On a night billed as Justin Herbert squaring off with Tua Tagovailoa, the Miami Dolphins’ youngster put forth a stinker with staying power.
It’s rare to have a stat line of 10-of-28 for 145 yards, and somehow it’s worse than it looks.
Yet that’s exactly what happened to Tua Tagovailoa on Sunday Night Football.
Tagovailoa struggled through the worst night of his career, with the Miami Dolphins’ quarterback flummoxed against a typically lousy Los Angeles Chargers defense in a 23-17 defeat. Tagovailoa’s only highlight was a 60-yard touchdown pass to Tyreek Hill, which while a good throw, was significantly aided by Chargers corner Michael Davis falling down.
Facing his counterpart in Justin Herbert, a man taken one spot ahead of him in the 2020 NFL Draft, Tagovailoa had a chance to make a national statement. Flexed into primetime, Miami entered two games better than Los Angeles at 8-4. The stage was set for Tagovailoa to slice up a defense without star defenders in safety Derwin James Jr., corner J.C. Jackson and edge rusher Joey Bosa.
Instead, Tagovailoa was scattershot and unsettled, throwing inaccurately all evening. Before the Dolphins’ final drive in garbage time, the former No. 5 overall pick was 6-of-22 for 112 yards. It wasn’t only bad, it was appalling considering how well Tagovailoa has played up to the current road trip.
While Herbert was sublime, showing off his full arsenal of pinpoint passes and laser strikes to the perimeter and intermediate levels, Tagovailoa struggled for a second straight week. Last Sunday against the San Francisco 49ers, he went 18-of-33 for 295 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions, posting a horrific 19.9 QBR in a 33-17 loss.
At 8-5, the Dolphins and their quarterback are still enjoying a breakout year, but questions are now being raised.
Chief among them is whether Miami and Tagovailoa are only capable of lighting up bad teams and poor defenses?
Of the 10 games Tagovailoa started and finished, Miami has played five games against bottom-10 defense by points allowed per game.
In those games, the Dolphins have averaged 30.4 points. In the other five, only 23.2 points. And the latter includes a 28-point explosion in the fourth quarter of Week 2 against the Baltimore Ravens.
And yet, Tagovailoa has an average stat line of 24-of-33 for 317 yards against the Houston Texans, Cleveland Browns, Detroit Lions and Chicago Bears. Against the other six opponents he’s faced, those numbers shrink to 20-of-33 for 271 yards. Furthermore, Tagovailoa has a single 300-yard effort in those affairs, going for 469 yards and six touchdowns in a phenomenal showing against Baltimore. Otherwise, mostly solid-if-unspectacular efforts.
The bottom line? Evidence suggests what a reasonable mind would expect. The Dolphins and their quarterback are excellent against poor opponents, solid against good ones, but potentially not ready to join the big boys of the AFC in Buffalo, Kansas City and Cincinnati.
For Tagovailoa, Sunday night shouldn’t be a referendum on his progress. He’s clearly made plenty. But it should be a reality check.
The Dolphins are right to be thrilled with his play this year, but a long road ahead remains.
Top 10 defensive nicknames in NFL history
1. Steel Curtain – Pittsburgh Steelers
2. Fearsome Foursome – Los Angeles Rams
3. Purple People Eaters – Minnesota Vikings
4. Monsters of the Midway – Chicago Bears
5. Killer B’s – Miami Dolphins
6. Legion of Boom – Seattle Seahawks
7. The Sack Exchange – New York Jets
8. The Dome Patrol – New Orleans Saints
9. No Fly Zone – Denver Broncos
10. Eleven Angry Men – Oakland Raiders
"“It feels good. It makes me feel like we’re making a lot of people eat what they said, mostly. We know who we are and we know what we can do.”"
– Detroit Lions quarterback Jared Goff on his team’s recent surge
Goff torched the Minnesota Vikings on Sunday, throwing for 330 yards and three touchdowns in a 34-23 romp. At 6-7, the Lions are firmly in the playoff picture, only trailing the New York Giants and Washington Commanders by 1.5 games. And next week, those two square off while Detroit visits the New York Jets.
Whether Detroit makes the playoffs remains unknown, but it is making Motown proud.
Former quarterback Jim McMahon is the only player in NFL history to win the Super Bowl with both the Chicago Bears and Green Bay Packers.
Info learned this week
1. Bills beat Jets, essentially finish off AFC East
Start making the banner for the Buffalo Bills.
By way of a water-logged 20-12 win over the Jets at Highmark Stadium, and Miami’s defeat at SoFi, the Bills are in firm control of the AFC East. With a two-game lead over the Dolphins before the pair have their rematch on Saturday night, Buffalo can essentially polish Miami off in the division while focusing on the AFC’s No. 1 seed.
