The Miami Dolphins entered Week 11 riding high on a five-game win streak and had to make a trip to the Mile High Stadium to face off against the Denver Broncos who have lost three of their last four games.
Tua Tagovailoa Benched in Fourth Quarter for Ryan Fitzpatrick
But throughout the game, up until the final two drives, the Dolphins struggled to effectively move the ball on offense, and had put just 10 points on the board. With five minutes left in the fourth quarter, Miami had just 105 yards of total offense, and on the ensuing drive, head coach Brian Flores benched quarterback Tua Tagovailoa for QB Ryan Fitzpatrick, to try and steal an ugly win from Denver.
The move would fail as the Dolphins would run out of time, dropping them to 6-4 on the season, and flipping the Broncos to an opposite 4-6 record with their win. The 20-13 loss snaps their win streak and instead of sitting in a tie with the Buffalo Bills for a share of the AFC East division lead, they’re solidly one game back and solely in second place.
“It wasn’t good enough. We’ve got to do a better job on the edge, we’ve got to do a better job tackling, we’ve got to do a better job fighting pressure with pressure, defeating blocks,” Flores said. “I think we started the game decently, but they made some adjustments and we’ve got to make better adjustments as a staff and our players have to play better.”
Fitzpatrick Led Two Full-Field Drives for Near-Overtime Comeback
Fitzpatrick would give Miami a chance though, taking the team down the field on both of his drives and putting the Dolphins in scoring position.
The first drive led to a 53-yard field goal from kicker Jason Sanders who nailed it right down the middle, cutting the lead down to seven. On the next drive, Fitzpatrick would do the same, but while trying to save the game, he would end up throwing an interception in the endzone that sealed Miami’s fate.
He telegraphed a slant pass intended for wide receiver DeVante Parker, his favorite target while in Miami, across the middle of the end zone. Free safety Justin Simmons cut off the pass in help defense and fell with it in the end zone for a touchback with just over one minute remaining in the game.
Denver was able to run out the clock and not give the ball back despite Miami’s timeouts.
Fitzpatrick Breaks Down Interception
“I put us in a bunch set and in situations like that you want to give your playmakers a chance to make plays and DeVante (Parker) was on a post and the nearside safety came down on (Adam) Shaheen just like I thought he would. The backside safety really plays my eyes. Jakeem (Grant) was on the backside, so if I’m looking at Jakeem and Jakeem’s got a route that’s of interest to that backside safety, he’s going to stay put,” Fitzpatrick said. “Unfortunately I did not look him off and look him off as much as I needed to because that wasn’t how it was going to play out on the front side. But got everything I wanted with DeVante on the front side, and I needed to do a better job of holding that safety and really, that’s the game of football. It was milliseconds.”
Miami Has Worst Showing in Run-Defense All Season
The Dolphins defense also struggled to stop the Denver offense on the day, especially in the run game. The Broncos finished the game with 189 total rushing yards and two touchdowns. Running backs Melvin Gordon and Phillip Lindsay both finished with more than 80 yards on 15 touches.
Although the Miami defense started off strong, forcing a turnover for the 17th game in a row and scoring on the next drive, the Dolphins’ inability to find an answer to stop the two-man rushing attack of Lindsay and Gordon kept the secondary on the field too much.
The Broncos finished the game with 33 rushing attempts, averaging nearly six yards per carry, and four 20-yard runs. Gordon had both rushing touchdowns for Denver, and was constantly finding holes in the Dolphins defensive line to move through.
Denver Adjusted to Heavy Run Game in Second Half
One major adjustment Denver made was the commitment to its running game in the second half. With 13 rushes in the first half, the Broncos had nearly half that on their first drive of the second half with six, and ended up with 20 rushing attempts in the second half altogether.
“We just got to come back and get to work because we got to take pride in that. Stopping the run, and getting off the field on third down and rushing the passer,” Dolphins linebacker Andrew Van Ginkel said on what the defense needs to improve on. “We’re definitely not doing a good enough job, and we got to work on it to fix it.”
