In a matchup featuring two of the first three quarterbacks selected in the 2020 NFL Draft, Tua Tagovailoa and the Miami Dolphins defeated the visiting Los Angeles Chargers and Justin Herbert by a final tally of 29-21.
Here is what we learned from the game.
5. Jason Sanders is human after all
Miami Dolphins kicker Jason Sanders had been as automatic as one could possibly be so far this season. Going into the Chargers game, Sanders was 21-for-21 on extra point attempts and 17-for-17 on field goals.
It was a streak that was probably much appreciated by the coaching staff when they decided to hand over the keys of the offense to a rookie QB, but we found out on Sunday that Sanders is not actually a machine after all.
In the fourth quarter, Sanders lined up for a 47-yard attempt that shockingly did not go through the uprights. However, he would redeem himself later in the period by connecting on a 49-yarder that would wrap up the scoring for the Dolphins.
4. Is Andrew Van Ginkel becoming a household name?
In the Miami Dolphins' Week 8 game against the Los Angeles Rams, linebacker Andrew Van Ginkel recovered a fumble by Rams QB Jared Goff and took it 78 yards to the house. In Tagovailoa's first NFL start, any scoring support the defense could provide would be critical to Miami’s chances of winning, and Van Ginkel delivered.
Fast forward to Sunday’s game against the Chargers, and the former Wisconsin product was at it again.
This time, Van Ginkel stormed up the middle of L.A.'s punt protection unit and stuffed punter Ty Long’s attempt. Miami recovered the ball at the 1-yard line, which set them up for a rushing touchdown shortly thereafter. There may just be something about Van Ginkel playing against Los Angeles-based teams.
3. Justin Herbert remains ahead of Tua Tagovailoa right now
Justin Herbert got his first chance to start in the NFL during Week 2, and Tagovailoa’s chance didn’t come until Week 8, and it’s evident that Herbert’s comfort level on the field is ahead of Tua's right now.
After a shaky first start against the Rams, Tagovailoa has played well enough to move the Miami offense down the field and keep them in games. He was better accuracy-wise against the Arizona Cardinals last week, and he made some impressive throws this week. The left-hander isn’t looking as skittish in the pocket as he did against the Rams in his debut, which is a good sign moving forward. On a low snap that hit the ground, Tua calmly picked the ball up and fired downfield to Devante Parker for a first down, showing that he’s starting to get comfortable.
Even though Herbert didn’t have one of his better games, he still was able to extend plays with his legs and keep the Chargers within shouting distance of a game that the Dolphins had well in hand from the first quarter. The former Oregon quarterback continues to show that he isn’t phased by very much in the NFL, whether it’s primetime games against the NFL’s best, or a bad play -- like the interception he threw to Dolphins CB Xavien Howard. Had the special teams play discussed earlier not gone Miami’s way, we could be having a different conversation about the outcome of this game.
2. Who are these Miami Dolphins fill-in running backs?
Coming into the season, many observers believed that free-agent signee Jordan Howard, and trade acquisition Matt Brieda would be the primary ball-carriers for the Miami Dolphins.
Instead, second-year running back Myles Gaskin was responsible for the majority of the backfield work and did a nice job in that role before going down with a knee injury a few weeks ago.
Now, it’s rookie Salvon Ahmed, who played his college football at Washington, who is leading the Dolphins' backfield admirably. Ahmed rushed for his first career touchdown on Sunday, and finished the game with a team-high 21 carries for 85 yards.
The Dolphins spent a lot of effort trying to improve their offensive line in the offseason via the draft and free agency, and with the variety of running backs having success this season, it seems like those transactions have been well worth it.
1. Can the Miami Dolphins win the AFC East?
Fans keep waiting for Tagovailoa to have a 400-yard, 5-touchdown game to officially put himself and the team on the map. But even with average production from the fifth overall pick, Miami has been finding ways to win games. They are 3-0 since they made the quarterback switch, and have another winnable game on the schedule next week against the Denver Broncos.
It's not an exciting formula, but defense, special teams and ball control have been the winning ingredients for Miami recently, and with Buffalo’s shocking loss to the Arizona Cardinals, the Miami Dolphins remain in the hunt for a division crown. They’ll play the Bills again in Week 17, with perhaps a ton at stake.