Prayers up for Tua.
Tua Tagovailoa, the Miami Dolphins quarterback, suffered head and neck injuries in the second quarter of Thursday night’s game and had to be wheeled out of Paycor Stadium on a stretcher.
Thankfully, Tagovailoa was discharged from the hospital and was on the plane back to Miami with his team later that night. He’ll have extra time to recover before the Dolphins’ Oct. 9 game against the New York Jets, but if we’re being real, Tua should not play. I hope the Dolphins don’t try to force him to. They need to give him at least a few weeks to get his head right.
With that said, unless the team doctors horribly mismanage Tua’s situation, again, the 3-1 Dolphins will rely on Teddy Bridgewater to keep them atop the AFC East. Can he do that? Well, based on how he played last night…absolutely!
In Tua’s stead, Bridgewater completed 14 of 23 passes for 193 yards, one touchdown, and one interception. That may not sound too great, but Bridgwater’s play was better than the boxscore indicates, and frankly, if the Dolphins trusted Bridgewater just a little bit more, they might have had a shot late in the game.
Here’s how each of Bridgewater’s full drives ended: Missed field goal, touchdown, punt, another punt, a third punt, an interception, and a turnover on downs. That sounds pretty awful until you look a little closer. Obviously, the first drive can’t really be counted. Bridgewater came into the game for Tua in a third-and-17 situation. Bridgewater managed to gain 16 yards on his only play of the drive on an in to Trent Sherfield, who found the soft spot in the Bengals’ Cover 4 zone. That’s difficult to evaluate though. It’s clear the Bengals were just looking to avoid an over-the-top shot to Waddle or Hill. It was a good look by Bridgewater, but it was against soft coverage and the Bengals’ defense ultimately achieved their goal of preventing a first down.
The second drive though was great, and it was the only time the rest of the game that Dolphins’ head coach Mike McDaniel showed any trust in Bridgewater, aside from the final drive when the Bengals knew Teddy B. was dropping back to pass every time.
The Fins started off with two straight runs by Raheem Mostert and then handed the reins to Bridgewater. A 16-yard completion. An incompletion. An 11-yard completion. A six-yard completion, followed by completions of four yards, 12 yards, and seven yards, with that last one resulting in a touchdown. Now, the drive wasn’t executed so well because of Bridgewater; it was a very well-thought-out attack down the field. By setting up the run on the first two plays, Bridgewater was able to execute play-action to a T, and both the 12-yard completion and touchdown pass came off of play fakes. Bridgewater played his role well, and with as dangerous of weapons as the Dolphins have, that’s all they really need him to do: Execute slow, methodical drives downfield and occasionally force the defense to respect the long bomb to Hill. We’ll get to that later.
The Dolphins opened up with an awful drive to start the second half. Three-and-out for minus five yards. There were a couple of incompletions plus a penalty. Bridgewater tried to connect with Sherfield again on a deep look on the left side. It didn’t work. That happens. Just last week, Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs had two three-and-outs to start their game against the Colts. These kinds of drives happen. Moving on.
Next drive, two runs followed by a short pass to tight end Mike Gesicki. Three and out. I’ll be honest here, this wasn’t a good throw from Bridgewater. I believe he was trying to throw to his outside shoulder and lead him upfield, but the throw was just too high for Gesicki to handle cleanly. He couldn’t turn his body upfield in time and ultimately got stopped before the line to gain. Would Gesicki have reached the first down marker if the throw was better? I’m not sure, but Bridgewater certainly didn’t help with that throw. Still, that was only his second legitimately off-target throw of the night. I’ll let it slide.
Now, we get to the “bomb to Hill” drive. As is custom for these Dolphins’ drives with Bridgewater, it kicked off with a run by Mostert. On the next play, Bridgewater faked the handoff to Mostert while Hill ran in front of Bridgewater, faking a potential touch pass. All of Cincinnati’s linebackers froze at the fake. Logan Wilson, Germaine Pratt, and Vonn Bell (I know he’s a safety, but he was lined up just outside the right tackle, so he was basically playing linebacker on this play) all froze or stepped up to watch the run. That allowed Sherfield to get behind them for a 16-yard gain. Once again, Bridgewater executed the system well. Then came the deep shot to Hill. This was the first time in a while that McDaniel let Bridgewater throw on 1st down, and he wasn’t letting that opportunity slip away. Hill never really beats his man on this play. He gets behind him sure, but never gets extreme separation. Regardless, Bridgewater made a great read here. The lone safety deep, Jessie Bates, was watching Waddle on the opposite side. He never even saw Hill. Waddle ran a post and Bates immediately followed him. That left Hill one-on-one against Chidobe Awuzie. Anytime you get Hill one-on-one on first down, you have to take that shot. While the drive didn’t end in a touchdown as you’d expect, Bridgewater proved that he can hit those deep shots to Hill and Waddle should Tagovailoa be sidelined for multiple weeks.
Despite this great read from Bridgewater, the Dolphins opted to run the ball on the next two plays. I understand that Bridgewater was relying heavily on play action, but he just made an amazing effort. Run the ball on first, sure, but then maybe consider giving Teddy a chance to show the ball to Hill wasn’t a fluke. Instead, Bridgewater only had one chance to score from the two-and-a-half-yard line. By the time Bridgewater had gone through his first read, the Bengals’ pass rush was on him. He made a good effort to get the ball to Hill, but it didn’t work.
If you’re going to run only one pass play on the goal line, I think a goal line fade or a pick play, like the one that the 49ers ran against the Broncos last weekend for their only touchdown would’ve been a better option than an out-go route combo with a drag coming across. The Bengals even showed a similar defense to the one the Broncos ran. There was a safety deeper in the endzone against Miami where there wasn’t one in that play against Denver, but if Miami ran the pick effectively, the safety would’ve been a non-factor. I’m getting away from the point. Bridgewater didn’t have much time to actually make a read or a throw. He did well to escape the pocket, but unfortunately couldn’t find a receiver while rolling to his weak side. Not a bad play from Bridgewater at all.
Bridgewater continued to push the ball downfield effectively when given the opportunity. The interception wasn’t great, obviously. I’d like to say there was a miscommunication between Gesicki and Bridgewater. Gesicki ran a post and Bridgewater threw to his outside shoulder. That makes me think Gesicki was either supposed to run a corner or a stop. Either Gesicki ran the wrong route or Bridgewater thought Gesicki would see the blitzing linebacker and notice that there was nobody lined up across from him and look for the ball immediately. Either way, Bridgewater made a bad decision and it cost the Dolphins the game.
All in all, though, Bridgewater proved more than capable of leading Miami’s offense. Sure, it’s going to take a long of great coaching from McDaniel to set up certain plays and make the most of Bridgewater’s skill set, but as long as Bridgewater can manage the game, control the clock, and not turn the ball over, I have a feeling Miami’s offense is going to be just fine. The Dolphins’ next six games are at the New York Jets, Minnesota at home, Pittsburgh at home, at Detroit, at Chicago, and Cleveland at home. Even if Tagovailoa misses all six of those games, I wouldn’t be shocked if the Dolphins go 4-2 or even 5-1. Bridgewater’s always been a fine QB. There’s a reason they brought him to South Beach.