Justin Herbert vs. Tua Tagovailoa meant to be after all – Press Enterprise

The highly anticipated rookie quarterback matchup between Justin Herbert and Tua Tagovailoa wouldn’t be on the Week 10 schedule if it weren’t for unusual circumstances and difficult decisions made by the Chargers and Miami Dolphins.

A rare schedule change and a medical mishap paved the way for Sunday’s showdown between top-six picks in the 2020 NFL draft.

Herbert likely would have been matched with veteran quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick if the Chargers played the Miami Dolphins on the original Oct. 25 date. The NFL moved the Chargers-Dolphins matchup after a series of postponed games because of coronavirus-related precautions.

If former Chargers starting quarterback Tyrod Taylor didn’t experience chest pains before kickoff against the Kansas City Chiefs in Week 2, Sunday’s game could have been Taylor versus Fitzpatrick.

If the Dolphins selected Herbert with the No. 5 pick in April, this game could have been Herbert’s Dolphins hosting Tagovailoa’s Chargers.

“That was a long time ago,” Dolphins coach Brian Flores said this week after being asked if he had any concerns about Herbert as a draft prospect. “Now, we’re eight games into the season. There was training camp, COVID, there’s a lot going on.

“I’m not really quite sure what the questions you’re talking about, but what I saw is what I just told you, which is (Herbert is) a competitive kid. He’s smart, a big arm, talented and the Chargers got a good player.”

There’s plenty to look back on for how the Chargers and Dolphins got to this point with their rookie quarterbacks. They had strange and messy midseason quarterback changes, but Flores’ annoyed tone on the look-back question is understandable.

So far, it’s worked out for both organizations, so it might be too early to ask if the Dolphins made the right decision with selecting Tagovailoa over Herbert.

Tagovailoa has started only two games but has won both and has the 5-3 Dolphins team in playoff contention. Herbert doesn’t have the wins, but his performances have the Chargers thinking they struck gold with a generational talent.

It doesn’t matter how annoyed Flores and Chargers coach Anthony Lynn get about draft questions. There will be rash decisions made on social media for which team has the better quarterback based on Sunday’s outcome at Hard Rock Stadium.

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Herbert and Tagovailoa – once believed to be the top pick in the draft out of Alabama until suffering a dislocated hip a year ago – will forever be linked and compared, along with No. 1 overall pick Joe Burrow of the Cincinnati Bengals.

“I just think that’s just something that’s going to have to be dealt with in the media,” Tagovailoa said about being compared to Herbert. “I have no animosity toward Justin Herbert, and for me, it’s not even a competition between me and him. It’s a competition for myself to go out and see what I can do to help our team be successful against their defense. And I’m pretty sure it’s the same for Justin as well.”

Herbert also didn’t get into the what-ifs when asked about possibly playing for the Dolphins.

“I really didn’t have any control over the situation, so I didn’t get too much involved with the draft process,” Herbert said.

“Tua has been a really great guy to watch. He’s been fun to watch. He’s had so much success over the past couple of years that it’s been great watching him and all the things he’s done. I’m really looking forward to playing against him this week and saying hi.”

After a sluggish debut against a tough Rams defense, Tagovailoa flashed his potential in a thrilling back-and-forth road win against the Arizona Cardinals last week. Tagovailoa was accurate and mobile while going against rising second-year quarterback Kyler Murray.

“Tua looks the part on film as far as running,” Chargers safety Rayshawn Jenkins said about Tagovailoa, who had major hip surgery last year. “He’s young, but you can still see some flashes of playmaking ability, especially with his feet … But he looks fine (from the hip injury).”

Tua versus Kyler was must-watch television just like Herbert’s battles with Patrick Mahomes, Tom Brady and Drew Brees earlier this season.

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It’s far too early to say the 2020 NFL draft class of first-round quarterbacks will be as good as the 2004 class with Philip Rivers, Eli Manning and Ben Roethlisberger, but it’s been an entertaining start for Burrow, Tagovailoa and Herbert.

ESPN had a peculiar tale of the tape graphic for Herbert and Tagovailoa this week. Herbert was favored in size, arm strength and athleticism, but he lost the icon factor category.

Tagovailoa is certainly the more talkative between the two and many rave about his leadership skills.

“His intangibles are off the charts,” Lynn said about Tagovailoa. “He’s an outstanding young man. Hard worker, ultimate competitor. I got nothing but good things to say about him. He’s gonna be a starting quarterback in this league for a long time and it did not surprise me at all that Brian made the switch.”

Perhaps one day Chargers general manager Tom Telesco will reveal his draft board, but it said a lot that he decided to stay at No. 6 to draft the Oregon quarterback on whom the Dolphins passed.

The Dolphins said Tagovailoa was better than Herbert when they submitted their draft card, and the decision might have come down to the leadership category.

But the Chargers are content with the Kawhi Leonard of quarterbacks. Herbert has robotic responses in news conferences, but has every physical attribute to build the perfect quarterback.

Sticking with the NBA comparisons, Tagovailoa is the Stephen Curry of quarterbacks with a charismatic personality and shockingly accurate throws.

Both have different personalities and skill sets, but they get the job done. Regardless of how much success Herbert and Tagovailoa have in the future, the comparisons and debates likely won’t stop.

Many pundits will quickly decide between Herbert and Tagovailoa after Sunday, but there was nothing quick about the decisions that went into making them starting quarterbacks.

Lynn and Flores had opposite scenarios, but both were faced with decisions that could have affected the locker room this season and the organization for years to come.

Flores’ situation with Tagovailoa wasn’t as messy as Lynn’s with Herbert, but not many coaches would have done what Flores did when he benched a red-hot Fitzpatrick, who had the Dolphins at 3-3 after back-to-back victories against the San Francisco 49ers and New York Jets.

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But Flores felt the time was right based on what he saw from Tagovailoa in practices. Lynn can relate to that.

“I can imagine watching him every day in practice and seeing what I was seeing and thinking, ‘At what point am I going to put him in?’” Lynn said. “I can imagine that. I know (Tagovailoa) probably was doing some good things in practice.”

Lynn received criticism for not naming Herbert the full-time starter until after his third start. The narrative was that Lynn favored Taylor over Herbert, but it was more about making sure the time was right while being considerate of Taylor.