The limited Miami Dolphins fans who attended Sunday’s game against the New York Jets had plenty to cheer for. First, the Dolphins jumped out to a quick lead and held on for a 24-0 shutout win over the winless Jets. It’s what happened in the last two minutes of the game that had the crowd buzzing, though.
Backup quarterback Tua Tagovailoa, a rookie drafted fifth overall this spring, entered the game with a little more than two minutes remaining to relieve starter Ryan Fitzpatrick. Before Tagovailoa even took the field, Twitter was buzzing.
Tagovailoa entered the game with a comfortable 24-0 lead and backed up into his own territory. He handed the ball off on his first play, which took them to the two-minute warning. And when CBS came back from commercial, its cameras panned across fans who wore Tua No. 1 jerseys.
The Dolphins, facing a 2nd-and-9 at their own 8, called a play for Tagovailoa’s first professional pass. The left-handed quarterback from the University of Alabama rolled to his left and connected with Patrick Laird for a 2-yard gain. Facing a 3rd-and-7, Tagovailoa completed a pass to Jakeem Grant for 7 yards. Tagovailoa then handed off the ball twice, and the clock ran to zeroes.
The official Tua Tagovailoa line: 2 attempts, 2 completions, 9 yards. He had no touchdowns and no interceptions. It’s not the perfect moment for a quarterback with such hype for a franchise needing a shot of excitement, but his completion percentage is perfect as an NFL player.
The Dolphins improved to 3-3 on the season, and they are in second place in the AFC East behind the Buffalo Bills (4-1), who play the Kansas City Chiefs on Monday. The Dolphins are one game ahead of the New England Patriots. The Dolphins are the only team in the AFC East so far to score more points this season than they’ve allowed (160-113).
Tagovailoa is one of the more high-profiled quarterbacks who have entered the league in recent years, and probably the most well-known quarterback who didn’t win college football’s Heisman Trophy.
During his freshman season at Alabama, he played the backup role to starter Jalen Hurts. During the national championship game following the 2017 season, Tagovailoa entered the game in the second half and led the Crimson Tide to an overtime win over Georgia.
Tagovailoa won the starting job over Hurts (who is now with the Philadelphia Eagles) in 2018, and Tagovailoa led Alabama to the SEC Championship game, but Hurts came in relief to win that game—also over Georgia. Tagovailoa and the Tide lost the eventual national championship game to Clemson.
In 2019, Tagovailoa only lost one game, which was at home to eventual national champion LSU. Tagovailoa had a season-ending hip injury against Mississippi State. He hadn’t played a single down of live football until Sunday against the Jets.
The Dolphins went 5-11 in 2019 and had the fifth-overall pick in the 2020 NFL Draft. Though Tagovailoa was picked to be the future of the franchise, he is learning behind veteran journeyman Fitzpatrick, 38, who has spent his career with nine different teams since entering the league in 2005.