Saturday night, Marriott Hotel, suburban Baltimore. Last Dolphins team meeting before facing the Ravens. “I want to see us respond when we don’t have the lead,” Miami coach Mike McDaniel said. “This is the National Football League. It happens. And believe me, fellas, there’s nothing as good as silencing a crowd on the road when the clock hits zero.”
Sunday afternoon, halftime, M&T Bank Stadium, Baltimore. Ravens 28, Dolphins 7. A pall over the locker room. McDaniel told his players to forget the scoreboard and just play, and whatever happens, happens, and he had faith in them to play great in the second half. Afterward, he told me he was concerned with what he saw in his players as major adversity struck. “I thought our guys were defeated, and I understood why,” McDaniel told me. “They had high hopes for the game, and it wasn’t starting out that way.”
Then the “F— it” play happened.
This is a family website, and so McDaniel will have to leave a small bit to the imagination here. But the big play of Miami’s ridiculous comeback, honestly, was called the “F— it” play.
Midway through the fourth quarter, Miami was still down 14, and sputtering, Tua Tagovailoa going incomplete-incomplete, with the clock under eight minutes now, with a third-and-10 at the Baltimore 48-yard line.
“So we had a play ready, in case things weren’t going right, or in case there were various frustrations,” McDaniel said, an hour after the game, just outside the team bus waiting to take the team to the airport. “We installed that play with the expletives, that the quarterbacks knew as the “F— it” play. Tua loved the play. If we really needed to make something happen, that was the play we’d call.”
Well, f—. What the quarterback wants, the quarterback gets…especially when the quarterback is in the midst of the biggest hot streak of his young NFL life.
Week Two…in the league where they play…for pay.
Trey Lance out, Jimmy Garoppolo in. “We lost our starting quarterback in the first quarter of Week Two,” Kyle Shanahan told me on his drive home Sunday night. “Incredibly sad for Trey, but the stars aligned for us to get Jimmy back, and now we need him.”
Still want to enforce the study habits of Kyler Murray, Cards?
The brightest new non-QB star in football plays for the Dee-troit Lions. I’ll tell you why Amon-Ra St. Brown will have a champion-chip on his shoulder for as long as he plays football.
Should we really be surprised that Matt Ryan and the Colts still can’t win in Jacksonville? I don’t think so.
Who will be the first to report exclusively that Nathaniel Hackett will enroll in Coaching Mechanics 101 at Colorado-Boulder this week? That is one messed-up sideline, and the Broncos are lucky to be 1-1. (Eighteen drives in two weeks, two touchdowns.)
Rams scrape by Falcons. Need a panicky late safety to ensure it. Sean McVay, whatever he says to the press, has to be thinking, “I never could have imagined this.”
Joe Flacco for governor of New Jersey.
Very nervous: Matt Rhule, Frank Reich, Jameis Winston, Bengals offensive line.
Happy: The Dolphins, who don’t often score 35 points in a half.
“At halftime,” McDaniel said to me, “I was focused on guys finishing the game the right way and to our standard. I wasn’t thinking about anything but let’s score on our next possession.”
Finally, early in the fourth quarter, some luck: the Ravens went for it up 35-21 with nine minutes to go, fourth-and-one at the Miami 40-. Two former Patriots, Elandon Roberts and Trey Flowers, stoned Lamar Jackson on a run, and Miami got it back at its 41-yard line.
On third-and-10, McDaniel decided to go for it. F— it. What did they have to lose? The design: Three receivers left, Hill alone on the right, hoping Hill could get two steps on the corner. The cornerback, as it turned out, was an old pro, Marcus Peters. “We had talked the night before at the quarterback meeting,” McDaniel said. “Tua knew he liked the opportunity there. He goes, ‘Yeah, third-and-12, third-and-long, I really like the F-it play.’”
Why? Because who wouldn’t like Hill singled (with sort of passive safety help late, as it turned out) against any corner?
“In practice,” McDaniel said, “we didn’t really execute it well. But give credit to Tua: He didn’t blink.”
Interesting fourth quarter for the Dolphins — duh, of course it would be, scoring 28 on a good team on the road. But there was another reason: The football world wondered if Tagovailoa would be cool connecting with a speed receiver deep downfield. On that play, Tagovailoa threw it 46 yards beyond the line of scrimmage — “air yards,” in modern football lingo — and that would be a trend in this quarter. For the first three quarters, Tagovailoa averaged 5.6 air yards per attempt, per Next Gen Stats. Fourth quarter: 11.1 yards.
Tua wasn’t done. Hill wasn’t done. Next series: third-and-six at the Miami 40-yard line. Were the Ravens feeling the heat of being on the field so much, running so much? Could this be a case of load management catching up with Baltimore, while the Dolphins, after practicing in the oppressive south Florida heat, still had something left? Again, an interesting perspective from Next Gen Stats: Baltimore’s DBs ran a total of 6,131 yards in this game. That’s the most yards any secondary has run in a game since the start of the 2021 season.
And on this play, with Hill singled on the left side against rookie cornerback Jalyn Armour-Davis, he blew past Armour-Davis, who looked like he thought he should have safety help. But no safety help was coming. “I knew there was a potential there that they’d go zero [zero coverage, or blitzing and leaving the receivers all singled], so I wasn’t totally surprised because the corner was playing flat-footed, thinking his rush was going to get home.”
Nope. The 60-yard TD to Hill tied it at 35. From there, Baltimore went ahead on a 51-yard field goal from Justin Tucker, and Miami took over at its 32- with 2:12 to go. Who would be surprised that the Dolphins would finish a 547-yard day with a Tua-to-Jaylen Waddle seven-yard TD with 14 seconds left?
“Typically in the NFL, you have to learn hard lessons the bad way,” McDaniel said. “I was proud they were able to learn a lesson of mental fortitude in a game where it got out of hand super quickly. Just play the four quarters and figure it out later.”
But this game was bigger than just that lesson. The outside noise in 2022 football is impossible to ignore, and Tagovailoa has been benched, booed, and questioned in his 29 months in Miami. He had to listen to the Deshaun Watson rumors last year, knowing his coach wanted to take a shot on Watson. Then he had to get used to a new coach who stressed with him over and over that he was the future. And now, after the first two weeks of this season, after going to 4-0 against New England and strafing Baltimore with a six-touchdown game, maybe the world (and Tua himself) will finally believe the quarterback of the future in Miami is the quarterback of the present.
“What’d you say to Tua after the game?” I said to McDaniel.
“I said, ‘The weight should be lifted off your shoulders, man. All you did was do exactly what we talked about. Hopefully at least for a week you can shut up all the people that you’re trying not to listen to.’ I’m hoping Sundays feel different to him now. You need kind of a shock and awe moment for that to happen.”
Throwing four touchdown passes against the Baltimore Ravens in 13 minutes…if that’s not shock and awe, what is? The Tua Era is here.