FOXBOROUGH, Massachusetts. — The New England Patriots receive the Miami Dolphins on Sunday (1 p.m., CBS) for their first game with rookie quarterback Tua Tagovailoa. This is good news for Coach Bill Belichick’s team, given recent history.
The Patriots have won their last nine games against debutant quarters with the most recent result – a 45-0 loss for Justin Herbert and the Los Angeles Chargers in week 6 – coming in the second quarter. December: an exclamation mark on an impressive stat line.
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It doesn’t mean anything this week, Belichick said in his weekly WEEI sports radio interview. Tua is a very talented player. He’s shown it throughout his career. I wasn’t with any of them, so we’ll see how our players are doing on Sunday.
The Patriots (6-7), whose chances of making the playoffs are very slim (3.6 percent in ESPN’s Football Power Index), have a chance to play the spoilers against the Dolphins (8-5), just as Miami did in last year’s season finale in New England, when their victory cost Belichick’s team a chance in the first round of the playoffs.
Geno Smith, who then played for the New York Jets, was the last starting quarterback to beat the Belichicks’ Patriots 30-27 in overtime in week 20. October 2013.
Since then, the list of debutants who lost at the first start of the Patriots has expanded to include Derek Carr (Las Vegas Raiders), Marcus Mariota (Tennessee Titans) and Cody Kessler (Cleveland Browns), Jared Goff (Los Angeles Rams), Deshaun Watson (Houston Texans), Josh Allen (Buffalo Bills), Sam Darnold (Jets), Daniel Jones (New York Giants) and Herbert.
The Belichick Patriots (2000 to date) have only lost a starting quarterback twice in his first career start: Herbert two weeks ago and Vince Young (Titans) in 2006. The Patriots won both games with a combined score of 85-23.
Fault! The file name is not specified. Miami’sTua Tagovailoa made 114 of 184 yards for 1,214 with nine touchdowns and only one interception this season since he became Week 8 starter. AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin
With the dolphins scoring 2.5 points, Tagovailoa hopes to break not only a ninth, but also this one.
Just as the Patriots dressed up to stun Herbert, Tagovailoa and the Dolphins, we can expect something similar. The important thing, said Dolphins coach Robby Brown, is to approach this game like any other.
As an organization [led by coach Brian Flores] we always start with the [defensive] employees. Then you go to our staff and what is the defense trying to do to you? They try to build that suitcase first and then they move on from there. The patriots do a good job with different groups, different disguises, whatever they are. They’ve been very good for years. It’s a good challenge, Brown said.
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Tagovailoa has shot 114 of 184 yards for 1,214 yards, nine touchdowns and an interception this season since becoming the Week 8 starter (he missed a game after that due to a thumb injury on his left pitching hand). He added 24 rushes for 61 yards (2.5 avg.) and a touchdown.
Not only is Tagovailoa left-handed, but he also distinguishes himself from the other debutant quarters the patriots have faced so far.
He is a very experienced quarterback in terms of passing and what they did in Alabama, said Belichick, referring to Tagovailoa’s university career under coach Nick Saban, one of Belichick’s closest friends.
He loses the ball quickly, doesn’t hold it much, sees the cover, takes good care of the ball, doesn’t throw the ball to the defense. He understands the pressure, the timing of the run, he releases the ball quickly and has enough speed in the pocket that the run of the pass can’t reach him. He can run a little, but I’d say he’s a faster guy in the sack who’s elusive and really wants to throw more than run.
Defenders spoke with admiration about Tagovailoa and how he came back from a serious hip injury.
Tua is a major competitor. I looked at him in college, said Dietrich Wise Jr., a fourth-year patriot defender who noticed that a signal from the left hand could affect the hand he raises when he tries to pass.
Meanwhile, newcomer Terez Hall already has experience with Tagovailoa as a player in Missouri.
He’s a mobile man, but not as mobile as Lamar Jackson or Kyler Murray. Not that way, he says. He’s a different man, and he can play. So it’ll be fun to play against him.
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