He’s a competent NFL quarterback and a lot of fun to root for. He can get hot for a few weeks at a time. But it was still weird how people freaked out when the Miami Dolphins benched him. Miami replaced a 37-year-old with an 82.1 career passer rating for the fifth pick of the 2020 NFL draft.
Sunday was an eye-opening win. The Dolphins offense didn’t do much in Tagovailoa’s first start, because it didn’t need to. The special teams and defense made huge plays against the Los Angeles Rams. The Dolphins did need Tagovailoa and the offense to make plays against the Arizona Cardinals.
The Cardinals, a 5-2 team before Sunday, put up 31 points. They had 442 yards with some big plays, and led going into the fourth quarter.
Tua came up big. On a 93-yard drive when the Dolphins trailed 31-24, Tagovailoa was 5 of 5 for 53 yards passing, with 23 yards rushing on two carries. On one of the rushing attempts, he had a Mike Vick-like move when he found a pass rusher as he retreated in the pocket, then turned back upfield, made a move and split two defenders to get into the open field.
He gained 17 yards. It was the exact type of play Miami was looking for when they drafted Tagovailoa.
Tagovailoa will have his rookie moments. It’s inevitable. But the Dolphins might have a team around him to make up for it. They showed that against the Rams.
The Dolphins are suddenly looking pretty good in the playoff picture. After their fourth straight win, the Dolphins are 5-3, a game-and-a-half behind the Buffalo Bills in the AFC East. And check out the next four weeks:
The Dolphins aren’t good enough that we can assume they will win each of those games. But it’s possible. And at 9-3, or even 8-4, Miami would be right in the middle of the AFC playoff race.
The fact that the playoffs are even a realistic possibility is a great sign. Miami’s latest effort at rebuilding seems to finally be a hit, and it’s seeing results earlier than expected.
The Dolphins have a good coach in Brian Flores, a defense that has played well when healthy (which makes Arizona’s output Sunday even more impressive) and an offense that is capable. Tagovailoa could give the offense a new dimension, too.
Miami had the biggest Week 9 improvement in their playoff odds, according to Football Outsiders’ projections. The Dolphins now have a 56.2 percent chance to make it to the playoffs, up 18.4 percent from a week ago.
Maybe the Dolphins can make the playoffs this season. Even if they don’t, it seems like a few appearances will be coming in the near future.
At least the Cowboys played some competitive football. The Cowboys are already pessimistic about having Andy Dalton back this week, but Garrett Gilbert can keep the offense moving a little bit until Dalton returns.
Jake Luton was pretty good for a rookie making his first start, throwing for 304 yards and a touchdown. It seems unlikely he’d play so well the rest of the season that he’d change any plans the Jaguars have to draft a quarterback in the first round, but he’s off to a good start.
Alex Smith was a great story when he made his first NFL appearance this season, but he looked like a quarterback who couldn’t play anymore. Smith looked a lot better on Sunday when he came in for Kyle Allen, two late interceptions aside. Sunday was not a good result for Washington, but even at 2-6 it’s still right in the NFC East race.
28. New York Giants (2-7, LW: 29)
Alfred Morris had one carry in 2019, with the Cardinals. He’s 32 years old and hadn’t been a regular starter since 2015. That’s the profile of a player who quietly fades away from the NFL. Most fans were probably shocked to hear his name when the Giants played the Buccaneers on Monday night in Week 8. But Morris has 95 yards on 17 carries in spot duty the past two games. It’s a fun, unexpected story.
27. Detroit Lions (3-5, LW: 23)
Sunday was probably the last relevant game Matt Patricia coaches for the Lions. The more intriguing question will be what happens with Matthew Stafford. He threw two awful picks on Sunday and hasn’t been near the quarterback he was for the first half of last season. He’d still presumably get plenty of interest on the trade market. But trading Stafford, one of the few reasons the Lions aren’t down in these rankings with the Cowboys and Jets, is starting a multi-year rebuild and would make the job a much tougher sell to a new coach. It’ll be a challenging offseason in Detroit.
26. Philadelphia Eagles (3-4-1, LW: 28)
Next up, the Eagles play at a feisty Giants team. Don’t forget, the Giants should have beat the Eagles earlier this season, New York just blew it in the final minutes. It would be very 2020 NFC East to see the Giants win that game and tighten up the divisional race.
25. Houston Texans (2-6, LW: 26)
J.J. Watt got his 100th career sack in his 120th game. Only Reggie White, Lawrence Taylor, DeMarcus Ware and Bruce Smith got to No. 100 faster. That’s a heck of a list.
24. Denver Broncos (3-5, LW: 18)
One of the bright spots of Sunday’s loss was rookie receiver Jerry Jeudy. He went for seven catches, 125 yards and a touchdown in a long-awaited breakout. The Broncos season likely isn’t going anywhere, but progress from their young players would be something positive for the offseason.
23. Los Angeles Chargers (2-6, LW: 22)
On the bright side, every gut-punch loss is going to move the Chargers up in the draft order. It feels like the Chargers — who should add Derwin James back to the defense next year — are one great draft class from making things interesting with the Chiefs in the AFC West. Justin Herbert’s fantastic play should accelerate the Chargers’ plans.
22. Carolina Panthers (3-6, LW: 20)
The crazy thing about Joey Slye’s 67-yard field goal attempt to beat the Chiefs is it had the distance, it just drifted wide to the right. That was a better percentage play than a Hail Mary pass and the right call, even if it didn’t work. The NFL isn’t much for moral victories, but taking the Chiefs down to the wire is a sign that the Panthers are on the right track.
21. Atlanta Falcons (3-6, LW: 24)
The Takk McKinley situation was messy. You don’t like sending a message that you can pout your way out of town, but keeping McKinley around was the much worse option. His lack of production wasn’t worth the headache anymore.