Linebacker Andrew Van Ginkel Gives Dolphins a Chance to Win, Again
It is worth noting that Van Ginkel forced a critical fumble on the one-yard line that allowed Fitzpatrick a shot at tying or maybe winning the game on the drive following Sanders’ field goal in the fourth quarter. Originally ruled a TD, Gordon fumbled on the Dolphins’ three-yard line and after review, the score was reversed and after a Miami recovery, the potential game-tying drive began.
The Miami defense showed flashes of how they have played all season, but could not seem to be consistent throughout the entire game. Overall, Denver looked to have an extra step on the secondary allowing them to tire out the unit as the game went on.
Lack of Offensive Yards Dooms Dolphins
Additionally, the Miami offense also struggled to consistently move the ball until Tagovailoa’s benching. He had just 83 yards passing in the game and completed just 11 passes. Miami also had half a dozen three-and-outs, something it hadn’t had too much of a problem within any of Tagovailoa’s other three starts.
“I think they (Denver’s defense) were very well-prepared coming into this game. We knew they were a tough front and we knew we (were) facing a tough defense at the same time,” Tagovailoa said. “We’ve just got to execute better on our side of the ball. That’s been the biggest thing, just execute.”
It was first thought that Tagovailoa was subbed off due solely to his performance, but Flores later said it was also to protect Tagovailoa’s minor foot injury. Tagovailoa had been on the injury report during the week and he took an awkward twist to it after a tackle from defensive end Bradley Chubb on the drive before the benching.
Tagovailoa to Start Week 12 in New York
In a postgame interview Flores clarified why Tagovailoa was subbed out in the fourth. “No. No, Tua wasn’t injured. We just felt like it was the best move at that point in the game. We had to get to two-minute mode and we just felt like he gave us the best chance to win the game which we had an opportunity at the end – to tie it, I should say.”
Flores also said Tagovailoa will be the Dolphins starter next Sunday in the Meadowlands against the New York Jets.
Tagovailoa Recorded Zero Rushing Yards, Fitzpatrick Passed Tagovailoa in Passing Yards
Tagovailoa was staying in the pocket during most plays and did not register a single rushing yard for the game. With five minutes left in the fourth quarter, Flores had seen enough and decided to bring in Fitzpatrick to try and spark the offense.
In his only two drives Fitzpatrick would end up with 117 passing yards, 34 more than Tagovailoa would have for the whole game.
It was a tough game for Tagovailoa and he has some work to do in order to correct some of the rookie mistakes. Tagovailoa does not have an interception yet, but did get bailed out by a defensive holding call in the first quarter that would’ve resulted in his first.
Nevertheless, he knows there will be a lot to improve on after this game.
Tagovailoa Knows Improvements Must Be Made
“I think you look at the entirety of the game and you learn from a lot of what defense the Broncos have shown,” Tagovailoa said on how he can improve after today. “What we were doing, we just couldn’t execute. For me, it was a great learning experience. I felt like I was holding the ball a little too long. I’ve just got to get completions and we’ve got to get the ball in the hands of our guys to make plays for us.”
Miami on Outside Lookin In for AFC Playoff Picture
Miami is heading into Week 12 with another away game, this time against the winless Jets. In their first matchup of the season, the Dolphins shut out New York 24-0 and it was in the game that we saw Tagovailoa’s first NFL action when he came in on the final drive.
Jets’ head coach Adam Gase and the rest of the New York offense will have to play at the top of their game if they want to put up enough points to beat a Miami defense that will be looking to bounce back after a rough game. New York has also been eliminated from playoff contention after an Indianapolis Colts win on Sunday, while Miami is now pushed back into “The Hunt” and on the outside looking in with wins from the 7-3 Colts, Cleveland Browns and Tennessee Titans.