This is part four, a continuation of part one, two, and three of the five-part series, The Storm That Blew the Miami Dolphins Back to Sea. Part four is the eyewall. When the eye of a hurricane passes, the most intense part of the storm happens. The eye of the storm is exiting through the eyewall and the storm becomes dangerous. That is what happened after the Dolphins defeated the New Orleans Saints on prime-time television. It was the last time the team was in the calm during the eye of the storm. The weather became more intense figuratively and literally when the Dolphins played the Tennessee Titans in Nashville, Tennessee.
Miami Dolphins Blown Back to Sea by Storm: Part Four
After the defeat of the Saints, the Dolphins were the seventh seed in the AFC playoff picture. However, there were two games remaining in the season and a loss in any of those two games would be costly. If the Dolphins lost either, then a perfect scenario would have to happen to maintain the playoff spot.
Weather conditions in Nashville, Tennessee weren’t good on January 2, 2021. The forecast called for rain, sleet, and snow that day. By the time the game between the Dolphins and the Titans started at Nissan Stadium, it was foggy and lightly raining. The conditions only got worse as the game progressed.
Tagovailoa Plays for First Time in Bad Weather
Hawaiian-born Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa was not used to playing in those conditions. He played his high school career in Hawaii. He played his college career at the University of Alabama. The only times Tagovailoa played in January during college were during championship games. Those games were either under domed stadiums or in California. The only other time Tagovailoa played in January during his NFL career was a year earlier. That game was against the Buffalo Bills and there was no precipitation.
Eager fans that knew Tagovailoa’s warm climate background wondered if he would be able to play well in Nashville’s bad weather that day. Some fans wanted to know if Brian Flores coached Tagovailoa to be able to play in that type of weather. Others wanted to know why Flores didn’t, if in fact he didn’t help prepare him to play in those weather conditions.
The game started well for the Dolphins. The Dolphins started on their own one-yard line, but Phillip Linsay rushed for 16 yards on the first play of the game. Even Tagovailoa’s first pass of the game was a 20-yard reception by DeVante Parker. It only took two plays to gain 36 yards. The next play was a pass for 14 yards to Myles Gaskin. However, what would have been 50 yards on three consecutive plays was met with a drive killer on the third play. Austin Jackson was ruled as an ineligible man down field for a five-yard penalty. But Dolphins running back Duke Johnson gained the yardage back on a 16-yard run.
Sack Ends Good Start of Game
Despite the fast start, the next two downs were for no gain, and the drive ended on a third down sack by Denico Autry. The Dolphins were unable to capitalize on the Titans two consecutive three and out possessions. That’s because the Dolphins had their own two consecutive three and out possessions. Then with 1:13 left in the first quarter, because of the wet conditions, the ball slipped out of Tagovailoa’s hands as he was attempting a pass. The play was ruled a fumble. It was recovered by the Titans. The fumble recovery came after a touchdown drive by the Titans on the previous possession. The first quarter ended with the Dolphins scoreless and trailing by seven.
Prior to a second quarter field goal, Tagovailoa had fumbled a snap earlier in the drive. Fortunately, the snap was recovered by Johnson. The lone field goal was the only points the Dolphins would score in the game.
The game ended with a loss by the Dolphins to the Titans by a score of 34-3. The game was one of Tagovailoa’s worst performances of the year. Tagovailoa threw one interception, fumbled three times, and only completed 18 of 38 passes.
Bad Weather Contributed to Playoff Elimination
The weather definitely contributed to Tagovailoa’s performance as it was the first time in his life he had played in those conditions.
Despite winning the final game of the season against the New England Patriots it was still not enough to overcome the loss to the Titans. The loss to the Titans eliminated the Dolphins from the playoffs. It was the second consecutive season that Tagovailoa lost a playoff elimination game. For that, many fans unfairly put all blame on Tagovailoa.
After the realization that the Dolphins were eliminated from the playoffs, it was evident that the Dolphins were back in the intensity of the storm. Controversies and rumors began to fill news outlets. The fanbase became more divided. A reported rumor of Flores telling Tagovailoa, “If I knew you were going to be this bad, I would’ve drafted Mac Jones” was shared everywhere on social media. Locker room division reports were filling sports news outlets for days. A journalist reported from sources that a player didn’t believe they could win with Tagovailoa. Once again Tagovailoa became a scapegoat for playoff elimination. Tagovailoa supporters argued on social media that he didn’t lose games alone, pointing to missed field goals and poor defense that made the difference in lost games.
The storm was more destructive than any expected. What it left behind were remains of confusion, division, heartache, and loss. Only the aftermath truly revealed what all damage was done. In the end, the aftermath of the storm revealed to be costly. But the aftermath also showed that the Dolphins could move forward and begin picking up the pieces that the storm that blew the Miami Dolphins back to sea left behind.
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