MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. – It’s not often avid football fans chant “M-V-P! M-V-P!” in the midst of a touchdown drive. But that’s when the Miami Dolphins fans decided to serenade their young quarterback.
Quarterback Tua Tagovailoa gave them plenty of reasons to be cheerful. He threw three touchdown passes to help the Dolphins beat the Cleveland Browns 39-17 on Sunday at Hard Rock Stadium.
Tagovailoa should be in the MVP conversation, just like his teammate, star receiver Tyreek Hill, as the Dolphins (7-3) are in sole possession of first place in the AFC East heading into their Week 11 bye.
“There’s no doubt I heard that … It’s flattering,” Tagovailoa said of the chants after the game.
“But what we came to do and what we came to accomplish, it’s not accomplished yet. It would be cool, but we have bigger goals and aspirations in what we want to do as a team.”
Miami is in position to compete with the Kansas City Chiefs, Buffalo Bills and Baltimore Ravens in the AFC playoff race. And the Dolphins have improved to 7-0 this season in games Tagovailoa has finished.
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Tagovailoa’s return from a concussion earlier this season, Hill’s emergence as the NFL’s leading receiver, and Dolphins coach Mike McDaniel’s charismatic energy have turned Miami into a contender.
“The guys I’m surrounded with, I’m not able to do what I’m able to do if we don’t have the guys up front blocking, the running backs with the run game, (receivers) Jaylen (Waddle) and Tyreek and all these other guys,” said Tagovailoa, who was 25 of 32 for 285 yards.
“It’s really just everyone making me look good.”
More importantly: The Dolphins made the right move by passing on trading for quarterback Deshaun Watson despite putting Tagovailoa through a season full of trade rumors last year.
Because the team that has acquired Watson is dealing with the fallout of its decision in the short term on the field – and that is to say nothing of the backlash against the franchise for the acquisition.
Trading for Watson and signing him to a record-setting contract worth $230 million fully guaranteed were not good decisions for the Browns based on Watson’s off-field transgressions and a subsequent 11-game suspension for violating the NFL’s personal conduct policy amid allegations of sexual misconduct. Watson has been sued by 25 women in court for alleged sexual misconduct during massage sessions, the most recent lawsuit being field after Watson’s suspension was announced.
Watson will have to sit for two more games, but he can return to practice with the Browns on Monday.
“I know Deshaun can come back to practice, and that’s the next step. We’ll talk about that next week,” Browns coach Kevin Stefanski said after the game.
“Biggest thing for us is just making sure we fix the things that need to be fixed.”
Cleveland has tried its best to maintain pace in the talented AFC, but a 3-6 record is a steep deficit to overcome. The Browns’ season might already be over.
They must face the Bills and Tampa Bay Buccaneers before Watson can make his debut this season against the Houston Texans – the team that traded him – on Dec. 4. Then there will be just six games left with no reassurance for Cleveland down the stretch.
Still, the Browns have some hope.
“The thing about greatness, you have to put it on display,” Browns receiver Amari Cooper said after the loss, which saw Nick Chubb score a rushing touchdown and quarterback Jacoby Brissett throw for a touchdown.
“Everybody has greatness in them. But some people don’t put it on display even though it’s not in them. It’s in us, but we just have to find a way to put it on display.”
Watson might have been the second-best young quarterback in the NFL and a face of the league to Patrick Mahomes in his final days with the Texans, a tenure that lasted from 2017-20.
Watson won’t be anywhere near his playing potential after missing the better part of two seasons on the field.
Tagovailoa threw touchdown passes to Hill, receiver Trent Sherfield and fullback Alec Ingold, while running backs Raheem Mostert and Jeff Wilson Jr. scored in the win.
Tagovailoa’s third season, boosted by Hill’s 1,148 receiving yards, has provided glimpses of Alabama Tagovailoa that the Dolphins’ front office and fans have longed to see since he was their No. 5 pick in the 2020 draft.
The Dolphins have one play caller in McDaniel, unlike the two he fielded play calls from in his second season. He also has a well-rounded cast of weapons around him for the first time in his NFL career.
The stability has been beneficial, yes. But so has the Dolphins’ commitment to Tagovailoa after entertaining Watson and Tom Brady as options in the past.
“We’re just so focused on how we can win games and what that entails,” Tagovailoa said.
“You’re just in the moment and you’re just enjoying that, and you don’t necessarily think outside of any of that. I’m really proud of our team.”