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Armando Salguero: Solving The Curious Case of Tua Tagovailoa Not Starting For Dolphins

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One has to admit it seemed odd Thursday night when the Miami Dolphins kept starting quarterback Tua Tagovailoa on the bench because he was nursing an injury but then brought him in when backup Jacoby Brissett hurt his knee.

And it looked more odd when Brissett worked out his injury issue and told coaches he was ready to go back in, but coach Brian Flores thought better of it and left Tagovailoa in the game.

And it looked very, very odd that the stated reason Tagovailoa could not start is because his fractured middle finger in his (left) throwing hand didn’t allow him to drive the football down the field, yet the guy completed a 64-yard pass — the longest of his career.

And it seemed downright strange that Flores said after the game the team was trying to protect Tagovailoa from himself but used him on a quarterback sneak to score a touchdown anyway.

All this together paints a picture of, well, incongruent reasoning. And it has led to social media conspiracy thinking that maybe Flores somehow doesn’t want to play Tagovailoa.

Flores has obviously heard the whispers.

“I think people are trying to turn this into a controversial situation where we don’t want a certain player to play,” Flores said Friday morning.

“I try to look out for the best interest of the players individually, the team. All those things play a role in the decisions we make, and that was the case last night.

“Jacoby was banged up yesterday. Same with Tua. I thought Tua did a good job of fighting through the discomfort. He’s obviously – we all saw him bang his finger too in the game, which that’s kind of what we were trying to avoid. I think the situation with Tua, obviously I’ve said many times that he’s our quarterback. I said this last night – we try to protect players from themselves.

“(We were) trying to avoid that situation with him banging his finger last night. We’ve got to take it day-to-day with both players and see how that goes.”

“See how it goes” is code for “there is no final decision on whether Tagovailoa will be the starter in the Dolphins’ next game on Nov. 21 when they visit the New York Jets.”

The truth is if Tagovailoa had not been needed or been removed after Brissett said he was ready to return, he might not have aggravated the finger as Flores said. That would have practically guaranteed he’d be ready for the Jets game.

But now the Dolphins do indeed need to take the issue day by day when the team returns to the training facility on Monday.

 “It doesn’t feel good, I can tell you that,” Tagovailoa said of the fractured finger. “Got it banged up a little bit in the game, but it’s good. You know, we got about ten days to heal up, rest up, so we’ll take all the time we can.”

Here’s the problem:

Flores and Kyle Johnson, the Dolphins athletic trainer, came up with the plan to protect Tagovailoa from himself, as everyone is saying, and not start him. The plan was to use him only in an emergency.

That emergency arose for maybe a play or two while Brissett was nursing his knee. But then the emergency passed because Brissett was cleared to return and grabbed his helmet to do just that.

That’s when Flores decided Tagovailoa would be staying in the game, although the emergency had passed. And, by the way, that’s exactly how Flores described the situation after the game.

“Jacoby went down and I think everybody saw that,” Flores said. “He went down, went into the tent. We decided to put Tua in, obviously. Then I think (Jacoby) probably was okay to go back in, but we just decided to stay with Tua. He made a couple of passes, hit a couple of passes, and just felt like might as well just leave him in there.”

At that point, the protecting Tua from himself narrative was overshadowed by the idea of doing what was best for the team to win the game.

And it should be said Flores did a masterful job in helping his defensive coaches craft and implement a great defensive game plan. It was Miami’s finest hour of the season on defense as it sacked Lamar Jackson four times, returned a fumble for a touchdown, and held Jackson and the Baltimore defense to only one touchdown.

But the whole Tua thing seems kind of clunky by comparison. One approach or reasoning was used to start the game and then that was discarded in favor of a different approach.

That’s it. That’s all of it.

There is no real conspiracy that Flores wants to keep Tagovailoa out of the lineup.

Follow on Twitter: @ArmandoSalguero

Written by Armando Salguero

Armando Salguero has covered the NFL since 1990 for the Palm Beach Post, Miami Herald and ESPN. He was a 2016 Associated Press Sports Editors Top 10 columnist. He is a Pro Football Hall of Fame selector and AP All-Pro team voter.

2 Comments

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  1. Armando? Don’t agree with this-at all.
    1. Tua was hurt. When he tried to gun the ball in intermediate passes, the ball spun out of control. Tua normally is very accurate. Not yesterday.
    2. On deep passes (more than 20 yards on the air) you lob the ball to get to a certain point. The ball speed can’t be too fast or the receiver won’t catch.
    3. The 65 yard pass to Wilson traveled 21 yards on the air. The 35 yard pass to Waddle was about 35 yards. In both the cases the receivers had to stop to catch the ball.
    Tua was able to play through pain and did enough to win. But no question the injury affected his throws.
    I completely believe that Flores did not start Tua because of the injury. Period.

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