20. New England Patriots (3-5, LW: 21)
Jakobi Meyers’ breakout is the kind of thing the Patriots need. He caught 12 passes for 169 yards in Monday night’s comeback win. He was the Patriots’ best player.
19. San Francisco 49ers (4-5, LW: 17)
It’s hard to even do a fair analysis of the 49ers. Their lineup last week against the Packers didn’t even resemble what they should be playing. Injuries and now COVID-19 issues have ravaged the roster. It looks like a lost season.
18. Cincinnati Bengals (2-5-1, LW: 19)
The Bengals face the Steelers next. It’s a matchup of an offensive line that might be the NFL’s worst against a pass rush that could be the NFL’s best. Consider it a win if Joe Burrow comes out of this one upright.
17. Minnesota Vikings (3-5, LW: 25)
The Vikings might be better than the 3-5 record indicates. They have been better lately. And nobody has been hotter than Dalvin Cook. Maybe this is a team that gets on a roll in the second half of the season.
16. Chicago Bears (5-4, LW: 15)
The Bears had one run longer than 6 yards on Sunday, and it was from outside linebacker on Barkevious Mingo on a fake punt. The Bears offense is impossibly bad.
15. Cleveland Browns (5-3, LW: 14)
Nick Chubb’s return is huge for the Browns. The strength of that team is its unique 1-2 punch at running back, and Chubb and Kareem Hunt should both put up good numbers the rest of the season.
14. Arizona Cardinals (5-3, LW: 12)
Kyler Murray’s 106-yard rushing day puts him on pace for some history. Murray is on pace for 1,086 rushing yards and 16 rushing touchdowns. Mike Vick and Lamar Jackson are the only quarterbacks to rush for 1,000 yards in a season. Cam Newton holds the single-season record for a quarterback with 14 rushing touchdowns.
13. Miami Dolphins (5-3, LW: 16)
Emmanuel Ogbah had a strip-sack of Kyler Murray, which was scooped up and returned for a touchdown by Shaq Lawson. That play turned out to be a big one in a close win. Ogbah has at least a half-sack in every game since being shut out in the season opener, and has been a home-run addition for the Dolphins.
12. Las Vegas Raiders (5-3, LW: 13)
Derek Carr had another good game. People will still want him benched when he has his next bad game, and everyone will speculate all offseason who the Raiders will get to replace Carr, but the NFL’s most disrespected quarterback deserves better.
11. Indianapolis Colts (5-3, LW: 10)
A team with an offensive line like the Colts have shouldn’t struggle to run the ball. Yet, the Colts are 23rd in rushing yards and 31st in rushing yards per attempt. When the Colts can’t run the ball, it puts more pressure on Philip Rivers to carry the offense, and that’s not Indianapolis’ best formula.
10. Los Angeles Rams (5-3, LW: 11)
The Rams have given up fewer than 300 yards and 20 first downs in four of their last five games. This has quietly been one of the NFL’s best defenses, and this week brings a fun matchup against the Seahawks.
9. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (6-3, LW: 4)
OK, let’s take a breath. It was one game. A truly horrendous game, and we might look back at that is as a warning that the Bucs’ promising start was totally fraudulent. But I doubt that. It’s easy to overreact when it comes to the NFL, and I’m willing to just bang the gong on that game for the Bucs and move on. They’re still one of the NFC’s best teams. I think.
8. Seattle Seahawks (6-2, LW: 3)
Not the first time it has been said in this space, but the Seahawks pass defense is a problem. Pete Carroll was shocked the Bills came out passing, and the most shocking thing about that is Carroll didn’t see it coming. He better get used to it; every future opponent will be passing as often as they can.
7. Buffalo Bills (7-2, LW: 9)
After a few weeks of uninspiring performances, that was the best Bills win of the season. They torched the Seahawks and the defense made plays against Russell Wilson. The trick for the Bills is keeping up this level. The Dolphins are lurking in the division.
6. Tennessee Titans (6-2, LW: 7)
The Titans’ game against the Colts is the rare Thursday night matchup that has huge playoff implications. One of those teams is going to win the AFC South, and the winner on Thursday will take a huge lead in the race.
5. New Orleans Saints (6-2, LW: 8)
There were games this season in which the Saints did not look great. Go back and watch the Chargers game, or the Bears game, and you don’t see a Super Bowl contender. But Sunday night erased those questions. That was as dominant of a performance as you’ll ever see against a good NFL team.
4. Green Bay Packers (6-2, LW: 6)
The Packers had a huge week. Not only did they get a win on the road, the Seahawks and Buccaneers lost. The Saints won, but the Packers have the tiebreaker over them (before we crown the Saints, let’s remember the Packers handled them in New Orleans). There’s only one bye in each conference in the reconfigured playoffs, and the Packers are looking good to get it.
3. Baltimore Ravens (6-2, LW: 5)
The Ravens have won six games. Five of those six wins have come by at least 14 points. It seems like this Ravens team is having a hard time finding itself, but they’ve still won most of their games by two touchdowns or more. Don’t be fooled, there’s a championship ceiling with this team.
2. Pittsburgh Steelers (8-0, LW: 2)
The Steelers have had plenty of weird road losses against bad teams through the Mike Tomlin era. Barely beating a terrible Cowboys team won’t earn any style points, but nobody will be counting style points when the AFC North champion is decided.
1. Kansas City Chiefs (8-1, LW: 1)
We have to remember that all NFL teams are capable. Well, most of them are. Sure, the Chiefs didn’t blow out the Panthers. But they won. There’s no reason to question how good the Chiefs are just because they played a close game against a competent team.
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