DENVER (AP) — The pain from getting pulled in the fourth quarter of Miami’s first loss in seven weeks might sting awhile, but Tua Tagovailoa’s benching won’t last.
“No, no changes,” coach Brian Flores insisted after the Dolphins’ 20-13 loss at Denver on Sunday that was sealed when safety Justin Simmons intercepted Ryan Fitzpatrick’s throw to DeVante Parker in the end zone with just over a minute remaining.
Tagovalioa tottered off the field after his sixth sack early in the fourth quarter and looked to be limping on the sideline, but Flores said it wasn’t his young quarterback’s health that was the issue.
Flores yanked Tagovailoa after watching his rookie left-hander struggle all game against a relentless pass rush that had six sacks and a stingy secondary that limited him to 83 yards on 11-of-20 passing.
“They pressured us. They did a good job in the back end from a cover standpoint. We just had trouble getting it going,” Flores said after the Dolphins fell to 6-4 with their first loss since Oct. 4 against Seattle. “We had to try to do something to create momentum. That’s why we made the switch, but he’s healthy.”
The Dolphins are adamant, too, that there is not a quarterback quandary in South Beach.
“There’s no controversy,” Fitzpatrick said after completing 12 of 18 passes for 117 yards. “This is his team. He is going to continue to lead the team, and we’ve all just got to pull in the right direction.”
The Dolphins visit the winless New York Jets (0-10) next week.
Fitzpatrick said he spoke with Tagovailoa “on the sideline and in the locker room. He’s going to put his head down and keep working hard and keep trying to be a better quarterback. We’ve got a great chance here as a team. Tua has done a nice job. It’s about putting it behind you and moving on to the next one.”
Tagovailoa, who was trying to become just the second rookie QB in the past 40 years to win his first four starts (Ben Roethlisberger is the other), said he understood the move when Flores benched him.
“My thoughts were whatever was going to be best for the team,” Tagovailoa said. “When I was in we couldn’t really get things going. Coach felt like it was the best decision to put Fitz in to try to give us a spark. If we were to win with Fitz in there the locker room would be a lot different. Everyone would be a lot happier. It just sucks to lose.
“For me it was a great learning experience,” he added. “I felt like I was holding the ball a little too long.”
Flores said he has no concerns that Tagovailoa’s benching will damage his psyche.
“He’s a confident kid. He has dealt with a lot of adversity,” Flores said. “He’ll be fine.”
The Broncos (4-6) did something the Rams, Cardinals and Chargers couldn’t do against Tagovailoa. Denver kept the Dolphins’ superb blitzing defense at bay and prevented their spectacular special teams from staking Tagovailoa to an early lead.
Instead, the Broncos bounced back from Drew Lock’s interception, his 11th, on their opening drive that led to a quick 7-0 Miami lead to take a 13-10 lead into the locker room.
Melvin Gordon’s second touchdown run extended that lead to 20-10 in the third quarter and that’s when Fitzpatrick replaced Tagovailoa.
Gordon ran it 15 times for 84 yards and Phillip Lindsay ran for 82 yards on 16 carries.
Broncos coach Vic Fangio said a quarterback’s best friends are a good ground game and a good defense, and while Lock had both, Tagovalio had neither on this day.
Five of his eight drives were three-and-outs, including four of his first five series sandwiched around a 22-yard touchdown drive following Miami’s only takeaway, Xavien Howard’s sixth interception of the season.
The Dolphins were outgained 189 yards to 56 yards on the ground, and Denver had six sacks while allowing none.
“It was a combination of protection and maybe holding it a little too long and guys not getting open,” Flores said. “We weren’t moving the ball effectively. I felt like we needed to give ourselves a spark.”
And maybe in the process light a fire under Tagovailoa that will pay dividends as the Dolphins chase their first playoff berth since 2016.
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