve got to have good ball security. I thought from that standpoint, we were good. So I think all of it kind of goes into it.”
As for the timeline of establishing a starting quarterback, Flores looked toward the actual game planning for the regular season and Week 1, when the team will host the Baltimore Ravens. “We’re, what, two and a half weeks away from opening day?” he said. “We’re going to get started on Baltimore fairly soon, and we’ll make that decision hopefully or definitely by then, by the time we get started for Baltimore.”
Before getting to that Ravens game, however, the Dolphins will travel to face the New Orleans Saints in the final preseason game. Typically, starters see extremely limited playing time in that game, if they suit up for it at all. Will the Dolphins make a decision to keep one of the quarterbacks out of the game, essentially declaring him the starter? “That’s something we’ll discuss as a staff,” Flores said. “They may both play. They may both not. We’ll see. That’s something that – we’re still evaluating both guys. If we feel like we need to see a little bit more, we’ll do that. If we don’t, then you’ll see more of one or the other.”
“There really haven’t been a lot of final preseason games I haven’t played in throughout my career, but whatever Coach says goes,” Fitzpatrick said when asked about potentially not playing in a preseason game. “There’s not really back and forth or argument. It’s what he wants to do. I know he always has the best interests of the team up front and first. So I’m fine with whatever he decides.”
Prior to the game, it felt like Flores was saying all the right things, while giving clues that Fitzpatrick would be named the starter. He talked about how you do not start a young player just because he is young, but you wait for him to be ready. Now, it seems like he is admitting it is much closer than he previously suggested, and that Rosen, as the young player, could be the starter. The Dolphins feel more and more like Rosen should be their quarterback.
Miami could still look to execute a plan where Fitzpatrick starts the first four games of the year, then they make a change during the Week 5 bye. If the offense is going to look like it did in the first half when Fitzpatrick is on the field, however, there is no reason to not start Rosen. Even if he makes second-year quarterback mistakes, at least he is learning, developing, and potentially growing into Miami’s franchise quarterback.
To those watching the Dolphins, it seems like there is a clear leader for who should be starting for this team. The coaches have seen more, they are closer to the team, and they may have a differing opinion right now. Whatever the case, it does not feel like there is a leader in the position battle, so potentially playing both quarterbacks next week against Saints makes sense.
And, maybe by then, someone will take the unquestionable lead.