DENVER – The pain of being pulled in the fourth quarter of Miami’s first loss in seven weeks may sting for a while, but Tua Tagovailoa’s benching won’t last.
“No, no changes,” insisted coach Brian Flores after losing the Dolphins 20-13 in Denver on Sunday which was sealed when safety Justin Simmons intercepted Ryan Fitzpatrick’s throw to DeVante Parker in the end zone with just over one minute to go.
Tagovalioa staggered off the field after his sixth sack at the start of the fourth quarter and appeared to be limping on the sidelines, but Flores said it wasn’t his young quarterback’s health that was the problem.
Flores tugged at Tagovailoa after watching his rookie left-handed struggle the entire game against a relentless six-sack pass rush and a stingy secondary that limited him to 83 yards on 11-of-20 passes.
‘They put pressure on us. They did well on the back from a coverage point of view. We just struggled to get it going, ”said Flores after the Dolphins fell to 6-4 with their first loss since October 4 against Seattle. “We had to try to do something to create momentum. That’s why we made the switch, but he’s healthy. ”
The Dolphins are also adamant that there is no quarterback dilemma in South Beach.
“There’s no controversy,” said Fitzpatrick after completing 12 of the 18 passes for 117 yards. “This is his team. He will continue to lead the team, and we must all move in the right direction. ”
The dolphins visit the winless New York Jets next week (0-10).
Fitzpatrick said he spoke with Tagovailoa “on the sidelines and in the locker room. He’ll put his head down and keep working hard and keep trying to be a better quarterback. We have a great opportunity here as a team. Tua has done well. It’s about putting it behind you and moving on to the next. ”
Tagovailoa, who tried to become only the second rookie QB in the past 40 years to win his first four starts (Ben Roethlisberger is the other), said he understood the move when Flores put him on the bench.
“My thoughts were what would be best for the team,” said Tagovailoa. “When I was inside, we couldn’t really get things going. Coach felt it was the best decision to bring in Fitz to give us a spark. If we won with Fitz in there, the dressing room would be very different. Everyone would be a lot happier. It’s just stupid to lose.
“For me it was a great learning experience,” he added. “I felt like I was holding the ball a little too long.”
Flores said he has no concerns that Tagovailoa’s benching will damage his psyche.
‘He’s a confident boy. He has faced many setbacks, ”said Flores. “He’ll be fine.”
The Broncos (4-6) did something the Rams, Cardinals and Chargers couldn’t do against Tagovailoa. Denver kept the Dolphins’ excellent defense at bay and prevented their spectacular special teams from giving Tagovailoa an early lead.
Instead, the Broncos came back from Drew Lock’s interception, his 11th, on their opening drive that led to a quick 7-0 lead in Miami to take a 13-10 lead in the locker room.
Melvin Gordon’s second touchdown run was extended to 20-10 in the third quarter when Fitzpatrick replaced Tagovailoa.
Gordon ran it 15 times for 84 yards and Phillip Lindsay for 82 yards on 16 carries.
Broncos coach Vic Fangio said a quarterback’s best friends are a good ground game and good defense, and while Lock had both, Tagovalio had neither on this day.
Five of his eight drives were three-and-out, including four of his first five runs sandwiched around a 22-yard touchdown drive after Miami’s only takeaway, Xavien Howard’s sixth interception of the season.
The dolphins had overtaken 189 yards to 56 yards on the ground, and Denver had six bags but didn’t allow any.
“It was a combination of protection and maybe holding on a little too long and guys that wouldn’t open,” said Flores. “We have not moved the ball effectively. I felt like we should give ourselves a spark. ”
And perhaps in the process lit a fire under Tagovailoa that will pay dividends if the Dolphins chase their first playoff berth since 2016.