This is probably the most hotly anticipated weekend of football as a Dolphins fan I can recall. Growing up in the UK, the Marino era was already in full swing helping to mould the style of play we now appreciate in the NFL, and watching him hurl the football around in the aqua, orange and white was the reason I decided that the ‘phins were going to be my team (that and the fact I wanted to be a Dolphin trainer).
Since that time, I cannot recall a player with so much hype, promise and ultimately, the weight of the franchise on his shoulders. Yes, there have been other high Quarterback draft picks in the past but bad management, coaching and the failure to produce now means that this one is more hotly anticipated than ever, especially as although a great player, Tua wasn’t the pick the whole fanbase was bought into.
Tua is the future
Tua is the future, or at the very least we hope he is, and now is absolutely the right time to make the progression away from Fitz. Was it part of the plan to introduce him as the starter at this point in the season? Only the front office knows for sure but I highly doubt it.
Like everything and everyone in 2020, Covid-19 has had a massive impact on the NFL. No camps or a preseason and new restrictions and protocols have meant any plans for the season can change at a moment’s notice, something we saw with the shift in the bye week, a week which gives players a perfect time to prepare for something or someone new.
The Dolphins original bye week wasn’t scheduled till November 22nd in week 11 which would have left 6 games remaining. That late in the season, Brian Flores would have had a much better idea on several things such as the reliability of the O-Line, the overall health of the team, were we seeing more Fitzmagic or Fitztragic and perhaps more importantly, if they had a realistic shot at the playoffs. Due to the postponement of the Patriots vs Broncos game this was moved to week 7.
Come back to the present day and the Dolphins are 3-3 (and there is an argument to say that those 3 losses were winnable), have 10 games remaining, in a division that is wide open and are genuinely in contention for a wildcard spot, if not the division if luck favours us. All this in year two of a rebuild with three rookies playing on the offensive line… three!
I’m sure coming into the season the plan was never to expose Tua to the onslaught of Aaron Donald in his first full start having only thrown the ball twice, but you work with what you have and the fact they are willing to switch starters now should be seen as a commendation to both the team and the coaching staff and the direction in which the organisation is heading.
The future is undoubtably bright if we continue on the trajectory Coach Flo has put the Dolphins on. The rebuild appears to be showing signs of significant development, but with any rebuild, you need a solid foundation that enables other aspects to grow and shine through.
This brings me to the player I believe has been vital in helping to start the whole process and turn the team into the playoff contenders they are becoming but has been massively undervalued by a significant proportion of the fanbase, Ryan Fitzpatrick. You can go on any Dolphins fan page on social media and there are countless individuals claiming he’s trash, he should be traded and he was never anything more than just a place holder.
Of course, Fitz was well aware at the start of the season he was on borrowed time, with the shadow of a younger, highly rated and lauded rookie just waiting for his opportunity to shine. And there would be many a Quarterback who would have been happy to take the cash and take his foot off the gas, indeed, I’m sure we’ve all worked with people who checked out once their future at the organisation was known to be coming to an end… but not Fitz.
For me with Fitz it’s more about the overall package you get and his ability to elevate others and bring them into the game. If the Dolphins had put their faith in Josh Rosen in the 2019 season, do you really think we’d have seen the breakouts from Devante Parker and Mike Gesicki? And more importantly, is there another quarterback in the league with the experience and charisma to help nature the future of the franchise?
Fitz played the 2019 season by the seat of his pants. There’s a reason he had the highest rushing yardage for the team, because the O-Line and Running Backs were dreadful, yet he still managed to make others look good and helped to develop their game and ultimately set the foundations for the future of the franchise.
Coming into the start of the season, I genuinely thought the first two games would probably be the hardest of the season. No preseason, no tape to study for the opposition and on paper two very tough opponents. And no we didn’t play well, but we still held the Bills, the divisional favorites to within a field goal.
Playing with passion
We needed a quarterback that was comfortable standing behind an untested O-Line awash with rookies, Fitz did it. We needed a quarterback that wasn’t afraid to throw to his big bodied receivers and trust them to go and get the ball, Fitz did it. We needed a leader on the field to galvanise and rally the team in a way I haven’t seen a Dolphins player do for years, Fitz more than did it!
The 49ers game will live with me forever because I can’t remember a time I saw this team so fired up. Both Offense and Defence took to that field in San Francisco with the sole purpose of taking it to the 49ers, which they did emphatically, a game in which Fitz clocked up a near perfect quarterback rating. And the rallying point was firmly around Ryan Fitpatrick.
We have a team where a Tight End runs the length of the field to celebrate his fellow tight end scoring a touchdown. We have a 313Lb Defensive End in Christian Wilkins leapfrogging a 189Lb Safety in Brandon Jones after a sack. This team is fun to watch and you just don’t know what’s going to happen next, and when you’ve suffered mediocrity for the better part of two decades it’s a welcome respite and Fitz is at the heart of it, but ultimately, fun is all well and good, but we want to win.
Coming into the bye week, Fitz had a QB rating of 80.9, that’s the 5th highest in the league and I was genuinely shocked when the news broke about Tua being named starter, but more so because of the way it was broken rather than the news itself. I was disappointed in the way it was broken because Fitz was right, it was and still is his team.
But the culture that the coaching staff and Fitz himself have installed in the locker room means that no matter who starts behind centre, every player in that team will be all in and I genuinely don’t think it will have any impact on the team, if anything, I think they’ll want to perform for Fitz, and I include Tua in that!
In conclusion, there is a very personal reason why I feel so strongly that Fitz shouldn’t simply be referred to as merely a placeholder and this was probably the main reason why I decided to put these thoughts down in the first place (that and I just wanted to have a pop at half of the Facebook trolls that know nothing about football or team dynamics in general).
As I’ve already eluded to, my first experiences with the Dolphins were in an era that included the names Dan Marino and the legendary Don Shula, and I feel for the new generation of Dolphins fans that have had to make do with the likes of Adam Gase et al.
I have an 8 year old daughter and as a parent I want her to choose her own path in life, and that includes any sports teams that she follows. It’s very easy for kids to be drawn to the winning team as it’s nice to, well feel like you’ve won (ask any Patriots fans who their quarterback was before Brady and you’ll see what I mean).
She sits down with me for an hour or two every Sunday night and the ‘dude with the beard and the smile on his face that everybody loves’ has been instrumental in her decision to take to the aqua, orange, and white and has more stash than I do! So, I owe a personal debt of gratitude to the bearded wonder for creating a love for the Dolphins with my daughter too.
But Tua has all the same energy, enthusiasm, and enjoyment for the game. He rallies players around him and is a born, and proven, winner.
The decision to start Tua is the right one, all I’m saying is be thankful for your placeholder that has been instrumental in helping catapult the franchise into long-time greatness.