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Dolphins’ Flores on not starting Tagovailoa: ‘Finger was an issue’; analyst questions if ‘middle-of-the-pack’ Tua is long-term answer

MIAMI GARDENS — The fractured middle finger on Miami Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa’s throwing hand cost him a second consecutive start, but the second-year signal-caller entered early in the second half of the Thursday night win against the Baltimore Ravens when Jacoby Brissett went down with a leg injury.

The Dolphins and coach Brian Flores decided Tagovailoa was not healthy enough to start against the Ravens and opted again for his backup, Brissett. Tagovailoa, who entered Thursday questionable, was available to back up Brissett, and when a third-quarter sack sent Brissett to the ground clutching his right knee, Tagovailoa went in.

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“He went down, went into the [medical] tent,” Flores said of Brissett. “We just decided to put Tua in, obviously. [Brissett] probably was okay to go back in, but we just decided to stick with Tua. He made a couple of passes.”

Miami led, 6-3, at the time of Brissett’s injury during the initial Dolphins drive of the second half before ultimately rolling to a 22-10 victory. Tagovailoa was 8 of 13 for 158 yards and a rushing touchdown. Brissett was 11 of 23 for 156 yards before exiting.

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Brissett tried to jog and work on his dropback on the sideline while Miami was on defense, but Tagovailoa was in on the series that followed and didn’t look back, scoring the game-sealing touchdown with 2:19 remaining.

“The finger was an issue,” Flores said of staying away from Tagovailoa to start. “It was getting better. He was close, a lot closer than last week. … That’s the route we went. Put him in, and he played well.

“He was getting better at driving the ball down the field. … Definitely some discomfort. He pushed through it, played well.”

Tagovailoa said he didn’t receive first-team reps during the three practice days between games. He took multiple hits on his throwing hand in the game.

“It doesn’t feel good. I can tell you that,” he said. “Got it banged up a little bit in the game.”

While entering in relief, Tagovailoa missed a fifth start in 10 games thus far of a critical 2021 season for the development of the signal-caller the Dolphins used the No. 5 pick in the 2020 draft to acquire. Flores spoke on Tuesday about the impact his injuries have had on the franchise’s evaluation of him.

“Availability is very important,” Flores said. “There’s a lot of factors that play into it. We mentioned it. Some of them are fluky, but it’s not the only factor. It’s the person, the player, the talent. I think Tua is competitive. He’s smart. He wants to be out there. I think he’s getting better. I think we all know that, in order to continue to get better, you need to be out there, get the experience. I think you’ll get that. I think this is another bump in the road for him, and he’ll get through it and he’ll be fine.”

It led to debate on the Thursday night game’s pregame show on NFL Network — after the station first broke the news Tagovailoa would not start — about his future with Miami.

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“I’m not sure exactly why you would want Tua to be your long-term answer,” said analyst and former Cleveland Browns offensive tackle Joe Thomas. “When you’ve got a guy like Tua where you’re saying his ceiling is maybe middle-of-the-pack quarterback, you’re saying everybody else has to be perfect around him for us to make that championship, Super Bowl run, which I’m pretty sure is the point. If you ask [owner] Stephen Ross from the Dolphins, I’m sure he’s saying, ‘Hey, I’m trying to win a Super Bowl here.’ ”

Michael Irvin, who had a storied Hall of Fame career as a wide receiver for the Dallas Cowboys and Miami Hurricanes, countered.

“I don’t think we have anywhere near enough information to make that decision, given the situation that Tua’s been in,” said Irvin, citing the Dolphins’ lack of offensive line, running game and underperforming defense. “I understand why we’re asking the question — because we’ve got [Los Angeles Chargers quarterback] Justin Herbert already declared the long-term answer and drafted him after they drafted Tua. I just think we need to give this kid more time.”

With Lamar Jackson starting for the Ravens, Thursday night started as a battle of South Florida quarterbacks and Palm Beach County high school stars at Hard Rock Stadium. Jackson, a Pompano Beach native, went to Boynton Beach High, and Brissett attended Dwyer High.

Brissett started against Baltimore after going 26 of 43 for 244 yards, a touchdown, two interceptions and a fumble lost while under constant pressure in a 17-9 win against the Houston Texans on Sunday.

Brissett has started every game Tagovailoa has missed in 2021, plus most of the Sept. 19 home opener against the Buffalo Bills when a hit by defensive end A.J. Epenesa fractured his ribs. The injury cost Tagovailoa the following three starts.

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Tagovailoa initially banged the finger on his left hand when the Dolphins faced the Bills again in Buffalo on Oct. 31. While finishing that game, he was limited throughout the following week of practice and was only available as a backup against Houston on Sunday. Flores cited Tagovailoa’s inability to make downfield throws with the broken finger — an area where Tagovailoa already has limitations when healthy — but he aired it out on a 35-yard pass to Jaylen Waddle down the sideline on a key final play of the third quarter.

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No major O-line changes

The first-team offensive line remained the same after Flores said there were conversations about switching up the lineup.

Austin Reiter was at center after Greg Mancz left Sunday’s win hurt and was placed on injured reserve on Wednesday. Around him, it was still left tackle Liam Eichenberg, left guard Austin Jackson, right guard Robert Hunt and right tackle Jesse Davis.

After Flores indicated that offensive tackle Greg Little was in consideration for an increased role with the team’s offensive line struggles, Little ended up being one of the team’s five players listed as inactive pregame.

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Little has now been inactive for all 10 games of the 2021 season after the 2019 second-round pick was acquired in the preseason via trade with the Carolina Panthers.

The other Dolphins’ inactives were defensive back Elijah Campbell, who entered Thursday questionable with a toe injury, tight end Hunter Long, safety Sheldrick Redwine and outside linebacker Darius Hodge.


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