After trailing in the division for more than a month, the Bills have surged ahead to a comfortable lead. Buffalo has won four consecutive games, while the Dolphins have faltered in consecutive California dates with the San Francisco 49ers and Chargers.
Ultimately, the Bills are putting Miami in a tough — and cold — spot for January. Buffalo is going to win the East, while the Kansas City Chiefs will win the AFC West. In the AFC North, it’ll be either the Baltimore Ravens or Cincinnati Bengals.
All of them play in cold weather, perhaps a chore for the high-flying, warm-weather Dolphins.
2. Ravens, Bengals hold serve in AFC North race
The Ravens were without Lamar Jackson against a stout Pittsburgh Steelers defense. The Bengals had lost five straight to the Cleveland Browns.
Despite it all, both the Ravens and Bengals won their AFC North matchups, keeping the match race even up with four weeks remaining.
Baltimore threw for 94 total yards but ran for 215 yards in a 16-14 road win. With Jackson expected to miss at least one more game with a sprained MCL, this is the path for the Ravens to stay afloat. The defense also stepped up, holding onto a late lead while intercepting Steelers quarterback Mitchell Trubisky three times.
In Cincinnati, Joe Burrow overcame a slow start while running back Joe Mixon dazzled in his return from a concussion, totaling more than 300 yards between them. Perhaps most impressively, the defense held Browns running back Nick Chubb to 34 rushing yards on 2.4 yards per carry.
The last month’s schedule favors Baltimore, having only the Bengals as a winning team remaining on the slate. Conversely, Cincinnati has nothing but teams .500 and above. That said, the rivals meet in Week 18 at Paycor Stadium, and it could determine everything.
3. Giants’ tailspin continues with blowout loss to Eagles
It’s starting to fall apart in East Rutherford.
After starting 7-2, the Giants have fallen to 7-5-1 after being handled by the Philadelphia Eagles 41-14 at MetLife Stadium. The game was never close, with New York trailing 21-0 in the first half, and Eagles running back Miles Sanders gaining 144 rushing yards on 17 carries with two touchdowns.
Offensively, New York was helpless. Running back Saquon Barkley is a concern moving forward, leaving injured after nine carries and only 28 yards. If Barkley is compromised, Big Blue has to rely heavily on quarterback Daniel Jones, who while taking better care of the football, isn’t going to create many big plays.
For the Giants, it’s Armageddon time in Week 15. After tying the Commanders in Week 13, the two meet again at FedEx Field in a game which could well decide who earns an NFC wild card berth, and who narrowly misses out.
Over the summer, being in the playoff race would have been a dream scenario for New York fans. But after such a quick start, missing the postseason would feel like a nightmare.
4. Purdy outplays Brady, creating weirdest headline of 2022
Tom Brady has won seven Super Bowls and is the greatest quarterback to ever live. Brock Purdy is Mr. Irrelevant, making his first NFL start on Sunday.
On Sunday, Purdy’s 49ers destroyed Brady’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers, 35-7, to the point where Purdy was lifted to show sportsmanship. The seventh-round pick lit up the Bucs’ defense, throwing for 185 yards on 8.8 yards per attempt and two touchdowns. As for Brady, he averaged a hideous 4.6 YPA with two interceptions.
Because the NFC South is a dumpster fire, none of this truly matters for Tampa Bay. It’s going to be the No. 4 seed in the playoffs and likely draw the Dallas Cowboys in the Wild Card round. For the Niners, Purdy’s play means much more, as San Francisco can clinch the NFC West should it win on Thursday night against the Seattle Seahawks, who lost at home to the Carolina Panthers this week.
We didn’t learn anything new about the Bucs. They’re terribly coached, the offense can’t function and the quarterback is beginning to look 45 years old. But we learned plenty about Purdy, who played against a terrific defense and took on the persona of a point guard. Avoiding big mistakes and giving the ball to his playmakers, Purdy watched his Niners win a laugher.
Come January, that’s the formula in San Francisco.
5. Patriots look to save season in Arizona on MNF
The New England Patriots are on the proverbial ropes. No better opponent for that than the Arizona Cardinals.
Arizona is off its bye but at 4-8, but the in-fighting between quarterback Kyler Murray and head coach Kliff Kingsbury has highlighted a disappointing campaign. Meanwhile, New England is 6-6 and while the roster is limited — especially on the offensive side — the Patriots have Bill Belichick. That advantage alone might be enough to tip a must-win affair in the desert.
