Tua benched for Fitzpatrick, but remains starter

  • Covered the Broncos for two seasons with the Denver Post
  • Graduate of the University of Houston
  • A native of Jackson, Miss.

Miami Dolphins quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick replaced Tua Tagovailoa in the fourth quarter of Sunday’s 20-13 loss to the Denver Broncos in a move that coach Brian Flores said was not injury-related.

Flores made clear that there will be no wholesale quarterback changes, meaning Tagovailoa will remain the Dolphins’ starter despite being benched for performance Sunday.

“Tua wasn’t injured. We just felt like it was the best move at that point of the game — we had to get in two-minute mode and we felt like [Fitzpatrick] gave us the best chance to win the game and we had an opportunity at the end to tie it,” Flores said.

The Dolphins trailed 20-10 when Tagovailoa was benched, with Flores saying the team needed a spark.

Tagovailoa had some rookie struggles handling pressure Sunday, going 11-of-20 passing for 83 yards and a touchdown with little effectiveness moving the ball. He also wasn’t helped by his offensive line. He was sacked six times — more than he was sacked (four) in four previous games.

“My thoughts were whatever was going to be best for the team. When I was in, we couldn’t really get things going,” Tagovailoa said. “Coach felt like it was best to put Fitz in to give us a spark. When I heard that, it was really what’s best for the team. If we were to win with Fitz in there, the locker room would be different. Everyone would be a lot happier. It just sucks to lose.”

The Dolphins came alive when Fitzpatrick entered the game, as he immediately led a field goal drive to trim the score to 20-13, showing his chemistry with DeVante Parker and Mike Gesicki. He then came 15 yards shy of completing a tying comeback drive that started on his own 1-yard line after a Melvin Gordon fumble.

But Fitzpatrick’s fourth-quarter comeback attempt fell short when he forced a pass into double coverage; Broncos safety Justin Simmons intercepted him in the end zone, essentially ending the game.

After the game, Fitzpatrick resumed his mentor role with Tagovailoa, making it clear there won’t be a quarterback controversy moving forward.

“It’s very clear that this is Tua’s team. Tua is going to continue to get better and grow,” said Fitzpatrick, who finished 12-of-18 passing for 117 yards and that interception. “For me, my defined role is whatever the team needs out of me. … There’s no controversy. This is his team. He’s going to lead this team and continue to lead the team. We just got to pull in the right direction and get everybody to continue to get better.”

Tagovailoa stood on the sideline watching with a headset on while Fitzpatrick attempted the comeback. Though he was seen limping after Broncos outside linebacker Bradley Chubb sacked him and twisted his ankle, Tagovailoa didn’t cite injury as a factor, and neither did the team.

Tagovailoa was placed on the injury report this week because of a foot injury, but he was a full participant every day in practice and didn’t have an injury designation entering Sunday’s game. Flores said that had no impact on his decision to bench Tagovailoa.

The two quarterbacks could been seen going over plays together on the sidelines even after the benching. Tagovailoa said he learned from watching Fitzpatrick handle the Broncos’ pressure even during the game.

Fitzpatrick said he talked with Tagovailoa about the benching on the sideline and in the locker room, but he believes that is over now. Flores said he’s not worrying about this benching impacting Tagovailoa’s confidence as he returns to the starting lineup.

“He’s a confident kid,” Flores said. “He’s dealt with a lot of adversity. I think he’s fine.”

Tagovailoa won his first three starts with good efficiency aided by a strong defense and special-teams group. But he faces his first true element of adversity in his NFL career in how he responds to being benched on Sunday.

“For me, it was a great learning experience,” Tagovailoa said. “I felt like I was holding the ball a little too long. Just got to get completions and get the ball in the hands of our guys to make plays for us.”

The Dolphins benched Fitzpatrick following Week 7 after the veteran led Miami to a 3-3 start and appeared to be playing well. Flores cited Tagovailoa’s readiness and doing the best thing for the team.

Tagovailoa returns to action next Sunday on the road against the 0-10 New York Jets, an ideal opponent to get the rookie back on track.

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