Coach Brian Flores was watching his Miami Dolphins’ offense looking hopelessly inept against the Denver Broncos. Tua had completed just 11/20 passes for 83 yards and 1 TD. Tua had a 55% completion percentage and a quarterback rating of 81.9. To be clear, the Dolphins’ offense looked completely inept.
Prized rookie quarterback Tua Tagovailoa looked like a piñata as he stood there and took a beating from the Broncos defense play after play. It was a frustrating moment, but certainly not unexpected to anyone who has watched professional football. Rookie quarterbacks are notorious for laying eggs at some point during their first season. It is simply unavoidable. Good head coaches know and understand this and learn to grit their teeth and support their rookie quarterback for the hope of better times once the rookie quarterback gets some necessary seasoning.
But, Coach Flores is not that kind of coach. The Miami Dolphins got the ball back with 10:44 remaining in the 4th quarter. The Dolphins were trailing the Broncos by the score of 20-10. The Dolphins had entered the game on a surprising five-game winning streak. Suddenly, the Dolphins found themselves in a battle with the Buffalo Bills for first place in the AFC East. Somehow, the second year of a full-on rebuild of the Miami Dolphins franchise had shockingly morphed into a legit playoff run. And Coach Flores let his competitive nature and frustration get the best of him. This led Flores to take the ball out of Tua’s hands and making a call to the bullpen for relief quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick.
With this decision, Coach Flores made his biggest mistake of his coaching career with the Miami Dolphins. Now, make no mistake, I am a fan of Coach Flores. I think Flores is exactly what the Dolphins franchise needs. Flores possess the kind of character and vision that I think will lead to the creation of a culture of sustainable winning.
Having said that, Flores’ decision to bench Tua was flat out awful and made zero sense. I was completely stunned as I watched Fitzpatrick trot his way onto the field during the fourth quarter. I thought that Tua had to be injured to not be in the game and given the chance to continue to battle through adversity. That thought began to melt away as the camera showed Tua on the sidelines looking perfectly fine.
Flores then made it crystal clear in his post-game press conference that Tua was not hurt. Flores stated:
“No, Tua wasn’t injured. We just felt like it was the best move at that point in the game. We had to get to two-minute mode and we just felt like he gave us the best chance to win the game which we had an opportunity at the end – to tie it, I should say.”
So, Flores admitted that he pulled Tua based on performance in just his fourth start when the Dolphins were only down by 10 points with 10:44 to go in the fourth quarter. That makes no sense.
At the Monday, November 23, 2020, press conference, Flores was asked why he would go with Fitzpatrick rather than letting Tua have a moment to fight through adversity and try and win the game. Flores answered:
“I’m always going to try to do what I feel is best for the team in a particular game, and that’s kind of how we felt yesterday. That’s really it. We couldn’t get into a rhythm really the majority of the first three quarters. It became a two-score game and we felt like we needed a spark and we stuck ‘Fitz’ (Ryan Fitzpatrick) in there. We felt like that was the best thing for our team to try to win a ball game last night.”
Flores put Fitzpatrick in the game “as a spark.” And what “spark” did Fitzpatrick give the Dolphins? Three points and an interception.
Flores was then asked if Tua as the starting quarterback gives the Dolphins the best chance to win on a weekly basis. Flores answered:
“This is a very talented player. He’s played well. He’s a young player. He’s an improving player. He’s a developing player. We’ve got a lot of confidence in him and that’s why he’s the starter.”
Sure, Flores has a “lot of confidence” in Tua unless Tua has been playing poorly and the Dolphins are losing. Actions always speak louder than words. This is why coaches do not bench their rookie franchise quarterbacks in these situations.
Lastly, Flores was asked what the lesson or message Tua should take from being benched in the fourth quarter in the game against the Broncos. Flores answered:
“Tua is a resilient kid. I don’t know if there is a message or anything to take from it. It’s the same message the entire team gets. We all have to play better. We have to coach better. He’s not in this alone. He’s got my full support. He’s got the support of our coaching staff. He’s got the support of everyone – every player in that locker room. And conversely, he supports all of the other players in the locker room as well. I don’t know if there’s a message here. I don’t want to make too much of this. He’s the starting quarterback. He knows that. We’ve had that conversation. He’s played well and I expect him to continue to play well. I expect him to bounce back. He’s a resilient kid, like I’ve said, and he’s a talented kid as well. I expect him to bounce back. I expect our entire team to bounce back, to be honest with you.”
