If you believe this season has shifted focus to the team needing to finish games or the offense needing to finish drives, that’s not it. It you think it’s about getting a veteran cornerback to return from an injury soon enough to allow an overmatched rookie to sit, you’re missing the point.
That’s not what 2020 is about.
This Miami Dolphins season is about growth and keeping the offseason’s momentum going so the future actually becomes as bright as everyone in the organization has been envisioning.
A couple of ways to do that is, first, for coach Brian Flores to make the right calls on tough decisions. And, second, for Tua Tagovailoa to get a chance to play so he can get all the routine rookie quarterback growing pains out of the way sooner rather than later.
The problem is Sunday’s game against the Seattle Seahawks, the third loss in four games for Miami, was disappointing on both fronts.
Because Flores, who will ultimately make the tough call on when to finally insert Tagovailoa in the lineup, showed he must get better at making tough decisions seem like, well, the right decisions.
That’s not an opinion.
After this game Flores said he’d think about and study the decision he made with 8:35 to play when on fourth-and-5 from the Seattle 9-yard line, he opted for a field goal instead of trying for a first down or touchdown.
“I mean, look, after a game you kind of think about every situation, how you could have done this, could have done that,” Flores said.
The Dolphins trailed 17-12 at the time and faced a fourth-and-five situation after a third down run by Myles Gaskin lost two yards. And in that situation, in a game the Dolphins had settled for field goals on four consecutive previous drives, Flores elected to go for a fifth three-pointer.
“In that situation, you know, when you lose two yards, it’s fourth-and-five,” he said. “It’s third-and-three to fourth-and-five. You know, you pull to within two. I just felt we stopped them a couple of times prior to that, so I felt that was the best move right there.
“Again, in hindsight, you could look at it and given the score, and given the way the rest of the game went, you could sit there and say you could have done this, that or the other thing. But you know….”
His voice trailed off before picking up again.
“I mean,” he said, “we’ll look at all of it and hopefully try to be better next time.”
First, forget the part about hindsight.
That’s wrong because many people watched that Flores decision in real time and were surprised he settled for another field goal.
Because in this game, with the Dolphins hanging by a thread, Flores needed something much more stirring and decisive than another field goal.
They’ve got to score a TD on this drive. NO FG attempt.
— Armando Salguero (@ArmandoSalguero) October 4, 2020
Electing the field goal, successful or not, was the wrong call — in foresight or hindsight.
And a fourth-down try at a first-down or a touchdown — in a reach for victory by an underdog — would have been the right decision regardless of whether it worked or not.
And, yes, either way, it was a tough call Flores needed to answer with no guarantee of success regardless of outcome. But that’s his job.
The point of this is not that one decision by the coach lost the game for the Dolphins. That isn’t even true. It obviously is not a good look for the coach to get it wrong, but we don’t know what magic Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson would have brought if the Dolphins scored a TD instead of settled for their field goal.
This, much, however, is known: That was not the last hard decision Flores will need to make this year. And at least one of those decisions will be harder and have more impact than deciding one game.
That decision is when — not if, but when — to play Tagovailoa in 2020.
And guess what? The man who blew the fourth-down decision to kick a field goal now has to pick exactly the right moment when to insert Tagovailoa. He needs to get that call dead on right.
I don’t think Flores will make the move to Tagovailoa this week. But that is only a guess. Because no one would blame him if he does starts the clock on Tagovailoa as early as next week at San Francisco.
This Dolphins 31-23 loss puts the team on more a top 10 draft pick footing than a path to a playoff berth. And the quarterback who’s been in charge of getting the Dolphins to a 1-3 record just had his second rough outing in four games.
“Red zone execution really falls on the quarterback,” Ryan Fitzpatrick said after throwing two interceptions and delivering his worst game since the season opener. “So for me, I walk out of this game really feeling terrible because I felt a lot of the guys on our team played well enough to win and I, unfortunately, was not one of them.
“When that happens and your quarterback doesn’t play up to his ability, you’re not going win a lot of games.”
When your quarterback doesn’t play up to his ability, it’s time to starting considering a quarterback change. When the season is looking like its drifting away from contention, it’s time to start considering a quarterback change.
So, yes, it’s legitimately time to think about cranking up Tagovailoa.
The Dolphins have so far resisted that notion. And they’ve been right. Because they believed (probably still believe) they can make the playoffs. And because they believed (perhaps still do) Fitzpatrick gave them the best chance to win.
But who else, outside of that training facility, believes this team looks like a playoff contender now?
The Dolphins have also privately been holding Tagovailoa out because there’s still so much more he needs to learn. There’s still further to go before he’s fully ready, coaches believe.
Know what? Sixth overall selection Justin Herbert is not ready. But that was him throwing three touchdowns on Sunday for the Los Angeles Chargers.
First overall pick Joe Burrow probably isn’t ready. But he threw for 300 yards and won his first game on Sunday for the Cincinnati Bengals.
Both are struggling. But both are playing and growing.
It’s now time for Brian Flores to start considering his toughest decision of the season. He must not kick a field goal on this one.