The old axiom says, “If you have two quarterbacks, you have no quarterback.” A team needs one leader, one player under center to take the team forward. There must be a clear starter, a player who takes the practice repetitions. This is the way of football. This is the way teams win.
Except, as Michael Irvin said last night in the post-game coverage, Miami Dolphins head coach Brian Flores is breaking traditions and is being masterful at doing it. Miami has two quarterbacks, and they are making it work. They have a starter in rookie Tua Tagovailoa, and he will remain as the team’s starter. But, the Dolphins also have a reliever in Ryan Fitzpatrick, and Flores is not afraid to pull Tagovailoa and go to Fitzpatrick if the team needs it. It is not a matter of panicking that your rookie quarterback is not going to be the franchise quarterback you need. It is recognizing that, in the moment, your team needs that reliever. They need a spark. And, Miami has the option to do that.
“We felt like we needed a spark, trying to win the game,” head coach Brian Flores said after the Dolphins beat the Las Vegas Raiders with Tagovailoa pulled for Fitzpatrick. “If we’ve got to go to our relief pitcher in the ninth, that’s what we’ll do. ‘Fitz’, he’s always ready to go. He went in and moved the ball for us, but we had contributions from a lot of guys. Myles Gaskin played well. Mack Hollins, good catch at the end. We were able to make enough plays to win the game.”
Flores did not mince any words when it came to who is the first-team quarterback moving forward for the Dolphins. “Tua’s the starter,” he stated simply.
Tagovailoa and Fitzpatrick are different quarterbacks at this point in their respective careers. Tagovailoa is eight starts into his career, just reaching the mid-point of a full season’s worth of work. Fitzpatrick, in his 16th season in the league, has 146 career starts, appearing in another 19 games. Fitzpatrick is willing to make throws Tagovailoa is not yet. And, the rookie seems to know that.
“I would say [I need to push the ball down the field more], but I would also say with what’s given, I’m going to continue to take what the defense gives me,” Tagovailoa explained after the game. “If I feel like that’s not open, I’m not going to throw it. And so it’s I’ve got to get better at that. That’s it.
“Sometimes you’ve got to just take the shots,” he said. “You’ve got to give guys an opportunity and you got to just get the ball down the field because time is running out and we don’t have all day to just think here, think there and try to move the ball that way.”
Tagovailoa seems to understand there are times where Fitzpatrick taking over the offense makes sense, especially when it leads to a win. “It’s always good to win,” Tagovailoa said. “It always feels good to win, first off. I know outsiders are probably going to say, ‘well, it wasn’t you in there that brought the win.’ Of course, it was ‘Fitz’ and I think it was a great effort by not just him, but the entire offense. Just him understanding how to get in a groove and where to go quickly with the ball and whatnot; I think that’s what makes ‘Fitz’ who he is and in a way, it really wasn’t as shocking tonight to see what had happened. They call him ‘Fitzmagic’ for a reason.”
Fitzpatrick is always ready to play, except for a brief moment on Saturday night. He explained how he got the word he was going into the contest, saying, “The tunnel thing was weird because this was the first time in my 16-year career I’ve had to go to the bathroom so bad that I had to go during the game. So, I ran in there to take a pee and then I came back out. And when I came back out, ‘Flo’said ‘Get ready, you’re going in.’ So, I took the obligatory, seven warm-up throws and went out there and tried to make something happen.”
Flores looked back at the performance of Tagovailoa after the game, explaining, “I think it was up and down. I have a lot of confidence in Tua. He has made a lot of plays for us. He made plays today. But we just felt like we needed a spark the way the game was going, and ‘Fitzy’ gave us that, but we have a lot of confidence in Tua. He’s a young player, he’s developing, he’s improving on a daily basis. He’s learning from these experiences and he’ll be better next week.”
Tagovailoa’s development is the key to Miami’s future. He is gaining experience every week and he is learning from each game. He will continue to grow and he will continue to get better. Even with getting pulled, Tagovailoa is learning.
“There’s a lot of people in that locker room who are trying to win,” Flores said when asked for his rationale for making the move. “That’s at the forefront of the decisions that I’m going to make here today and moving forward as long as I am here. That’s just kind of how I see the situation. Tua is a resilient kid. He’s a tough-minded kid. He’s happy that ‘Fitzy’ went in there and we won the game because he is a selfless, team-first guy. That’s why he is here. We’re always going to do what’s best for the team and try to help the team win.”
Tagovailoa celebrated with Fitzpatrick on the field. The two are close, they cheer for each other, they want the other to have success, and they want to win. Tagovailoa will learn and develop. As Irvin said on the post-game:
Michael Irvin: Tua is at his floor right now. Fitzpatrick is at his ceiling. When you can get Tua off his floor, he is going to be great for years to come. And this is why Brian Flores is the leader for Coach of the Year.— The Phinsider (@thephinsider) December 27, 2020
He will get off his floor and start climbing, but in a year where there was no offseason training program, no preseason, and an adjusted training camp, Tagovailoa just needs time to figure out the NFL. When Fitzpatrick’s ceiling is what the team needs to spark the offense to life, Flores is not afraid to make that move. He will break tradition. He will do it masterfully. And the Dolphins will rely on their starting quarterback and their reliever.