Again, Tua has Flore’s full support until….the moment that Tua is having a rough game and the Dolphins are trailing their opponent by one or two scores in the fourth quarter. Then Tua can start looking over his shoulder.
And there is no message or anything to take from being benched in the fourth quarter of your fourth start? Really? Flores must think everyone is a fool. This is completely disingenuous. Also, Flores saying that we should not be making too much of this is laughable. You cannot bench your rookie franchise quarterback in the fourth quarter and not expect a massive controversy on your hands.
This shows that Flores made an impulsive and bad decision during the game that completely blew up in his face when Fitzpatrick predictably threw an interception. It was after the game and in his post-game press conference that it dawned on Flores that he made a mistake and opened up a massive can of worms. This answer during the Monday press conference shows Flores is backpedaling and trying to gloss over his mistake.
Seriously, this answer highlights one of Flores’ fallacies in his view of the quarterback position. I get that Flores is bringing the “Patriots Way” here to the Dolphins franchise. That the team is greater than any single player. That players are interchangeable parts that can be swapped out and the machine will continue to operate efficiently.
However, that mindset works for every single position except for one: the franchise quarterback. The fact is that quarterback is completely different from every other single position on the team. It is common for defensive players to be rotated in and out during a game. It is also common to rotate offensive players in and out based on the play being run. But, quarterback? There is not baseball. There is no bullpen. There is no such thing as a relief quarterback.
There are only two quarterbacks suited up to play at game time. That is a smaller number than any other position on the roster. The starting quarterback plays a highly unique role compared to any other position on the roster. The franchise quarterback is the leader of the team. Period. The franchise quarterback is the straw that stirs the drink for the entire team. The franchise quarterback is the tone-setter and the face of the franchise. There is a reason why franchise quarterbacks get paid more than any other position in the NFL. To think that the position of starting quarterback can be handled like any of the other positions on an NFL roster is either disingenuous or downright foolish.
There is no other position even close to the quarterback position. I am not sure that Brian Flores, who is a defensive coach, truly understands the quarterback position and the psychology of a quarterback. Confidence is huge for a successful franchise quarterback. A franchise quarterback has to have confidence in himself as well as the confidence of his teammates, and coaching staff.
This is why it is so crucial for the head coach to give unwavering support to a rookie franchise quarterback. The rookie franchise quarterback has to fully understand that his head coach has faith in him. The rookie franchise quarterback has to feel that he can go and play to the fullest extent of his abilities without fear of being benched.
It is terribly toxic and counterproductive to make a rookie quarterback feel that he may be benched the very moment that he makes a bad play. The last thing any team wants is for their franchise quarterback constantly looking over his shoulder to see if he is going to get benched.
For Tua to reach his fullest potential he needs to feel that he can go out every week and know that his head coach has faith in him whether they win or lose. Tua can only become the Dolphins’ franchise quarterback by being allowed to go out and struggle, battle through adversity, and possibly fail. This is how young franchise quarterbacks learn, grow, and blossom. This will never happen if Flores continues to handle Tua as he did against the Broncos.
A quarterback who is always looking over his shoulder also makes him less likely to be aggressive and push the ball downfield. It is likely to make that quarterback less confident and focused. All of this is definitely not what any head coach wants to see from their franchise quarterback.
Further, Flores pulling Tua at the first time the rookie was facing true adversity runs the risk of making Tua soft. Flores has to be willing to let Tua struggle and fail in order for Tua to properly grow and gain the battle-tested skills necessary for any franchise quarterback.
Benching Tua also unnecessarily opens internal debate among teammates as to who should be the starting quarterback. The benching of Tua also leads to a distracting media circus that is not good for anyone on the team.
Now, there were some people in the media rushing to defend Flores’ decision by pointing out how the Miami Dolphins’ offense operated so much better with Fitzpatrick at the helm. That the offense gained more yards and suddenly starting moving with more purpose. That is a facile view of what happened in the fourth quarter. The result was disastrous as Fitzpatrick did exactly what Fitzpatrick does. The fact that Flores thought this was going to play out any different is stunning.
