No, it’s not time yet.
If you watched the Miami Dolphins lose their regular-season opener to the New England Patriots on Sunday, 21-11, you certainly have the right to wonder if we’ve reached the right moment for not just any quarterback change but a move to start the Tua Tagovailoa era in Miami.
One might imagine the Dolphins may consider that, at least for a moment or two, after coaches go over the game tape again and see starter Ryan Fitzpatrick throw three interceptions in a game that was otherwise close enough to make those interceptions sting dearly.
Fitzpatrick threw those three interceptions and didn’t have any corresponding touchdown passes.
He threw those three interceptions despite relatively good pass protection.
Fitzpatrick, all magical and uplifting as Miami’s starter a year ago, was one of the primary reasons the Dolphins lost this opener.
So FitzMagic showed us more than a glimpse of FitzTragic.
“Yeah, you can’t do that and win games in the National Football League,” the somber Dolphins quarterback said following the game. “Going against the Patriots, you’re going to have to take advantage of the possessions you get. And having a couple of turnovers there doesn’t help. But I thought up front we played well and I’ve got to play better for my part and we’ll move on to next week.”
The Dolphins will indeed play next week when they open their home schedule at Hard Rock Stadium against the Buffalo Bills. But after this stinker you’re excused if you wonder, even out loud, whether Fitzpatrick should be making the move to next week’s game as Miami’s starting quarterback
And that’s where I ask, even beg, you and the Dolphins to climb off that ledge.
Take a step back and rethink what you’re really considering.
Look, no one knows better than the Dolphins’ coaching staff which quarterback gave the team the best chance to win on Sunday. And their conclusion was Fitzpatrick over Tagovailoa.
It wasn’t that close a call, from what I’ve been told.
The team had a veteran quarterback in Fitzpatrick who’d seen it all and done it all and a rookie quarterback in Tagovailoa who hadn’t seen or done anything and was further handicapped because he didn’t get the normal offseason most rookies typically get to prepare to play.
Tagovailoa hadn’t even gotten into a preseason game because those weren’t played this year.
So the choice was easily Fitzpatrick as the starter.
And after one bad outing, all that changes?
One bad hour of football by Fitzpatrick changes every tactical plan for the 2020 season and every thoughtfully reached decision?
That would be more than strange.
It would be knee-jerk.
It would reek of desperation that is misplaced after only one game on any football team — much less one that thinks itself pretty good.
Let me go a little further: Coach Brian Flores should quash even the idea of a quarterback change at his earliest convenience.
No, “We’ll see how practice goes this week.” No mind games to keep the Buffalo Bills guessing about which quarterback they’re going to face.
(To be honest, just having Fitzpatrick and his sometimes-on, sometimes-off history at quarterback makes any opponent wonder which quarterback they’re going to face.)
For the Dolphins’ sake, there really shouldn’t be any ambiguous message about Fitzpatrick this week. Because the last thing a team needs after losing its season-opening game against a division opponent is having something of a quarterback controversy before playing its second division foe in a row.
So leave the drama for another time — like, after Fitzpatrick gets another chance.
Flores, the person who will ultimately make the decision, undoubtedly gets this. He must get this even if the coach was none too happy with Fitzpatrick after this game.
“He had some spurts there where we’re moving the ball, but obviously with the turnovers, those are huge,” Flores said. “We talk about that a lot as a team. It’s tough to win when you turn the ball over. But I did think he put some drives together. We really finished the one but just too many turnovers at the end of the day.”
At the end of the day, the Dolphins win and lose as a team.
Fitzpatrick didn’t lose Sunday’s game. He didn’t help Miami win it, but he didn’t lose it.
It was the team that threw three interceptions, because the first of those was on a 50-50 opportunity on which receiver Preston Williams didn’t win a wrestling match with New England cornerback Stephon Gilmore. And the last one of those was a desperation throw with 1:36 left in the game and the Dolphins needing something of a miracle to erase a 10-point deficit.
So, yes, bad on Fitz for trusting his receivers and trying to make something happen late.
“Their secondary played better than I did today,” he admitted.
But I’m quite sure Fitzpatrick didn’t have a say in a Dolphins run defense that got steamrolled to the tune of 217 yards. I’m quite sure it wasn’t his fault Miami’s best receiver, DeVante Parker, went out of the game in the second quarter with a hamstring injury and didn’t return.
Listen to Flores talk and he seems to know this.
“We have to do a better job as a team,” the coach said. “Offensively, defensively and special teams.”
Also in the coaching department, by the way.
Because the Dolphins never really figured out how to account for quarterback Cam Newton running on them, and all he did was lead the Patriots in rushing with 75 yards on 15 carries.
Look, we all know the Ryan Fitzpatrick era is going to end soon. It may happen later this year when Tagovailoa is ready to show he is every bit of a No. 5 overall selection. Or maybe it happens next year.
But the moment has to come with some planning. Some forethought. It has to come for the right reason, which is that Tagovailoa is showing he’s the better player.
Making Tagovailoa your guy next week because your guy last week had a bad day comes with no planning or forethought. And the move would be made for the wrong reason because there’s no way Tagovailoa is better yet, after just one more week of practice.
It’s not time yet.