JACKSONVILLE, FLA.—Maybe it was all the pre-game chatter centred around rookie Tua Tagovailoa.
Maybe, Ryan Fitzpatrick realized it could have been the final prime-time game of his career.
But as Fitzpatrick showed on Thursday night in Jacksonville, he’s still got a lot of FitzMagic left in him. And the Dolphins could use every bit of it as Tagovailoa marinates on the sidelines.
Fitzpatrick threw a career-high 12 straight completions to start the game and accounted for three touchdowns as the Dolphins (1-2) won their first game of the season 31-13 over the Jaguars in front of 16,563 fans allowed inside TIAA Bank Field with respect to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Receiver Preston Williams and tight end Mike Gesicki each caught a touchdown pass from Fitzpatrick, who scored on a one-yard keeper late in the third quarter, and the Dolphins avoided a dreaded 0-3 start under coach Brian Flores for the second straight season.
Running back Jordan Howard also scored on a one-yard run in the victory, which helps ease some of the uneasiness surrounding the team’s first two losses of the season where the defence failed to stop the run, rush the passer and defend downfield to help an offence trying to find its footing.
Miami will have 10 days until its next game, against the Seattle Seahawks on Oct. 4 at Hard Rock Stadium, to still correct those issues.
But a notch in the win column could work wonders for Flores and his team’s confidence as they enter the second year of their extensive rebuilding process together this season.
And it surely quiets the noise that would have been an overwhelming distraction, calling for Miami to start Tagovailoa, the No. 5 pick in last April’s NFL draft and the most prevalent storyline nationally with this Dolphins team.
While Tagovailoa was the topic of much of the discussion heading into the game, Fitzpatrick showed why he has been entrusted to command the Dolphins offence as bridge quarterback before Tagovailoa is unleashed.
Fitzpatrick completed 18 of 20 passes for 160 yards, with 39 yards rushing on six runs for the Dolphins, who scored on their first three drives of the game. Fitzpatrick even had a catch in the fourth quarter on a pass that ricocheted off another players’ helmet to round out his statistics.
Fitzpatrick led the Dolphins offence to 17 first downs on 32 total plays in the first half as Miami outgained Jacksonville 218-131. Overall, Miami finished with 22 first downs and 278 yards, but their work was done early.
The Dolphins’ took an early lead when Fitzpatrick threw a three-yard touchdown pass to Williams on the first drive of the game to take a 7-0 lead.
Miami executed a 12-play, 82-yard drive that saw running back Myles Gaskin run eight times for 35 yards with Fitzpatrick throwing a 20-yard pass to DeVante Parker and a 19-yard pass to receiver Jakeem Grant to get the offence off on the right foot.
On the second drive, Fitzpatrick broke free for a 13-yard run, and an end-around run by Grant gained 29 yards, getting Miami to the six-yard line. Two plays later, Howard scored a one-yard touchdown to give Miami a 14-0 lead.
Fitzpatrick, who ran the football on two consecutive plays to gain a first down at midfield on the third scoring drive, threw a 15-yard touchdown to Gesicki to take a 21-7 lead into halftime.
Fitzpatrick’s rushing touchdown in the third quarter came following a key turnover for the Dolphins defence as linebacker Kyle Van Noy forced a fumble on Jaguars quarterback Gardner Minshew and later recovered the football at Jacksonville’s five-yard line.
Jaguars undrafted rookie running back James Robinson scored two rushing touchdowns, finishing with 11 carries for 46 yards and six catches for 83 yards.
Minshew completed 30 of 42 passes for 274 yards with no touchdowns and an interception to Xavien Howard before the final two-minute warning.
Parker led Miami with five catches for 69 yards, and Jason Sanders added a 31-yard field goal with 3:49 remaining to help the Dolphins secure their first win in 2020.
More importantly, the performance keeps Fitzpatrick as the Dolphins starter for at least one more week, delaying Tagovailoa’s potential debut.