Tagovailoa threw his first NFL touchdown, a tight-window goal-line slant to receiver DeVante Parker, then he largely took a step back as his dominant defense and special teams units carried the offense the rest of the way for a convincing victory.
On a week where all the talk was about Tagovailoa, the Dolphins defense forced Jared Goff into four first-half turnovers, including one for a defensive touchdown, and speedy returner Jakeem Grant scored a 78-yard touchdown. It was a historic day of sorts for the Dolphins, who had a passing, rushing, special-teams and defensive TD, respectively, in a game for the first time since Oct. 24, 1993 against the Colts.
Goff might have nightmares about Brian Flores’ defense. The Dolphins pressured Goff on 21 of his 63 dropbacks (33%), tied for the highest percentage he’s faced in a game this season (Bears Week 7). Goff was 6-of-19 with two interceptions when under duress. The 19 attempts were tied for the most such attempts in a game in his career (Week 16 of 2019 vs 49ers).
“We won. We won the game. It’s a team football game,” Flores said. “It’s not a one-man show. He made enough plays for us to win the ball game. Collectively, if we don’t play well in one phase, we have to pick each other up. It’s his first NFL game against a real good defense. You got to take that into account as well. But the rest of the team picked him up, and we got the W.”
It was complete dominance by a Dolphins defense that schemed up unique pressure and confusing coverage drops that made Goff look baffled much of the game. The last time Goff led Sean McVay’s offense against a Flores defense, it was a similar story: In Super Bowl LIII, Flores, the Patriots defensive playcaller, held the Rams offense to just three points in that one. He accepted the Dolphins job days later. Sunday, it looked like another example that Flores may have McVay and Goff’s number.
Andrew Van Ginkel scored on a 78-yard touchdown on a fumble made possible from a Emmanuel Ogbah strip sack. A Shaq Lawson strip sack also put the Dolphins at the Rams’ 3-yard line, setting up a short Myles Gaskin rushing touchdown. The Dolphins’ offense only totaled 145 yards, its fewest in a win since Week 14 of 2010 (131 yards vs. Jets) and the fewest by a team to win by double digits since the 2006 Bears beat the Vikings 23-13 with 107 total yards. But more than anything, it showed that the Dolphins have enough with their supporting cast to ensure that Tagovailoa doesn’t need to be a superstar for this team to win.
As for Tagovailoa, he became the 22nd Dolphins quarterback to start a game since Dan Marino retired in 2000. Dolphins fans hope he will be the one to get it right, and if there’s one thing we learned about Tagovailoa Sunday, it’s that he can take some hard hits and move around well during his first significant action since a career-threatening hip injury on Nov. 16, 2019 while he was playing at Alabama.
Tagovailoa finished 12-of-22 for 93 yards, one touchdown and zero interceptions. He was rusty at times with some overthrows early on before the Dolphins offense got conservative for much of the second half while sitting on a sizable lead. It wasn’t his showcase game, but the Dolphins picked up their rookie by playing well and guiding him to his first win.
The scene set for Tagovailoa’s first start was written like a Hollywood script. The best player in Dolphins history, Hall of Fame quarterback Marino, stood on the sideline during pregame watching Tagovailoa and the offense warm up. Tagovailoa shared a warm hug with Ryan Fitzpatrick, the veteran signal-calle he replaced, before his first snap then jogged on the field where he was met with a standing ovation and notable cheers from the socially distanced fans at Hard Rock Stadium.
It was a rocky start for Tagovailoa, headlined by a strip sack from Rams’ all-pro defender Aaron Donald on his first dropback, but Tagovailoa calmed down toward the end of the quarter when he led a touchdown drive that ended in that throw to Parker. He leaped for a hip bump with Parker, and cradled the ball with him to the sidelines.
That moment will be the lasting image for Tagovailoa’s first start. He was mobbed with hugs on the sidelines by teammates, including Fitzpatrick.
The Dolphins (4-3) jumped out to a 28-7 halftime lead even as the offense finished with 54 yards, the fewest total yards by a team to score 28 first-half points in the past 40 seasons. But that gives Tagovailoa and the Dolphins something to work on this week as they savor rising above .500 for the first time since Week 15 of the 2018 season after their “Miami Miracle” win over the New England Patriots.
“They showed a lot of mental toughness this week with the QB change,” Flores said. “There were a lot of things going on other than football, and those guys put that aside and played well.”