This is part two of a five-part series. Click here for part one. After a Week 1 2021 victory, Miami Dolphins fans celebrated for a week. But it seemed that nobody heeded the storm warnings. The calm before the storm entered its final hour. Eventually, the storm arrived, and it would become the storm that blew the Miami Dolphins back to sea.
Miami Dolphins Blown Back to Sea by a Storm: Part Two
Just as the calm before the storm was ending, the Buffalo Bills brought the first wave of storm clouds to Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens, Florida on September 19, 2021. The storm had arrived. Thoughts of the Dolphins last game of the 2020 season was on the minds of Dolphins fans everywhere. Many of those fans still place blame on Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa for losing the game, which brought an end to any chance of a Dolphins playoff berth that season. But the anticipated victory revenge game against the Bills for Tagovailoa never came to fruition.
Only two seconds came off the play clock before Tagovailoa was sacked. Unblocked Buffalo Bills cornerback Taron Johnson got a sack on the first play from scrimmage. The offensive play fell apart, causing many to begin questioning first-year offensive line coach Lemuel Jeanpierre’s inexperience. The play broke down when Dolphins tight end Cethan Carter moved in motion before the snap. Carter sprinted to the opposite side of the line only to double team Bills defensive end Greg Rousseau with tight end Durham Smythe. The move from the original position on the line by Carter left Johnson uncovered to get the sack.
The carnage continued when Tagovailoa became a sack victim for the second time. Nobody covered Bills safety Micah Hyde, who got the sack on a third and eleven play on the same possession. Only one minute and 26 seconds came off the play clock from the first time he was sacked. And only two seconds came off the play clock from the time Tagovailoa received the ball from the snap before the second sack happened.
Fans Question Play Calling
After Bills running back Devin Singletary rushed for a 46-yard touchdown to score the first points of the game, the storm the Bills brought with them to Miami intensified. Less than five minutes into the game, Dolphins head coach Brian Flores elected to go for it on fourth and two on the Bills 48-yard line. Because the Dolphins failed to convert any four fourth-down conversion attempts in 2020, concern was the demeanor of fans. Some fans questioned why Flores was going for two yards on fourth down from that spot that early in the game.
The play resulted in Tagovailoa taking a sack for the third time. Dolphins right tackle Jesse Davis failed to line up in front of defensive end A.J. Epenesa. By being lined up just to the left of Epenesa, Davis missed a block on him. The sack by Epenesa happened in less than two seconds from the time Tagovailoa received the ball from the snap. When the third sack injured Tagovailoa, fans began considering the offensive line and play calling suspect. Tagovailoa was unable to remain in the game after the hit by Epenesa. Taking Tagovailoa’s spot, quarterback Jacoby Brissett entered the game to no avail as the Bills shut out the Dolphins 35-0.
Tua Tagovailoa Is Criticized
The week following the Dolphins loss to the Bills became a week for critical narratives against Tagovailoa. Initial reports were that Tagovailoa’s x-rays were negative, he suffered bruised ribs, and he was day-to-day. Sports media and fans began to criticize Tagovailoa as a player who was not tough enough to play the game. The narrative was that he wanted to bail out of games when hit by a defender. However, it was announced later that week that further tests on Tagovailoa revealed he had fractured ribs.
On Pat McAfee‘s show, the Pat McAfee Show, on September 22, 2021, McAfee apologized for thinking if Tagovailoa was tough enough to be a quarterback in the NFL. McAfee admitted his thought process was brought on by initial reports that Tagovailoa only had bruised ribs. McAfee went on to say, “The PR of this situation… I don’t know how that narrative that nothing happened to him got out without anybody saying anything. Somebody who runs Dolphins should’ve come out and said we do not know if that is an accurate report…But those initial not serious reports made Tua look not great in a lot of people’s eyes, including Dolphins fans.”
Concerning Tagovailoa’s toughness, the then Dolphins coach Brian Flores said the following regarding Tagovailoa’s rib injury, “This is a tough kid. He wants to play. He’s actually trying to play and we’re just going to save him from himself…and hold him out.”
Jacoby Brissett Starts
As the storm arrived and Tagovailoa was on injured reserve for the next three games, backup quarterback Jacoby Brissett took over as the starter. Brissett started his first game in a Dolphins uniform against the Las Vegas Raiders and Miami lost. The difference in the game was two plays. The first was when kicker Jason Sanders missed a 48-yard field goal. The second was when Brissett threw an ill-advised screen pass in the endzone to Jaylen Waddle, which resulted in a safety. Miami lost every game while Tagovailoa was on IR.
Additionally, while Tagovailoa was on IR, the Dolphins lost receiver Will Fuller to a broken finger. He suffered the broken finger in a game against the Indianapolis Colts on October 3, 2021. Fuller, who was signed in the off-season to be a nice addition to Tagovailoa’s receiving corps did not play another game in 2021. He did become a subject of conspiracy theories after fans realized he never played in a game Tagovailoa started. He had missed the first two games due to a suspension and an undisclosed personal matter. But then information came out that Fuller’s finger injury was more serious than fans first thought.
Tagovailoa returned from the IR and played one of his best games of the season against the Jacksonville Jaguars in London. Tagovailoa threw for 329 yards, two touchdowns, one interception, and rushed for 22 yards in a losing effort. Once again, Sanders missed a field goal attempt, and then with one second left in the game, Jaguars kicker Matthew Wright kicked a 53-yard field goal to win the game that ended a 20-game Jaguars losing streak. The game against the Jaguars was the first of three consecutive losses for the Dolphins since Tagovailoa’s return from IR. Despite having great performances in two out of three of those losses, Tagovailoa was criticized by media and fans for those losses.
Tagovailoa’s Injury and Conspiracies
Once again, Tagovailoa suffered another injury against the Bills in Week 8. The storm that blew the Miami Dolphins back to sea was not getting weaker. After suffering a fractured finger, probably sometime in the second quarter according to Tagovailoa, he played the entire game. Once again controversy surrounded Tagovailoa. This time a fractured finger was the culprit of the controversy. Many fans speculated that Tagovailoa was sidelined for a different reason other than his injured finger. Some pointed to certain instances around Tagovailoa’s finger injury. One of the notable points was Tagovailoa was well enough to play into the fourth quarter against Buffalo. During that game, Tagovailoa completed some of his best passes late, including a 40-yard completion to tight end Mike Gesicki in the fourth quarter.
On a program called Tobin and Leroy on Sports Talk 790 AM The Ticket, in November, Tobin talked about a conspiracy theory surrounding Tagovailoa’s fractured finger. That program was uploaded to social media on November 8, 2021, and was titled “We Got A Big ‘Ol Conspiracy Surrounding Over Miami Dolphins Win and Scratching Tua Tagovailoa.”
The second loss to the Bills was the Dolphins seventh in a row. As the Dolphins hit a seven-game losing streak, Deshaun Watson trade rumors escalated.
The seven-game losing streak was not what any Dolphins players or fans expected. But fans did not know that when the storm arrived, it would bring the most powerful winds to the franchise in years. And the Dolphins could only hope for those winds to subside as the storm that blew the Miami Dolphins back to sea was about to hit.