If not, though, the Patriots will be 6-7 and facing missing the postseason for the second time in three years since Tom Brady left for Tampa Bay. If that’s the situation, New England has to grapple with whether quarterback Mac Jones is the future, and if not, do the Patriots make a push to replace him with an aggressive move in the draft?
For now, the Patriots’ task is beating the Cardinals. If they lose, the task becomes quite different.
The Las Vegas Raiders should fire Josh McDaniels. Just don’t expect it to happen.
Raiders owner Mark Davis is rich, but by NFL standards, he’s cash poor. Firing McDaniels would require paying two coaches at once, meaning McDaniels is likely to stay in charge of the Silver and Black for another year — at the minimum.
McDaniels watched on Thursday night as Las Vegas lost what amounted to a lay-up after leading the moribund Los Angeles Rams 16-3 with less than five minutes remaining. The Rams scored two touchdowns with newly-acquired quarterback Baker Mayfield, who despite running only 20 plays in practice, engineered a game-winning, 98-yard drive in the final seconds.
Of course, this isn’t McDaniels’ first disaster this year. The Raiders also blew leads of 20-0 to the Arizona Cardinals, and 17-0 to both the Kansas City Chiefs and Jacksonville Jaguars. Then there’s losing to Indianapolis Colts head coach Jeff Saturday, who has yet to win since.
At 5-8, the Raiders are finished. McDaniels was brought in to elevate an improved roster past last year’s Wild Card round finish. Instead, Las Vegas is through before Christmas.
Inside the league
The Tennessee Titans stunned the football world by firing general manager Jon Robinson on Tuesday. Five days later, they were blown out at home by the Jacksonville Jaguars.
While theories flew about Robinson being canned after former Titans receiver A.J. Brown put up 119 receiving yards and two scores in a 35-10 Eagles win over Tennessee last weekend, that’s nonsense. Nobody gets fired with a 7-5, division-leading record because a traded player has a big day.
The situation screams power struggle, one that Robinson ultimately lost.
Since hiring Robinson in 2016, Tennessee never suffered a losing season despite middling quarterback play, winning four AFC South titles, and reaching the conference championship game.
Robinson’s resumè should land him ample consideration this offseason. The best spot could be in the AFC South, with the Houston Texans in dire need of a roster overhaul. When Robinson took over in Tennessee, the Titans were coming off five wins over the previous two years. Instantly, Nashville was given a quality product, with Tennessee sustaining four consecutive 9-7 years before winning 23 games over the past two seasons.
With Houston likely to have the No. 1 overall selection in the 2023 NFL Draft, Robinson could finally land a quarterback and then build out with a treasure trove of cap space and draft picks, many acquired for Deshaun Watson.
Robinson is unemployed, but that won’t last long.
BetSided‘s best bet
Lions vs. Jets UNDER 48 (-110)
The Lions’ offense seemingly can do no wrong of late. Goff has eight touchdowns to zero picks in his last five games, while ranking third in the NFL in passer rating and yards since Week 10. Overs have also hit in five of the last six games for Detroit.
However, I expect the trend to go the opposite direction this week when they head to the Meadowlands to face the Jets. New York ranks fourth in the NFL in opponent total yards/game, including top four at home, top three in yards/play, and are top five in opponent points/play.
Meanwhile, the much-improved Goff still has to show he can put up numbers away from the dome. He owns a 18:4 TD/INT ratio indoors in eight games; averaging 270.5 YPG. Away from perfect conditions, his TD:INT is just 1-1 in three games; averaging only 210 yards per game.
The Lions have beat up on some rough defenses and padded their stats. That won’t be the case vs. the Jets.
— Ben Heisler
The Houston Texans’ first win in franchise history came in their inaugural game, beating the Dallas Cowboys, 19-10, at Reliant Stadium in 2002.
With four games remaining for each team, draft season is approaching.
We’ve seen three teams officially eliminated from playoff contention, and more are coming. Yet looking at the draft order, it’s remarkable how many teams who have failed miserably in 2022 won’t have the opportunity to select top-tier college talent come April.
Heading into Monday night, the Broncos hold the No. 2 overall pick. The Rams check in fourth, while the Saints round out the top five. None of those teams hold their selections, though, with the Seahawks, Lions and Eagles instead owed those choices.
In a quarterback-rich draft, Denver and New Orleans would have loved a chance to pluck young, cheap contracts at the sport’s paramount position. Instead, they’ll watch as one gets picked after the next, wondering what could have been.
The lesson? Trades aren’t only about the acquisition of talent, but about the cost to be paid in both present and future tense. The Broncos and Saints learned that the hard way.
As for the Rams, they’ll wince, but they’ll smile looking at their jewelry.