The Miami Dolphins will be without backup/”relief pitcher” quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick after the 16-year veteran tested positive for the COVID-19 coronavirus. The team heads into the season finale with a chance to claim a playoff position, with winning at the Buffalo Bills the most clear path to the postseason, and they will have to do it without the crutch they have had a couple of times this year. The training wheels have to come off rookie quarterback Tua Tagovailoa and there is no safety net for the team now.
It is time for Tagovailoa to step up and show he is the right player for Miami. And, it is time for the coaches to trust him, turn the full offense over to him, and find out if he is ready to that this team to the playoffs.
“Well, the situation of the game has a lot to do with it,” offensive coordinator Chan Gailey said this week of the apparent differences in play calling and the vertical attack Miami’s offense has with Fitzpatrick that is not present with Tagovailoa at quarterback. “If you end up getting behind and needing to get down the field and to score points quickly, that has a lot to do with it. We’ve been a team that has tried to be 9, 10, 11, 12 play drives, run the football, play-action pass, control the time on the clock. That’s the situation that we found with Tua in the ball game. Plus you’re missing some receivers from time to time and that has something to do with it. A lot of that goes into decision-making about how the game is being called and what kind of plays we run.”
He continued, recognizing that Fitzpatrick, having had more time both in the league and with the Dolphins, “[Fitzpatrick] does have a little more experience with a few of the receivers. You notice he threw it to ’Zay’ (Isaiah Ford) a couple of times and to Mike (Gesicki) a couple of times – guys he has a comfort level with and he knows how they’re going to react in certain situations. Having played with those guys last year and the first part of this year, he’s very comfortable. He has an idea of where they’re going to be and how they’re going to react in those situations. I think that part of it allows him to put the ball in some certain spots. It worked out for us.”
It worked last week, but the Dolphins will need to open up that vertical attack earlier in the games and get Tagovailoa to trust his receivers on deep throws if they are going to make the playoffs and if they are going to put up a fight in the playoffs. The offense does not need to be throwing bombs all over the field, but they need to have the threat to do it on every single play. The team has to perform in a pressure-filled situation on Sunday, though Tagovailoa does not see it as any more pressurized than any other week of the season.
“I’d say for me, there’s really no extra added pressure for me,” the 2020 fifth-overall pick said earlier this week. “I would say the expectation for myself is very high in how I perform and how I go out there and try to lead the guys to victory. Obviously this past weekend, I didn’t play to that standard. It’s more so me knowing that we’ve got to go out there and got to get the job done. If you can’t get the job done, then that’s on you. That’s on no one else.”
This week, there is no one else to bail out the Dolphins if they do not get a strong performance from Tagovailoa. There should not need to be. The Dolphins do not need Fitzpatrick. They need to take the training wheels off the offense and let it rip.