The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

A little ‘FitzMagic’ puts Dolphins in the win column and keeps Tua Tagovailoa at bay

Ryan Fitzpatrick celebrates with understudy Tua Tagovailoa during the Dolphins' win over the Jaguars. (Phelan M. Ebenhack/AP)
Placeholder while article actions load

There was a “FitzMagic” sighting Thursday night in Jacksonville, putting the Miami Dolphins into the win column and giving Coach Brian Flores reason to leave veteran quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick in the lineup and prized rookie Tua Tagovailoa on the bench — for now.

Fitzpatrick threw for two touchdowns and ran for another as the Dolphins beat the Jaguars, 31-13, on “Thursday Night Football.”

The Dolphins got their first victory after a 0-2 start. There’s little reason for Flores to lose games with Fitzpatrick on the field while the NFL development of Tagovailoa, the former Alabama star taken fifth overall in the NFL draft in April, remains on hold. But if Fitzpatrick can keep the Dolphins competitive and in the playoff mix, his time as the place-holding starter probably will continue.

“This is a group that’s coming together,” Fitzpatrick said during a postgame appearance on the NFL Network. “Today was just a little bit, one little step of where we’re going. But I think we’re on the right path.”

He completed his first 12 passes Thursday on his way to an 18-for-20, 160-yard passing performance. He set a single-game team record for completion percentage with 20 or more passing attempts. He added 38 rushing yards and even completed a pass to himself on a deflection. Fitzpatrick had touchdown throws to wide receiver Preston Williams and tight end Mike Gesicki. He and tailback Jordan Howard provided one-yard rushing touchdowns.

“The 0-2 start, we knew we were a better team than that. ... We really wanted this one,” Fitzpatrick said.

The way of the NFL these days is for quarterbacks taken early in the draft to play right way, or close to it. Joe Burrow, Tagovailoa and Justin Herbert were selected within the top six choices of this year’s draft. Burrow was a starter from Day 1 with the Cincinnati Bengals. Herbert is backing up Tyrod Taylor with the Los Angeles Chargers, but made a fill-in start Sunday with Taylor sidelined and played well in an overtime loss to the mighty Kansas City Chiefs. Herbert will start again this weekend.

NFL QB believed to have suffered punctured lung from painkilling injection by team doctor

But Tagovailoa, who had his final collegiate season cut short by a hip injury, continues to sit and wait with the Dolphins. The franchise was accused of tanking the 2019 season in pursuit of the No. 1 pick in the draft. But Flores and his players exceeded expectations and won five games. The Dolphins dropped in the first-round draft order but still landed Tagovailoa, thanks to his hip injury and Burrow’s ascent. Hopes were higher for this season, then were dented by losses at New England and at home to the Buffalo Bills.

Another defeat might have intensified the calls for Flores to sit the 37-year-old Fitzpatrick in favor of Tagovailoa. Instead, the night ended with former Cleveland Browns offensive tackle Joe Thomas lobbying on the NFL Network’s postgame show for Tagovailoa to continue to wait until Miami’s Week 11 bye.

“I think Tua should sit and watch,” Thomas said. “Fitzpatrick is a great guy to learn from. Look at the way he played tonight. ... You got that Christmas present under the tree. Let’s not rush it. Let’s wait till Christmas morning. We can open it then and we can really enjoy it. But let’s not open it before it’s ready. Give that hip a little bit of extra time.”

Fitzpatrick was resplendent for his postgame TV appearance with an unbuttoned shirt decorated with colorful pineapples. He’d had a playful public back-and-forth this week with Jaguars quarterback Gardner Minshew about Minshew’s mustache and Fitzpatrick’s beard and age (37). Fitzpatrick got the final word.

Ryan Fitzpatrick, Gardner Minshew spark great quarterback facial hair debate

“The mustache is his look,” Fitzpatrick said. “He rocks it. I saw him in pregame warmup with the cutoff sleeves. I mean, he’s got a good thing going. But I’ll stick with the beard and the chest hair and the senior citizen look.”

The Jaguars are the latest team to be accused of tanking, after their roster-paring continued into the preseason with moves that included the release of tailback Leonard Fournette. That talk quieted with the Jaguars’ season-opening triumph over the Indianapolis Colts. But they’ve lost two straight since. Minshew’s time to prove he’s the answer at quarterback — instead of a would-be franchise savior who would arrive via next spring’s draft — dwindles with each loss and disappointing performance.

“We had too many mistakes tonight,” Minshew said in a postgame video conference with reporters. “That’s kind of plain and simple. No matter what the score is, we should be able to go out and execute. We just didn’t do a good enough job of that.”

Minshew threw for 275 yards on 30-for-42 passing. Undrafted rookie tailback James Robinson ran for two touchdowns. But the Jaguars mostly struggled. Minshew lost a fumble, setting up a Miami touchdown, and missed wide-open receiver Chris Conley for what should have been a touchdown on the final play of the third quarter. He also threw an interception late in the game.

“It just felt like we weren’t playing in sync, how we want to play,” Jaguars Coach Doug Marrone said in a video news conference.

Jacksonville left tackle Cam Robinson was ejected for pushing away the arm of an official in the pileup of players on the ground grappling for the loose football on Minshew’s fumble. “I have a hard time seeing a guy get kicked out of the ballgame for something like that,” Troy Aikman said on the NFL Network broadcast. Rules analyst Mike Pereira, the former NFL officiating czar, concurred by saying: “I understand it. But I don’t agree with it.”