The fact is that Fitzpatrick did exactly what Fitzpatrick always does: commits costly turnovers. Once Fitzpatrick entered the game everyone watching knew that a turnover or two was about to happen. The fact that Flores did not expect this is disconcerting.
Yes, Fitzpatrick passed for more yardage. Agreed. But, Fitzpatrick’s quarterback rating of 61.6 was less than Tua’s 81.9 quarterback rating. And, of course, Fitzpatrick promptly tossed an interception despite playing less than one quarter. That is a problem that Tua does not have. Never mind the fact that the Broncos defense was playing softer defense as the clock winded down.
Here is the fact of the matter. Coaches do not bench their franchise rookie quarterback. Look no further than Joe Burrow. In Week 1, Joe Burrow went 23/36 for 193 yards, 0TDs and 1 INT. This yielded a quarterback rating of 66.1. Burrow did not get benched. In Week 5, Burrow went 19/30 for 183 yards, 0 TDs, and 1 INT. This yielded a quarterback rating of 66.4. Burrow did not get benched.
Let’s look at some big-name franchise quarterbacks during their rookie seasons. How about Drew Brees? In Week 10 of the 2002 season, San Diego Chargers lost 28-24 to the St. Louis Rams. Drew Brees went 12/20 for 139 yards 0 TDs and 2 INTs. Brees had a quarterback rating of 41.5. Brees did not get benched.
What about Tom Brady? In Week 4 of the 2001 season, the Patriots lost to the Miami Dolphins 30-10. Tom Brady went 12/24 for 86 yards 0 TDs and 0 INTS. Brady had a quarterback rating of 58.7. Brady did not get benched by Flores’ former boss Bill Belichick.
How about Payton Manning? In Week 3 of the 1998 season, the Colts lost to the Jets 44-6. Manning went 20/44 for 193 yards, 0TDs, and 2 INTs. Manning had a QB rating of 39.3. Manning did not get benched. In Week 10 of the 1998 season, the Colts lost to the Dolphins 27-14. Manning went 22/42 for 140 yards, 1 TD, and 2 INTs. Manning had a quarterback rating of 47.7. Manning did not get benched.
We could do this all day. The reason is that coaches do not bench their rookie franchise quarterback in their fourth start. Flores utterly bungled the handling of Tua against the Broncos. Flores had the perfect opportunity to show his faith and support in his rookie franchise quarterback and smacked it away.
Was Tua having his best game? No. Of course not. Tua was obviously confused by what Vic Fangio was throwing. There was also no doubt that Tua was holding onto the ball entirely too long. That is not a good idea when your offensive line is not that great in the first place. But, let’s not buy into the fantasy that Tua was playing horribly.
Tua had completed 55% of his passes and passed for 1 TD and 0 INTs for a quarterback rating of 81.9. Tua was not exactly getting much help from any of his supporting cast. The offensive line had played poorly. The receivers had dropped some passes. The running backs? Salvon Ahmed rushed 12 times for 43 yards averaging just 3.4 yards per carry. Matt Breida rushed 2 times for 4 yards averaging 2 yards per carry.
Further, Tua’s 81.9 quarterback rating was better than Fitzpatrick’s 61.6 quarterback rating. And Tua’s 0 interceptions beat Fitzpatrick’s 1 interception. In fact, in seven games, Fitzpatrick has a quarterback rating of 92.2 and has thrown for 10 TDs and 8 INTs. In five games, Tagovailoa has a quarterback rating of 100.1 and has thrown for 6 TDs and 0 INTs. Based on the two quarterbacks’ performance for the 2020 season I have no idea what Flores would have thought that Fitzpatrick was the better choice in the fourth quarter against the Broncos. It defies common sense.
Brian Flores is a young head coach. This is just Flores’ second season as the head man in charge. Like a rookie franchise quarterback who gets frozen and confused and may make a bad decision Flores made a young head coach mistake in his bad decision to bench Tia. Hopefully, Flores fully realizes the mistake that he made in benching Tagovailoa and can learn from it and not make this same mistake again this season. Flores needs to allow Tua to grow and mature into the franchise quarterback that we hope he can become. This entails letting Tua struggle and learn from adversity.
To comment on this article and other Miami Phins content, visit our Facebook page, our Twitter feed, and our Instagram feed. Also, catch up with all of Rokk’s other musings about sports, geek news. TV shows, movies, and more over on his Twitter page.