When they face the Miami Dolphins at Hard Rock Stadium this Sunday afternoon, the Kansas City Chiefs will have to deal with a talented rookie: former University of Alabama quarterback Tua Tagovailoa, whom the Dolphins selected in the first round (fifth overall) in last spring’s NFL Draft.
Tagovailoa didn’t see action until the Week 6 game against the New York Jets, coming in for 38-year-old veteran Ryan Fitzpatrick during the fourth quarter of a 24-0 Dolphins victory. Following Miami’s bye week, head coach Brian Flores named Tagovailoa the team’s starter.
“Fitz has done a great job,” Flores said via NFL.com. “He’s been productive. His leadership’s been great. It’s not an easy decision for me or us as an organization. But we felt like for the team now and moving forward, this is the move we need to make.”
But it didn’t take long for Flores to change his mind. With the Dolphins trailing the Denver Broncos 20-10 in the fourth quarter of Tagovailoa’s fourth start, Flores benched him in favor of Fitzpatrick. In practice the following week, Tagovailoa jammed his thumb, forcing him to miss the return match with the Jets. But he was back in his starting role for Week 13, leading the Dolphins to a 19-7 win over the Cincinnati Bengals.
So the Chiefs will have to be prepared not only for a talented left-handed rookie (now 4-1 in five starts) but also for a head coach who probably won’t hesitate to put Fitzpatrick in the game should the Chiefs take a big lead.
“He’s a good football player,” Chiefs head coach Reid said of Tagovailoa when he met with reporters on Wednesday. “So is Ryan Fitzpatrick. They’ve got two good quarterbacks, so you’ve got to make the right side and the left side of it covered. But Tua’s got a great future — and Brian Flores knows that — so they’re working him in and he’s producing for them.”
Through six games, Tagovailoa hasn’t put up blistering numbers — he’s completed 63% of his passes for 898 yards and seven touchdowns — but as we used to say during the years Alex Smith was in Kansas City, he has been efficient. He’s thrown a touchdown on 5.1% of his attempts — and hasn’t yet thrown an interception.
“You can see it from his college career — and then now in his pro career: he knows how to manage the game and manage the situation,” Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes told reporters on Wednesday. “He does a good job of knowing that his defense and special teams is working — and he can do what he can on the offense to put up enough points to win football games.”
In fact, the Miami defense has allowed just 17.7 points a game this season — second-best in the league — but in their four losses to the New England Patriots, Buffalo Bills, Seattle Seahawks and Denver Broncos, they’ve allowed 25.8 points per game.
Still, Mahomes admires how the 22-year-old-rookie is playing like a veteran.
“He’s done that his whole career — and that’s truly a remarkable thing,” said Mahomes. “That’s something I wasn’t that good at [during] my first year here. I mean, obviously he has the talent. He can make all the throws, roll to his right or his left, throw off balance — and run and make stuff happen, too. But that veteran-kind of mental mindset that he has is truly special at this time in his career.”
Especially if the head coach has the option to call up a little Fitzmagic — just in case things go badly.