The Miami Dolphins defied the odds Sunday when they defeated Lamar Jackson and the Baltimore Ravens at M&T Bank Stadium. In a game that started as a Ravens blowout, Miami clawed back from a 21-point fourth-quarter deficit to take the lead in the final moments. Tua Tagovailoa had the biggest game of his career, throwing six touchdowns to four different receivers totaling 469 yards, all career highs for the third-year man. The Dolphins improved to 2-0 and proved to the league they are a force to be reckoned with this season.
1. Tua Tagovailoa is a star
Tagovailoa has been one of the most criticized players at his position since entering the league in 2020. A big reason has been the success of contemporaries such as Joe Burrow of the Cincinnati Bengals, who is coming off a Super Bowl appearance last season. The former Alabama product is also often compared to the Los Angeles Chargers’ Justin Herbert. Herbert was taken with the pick that followed the Dolphins in 2020 and has had plenty of success early on, throwing for over 5,000 yards and 38 touchdowns in only his second season.
While it can be argued that Tagovailoa underperformed early in his career, the fact that so many counted him out after only two seasons is proving to be terribly premature. Through the first two games of the season, Tagovailoa leads the league in both passing yards (739) and touchdowns (7) willing his team to a perfect record.
Sunday’s game against the Ravens has to rank amongst the top of Tagovailoa’s young career. The game didn’t start off as well as Miami would have hoped for coming off of last week’s win against the New England Patriots. The Dolphins struggled as a whole in the first half, and Tagovailoa’s two interceptions were not helping the cause. The two former Alabama standouts, Jaylen Waddle and Tagovailoa, did connect on a six-yard touchdown. But apart from that, the offense looked pedestrian for much of the game. The team found itself in a 28-7 hole at halftime. Social media hammered Miami and its starting quarterback.
With only 30 minutes left in regulation, the Dolphins had the daunting task of coming back from down three touchdowns. They were on the road in a hostile environment. But luckily for the Fins, Tagovailoa had the best half of his career.
Miami was able to score in its first possession of the third quarter but conceded a 79-yard touchdown run to Baltimore’s Jackson before the end of the third quarter. Once again the Dolphins faced a 21-point deficit and now with only 15 minutes left, time was not on their side. Tagovailoa led a quick drive to start the fourth quarter throwing a two-yard touchdown to River Cracraft.
After a defensive stop, Tagovailoa connected with Tyreek Hill on a 48-yard bomb that the speedy receiver scored on. With one more defensive stop after this score, the Dolphins had a chance to score 21 unanswered points, tying the game in the process, and that they did. Tagovailoa connected with Hill on a bomb for the second consecutive possession, this time on a 60-yard bomb that the “Cheetah” caught and scored.
The score was 35-35. With five minutes remaining, Jackson and the Ravens had the task of taking back the lead. The defense held Baltimore to a field goal, and with 2:18 left, Tagovailoa and the offense took the field. They had the chance to tie or win the game despite trailing by 21 points early on in the fourth quarter. The Dolphins drove the length of the field in six plays and with 14 seconds left in the game, Tagovailoa found Waddle in the end zone for the second time in the game.
The core was 42-38.
The poise the former fifth overall pick showed in this game, going up against one of the league’s very best in Jackson, was everything Dolphins fans have been hoping to see from their franchise quarterback. Tagovailoa’s career day made him only the third Miami quarterback to throw for six touchdowns in a game, placing him in conversations with legends Dan Marino and Bob Griese. While Tagovailoa is often disrespected by the national media as well as by fans, this game has certainly silenced the doubters for now. Although there is still lots of football left to be played this season, Tagovailoa has cemented himself as a star so far and the Miami Dolphins are riding high as a result of his play.
2. Tyreek Hill and Jayden Waddle could be the best receiving duo in the league
Much like Tagovailoa, Miami’s receiving core is putting the league on notice early on this season. Hill and Waddle are currently leading the league in receiving yards with 284 and 240 yards respectively. Additionally, Waddle is currently tied for the most receiving touchdowns in the league as the former Alabama receiver has had a sensational start to his second season in the pros. The Dolphins’ off-season move of bringing in the “Cheetah” via trade with the Kansas City Chiefs appears to be one of the best of any team thus far. It didn’t take long for the super-bowl winning wideout to form a bond with Tagovailoa on and off the field and the offense looks night and day from last year as a result.
Hill finished Sunday’s game with 11 receptions for 190 yards and two touchdowns, the kind of stat line you can expect from a wide receiver who received a four-year, $120 million contract extension during the off-season. He has been a nightmare for opposing defenses to plan for, thanks in part to head coach Mike McDaniel’s creative use of the shifty receiver. While Hill has made a name for himself with his otherworldly speed over the top of defenses, McDaniel has found a way to incorporate him in shorter throws and the run game. Hill has raved about Tagovailoa and compared his abilities to that of his former teammate and league MVP Patrick Mahomes. While these claims sparked controversy over the offseason, two games into Hill’s Dolphins career, his prophecy seems to be correct.
Dolphins fans had plenty to be excited about after Waddle’s impressive rookie campaign. Miami’s front office knew what they were doing by bringing in Tagovailoa’s number-one receiving option at the University of Alabama. As many predicted, Hill has helped open up Waddle’s game. At age 23, he has many years to become one of the league’s premier receivers.
It is easy to see why Waddle and Hill are considered among the best young receivers in the league. If Tagovailoa and his pass catchers continue their stellar play, there’s no reason the Dolphins’ offense can’t rank amongst the top in most categories this season
3. The Dolphins’ defense bends but does not break
After a dominant performance in week one, Miami’s defense struggled against Jackson and the Ravens. Special teams faltered from the start, allowing a 103-yard return for a touchdown by Devin Duvernay of the opening kick-off. Later on, in the first half, Jackson found receiver Rashod Bateman for a 75-yard touchdown on Dolphins’ star corner, Xavien Howard.
Miami also failed to force any turnovers in this game, an area it excelled in against Mac Jones and the Patriots. With only six minutes remaining in the first half, the defense managed to allow two more touchdowns, both from Jackson. The former MVP was torching the Dolphins both on the ground and through the air. At halftime, Jackson was a nearly perfect 11 of 13 for 210 yards and three touchdowns.
Making things worse was the Dolphins’ inability to get off the field. Miami failed to force the Ravens to punt until late in the third quarter and again in the fourth. Aside from a goal-line stand early in the second quarter, Baltimore was getting whatever it wanted on the offensive side of the ball.
But as Miami’s offense woke up, the defense followed suit. The Ravens’ success was often a result of the defense giving up large, chunk plays, in the first half. While Jackson did break off the 79-yard touchdown run in the third quarter, this was the last time the defense allowed a big play to happen in this game. As Miami began to score in bunches, the defensive stops followed. After Jackon’s long rushing touchdown, the Dolphins’ defense forced a turnover on downs by stuffing Jackson’s rushing attempt on 4th and 1. The defense then forced a three-and-out in their very next appearance on the field, allowing the offense to go and tie the game. Defensive coordinator, Josh Boyer, got his unit to stop Baltimore’s offense from scoring another touchdown and making Miami’s chances of completing the comeback slim to none when they had to settle for a field goal after a big defensive stand late in the game.
While this is not the defense’s best performance , it was important that they found a way to make it happen. After only allowing seven points in week one, allowing 38 the following game was a steep regression. However, playing one of the league’s most dynamic players in Jackson and coming away with a win is an accomplishment . The way the defense finished the game showed that no matter how deep a hole the Dolphins might find themselves in, they won’t give up until the final whistle.