The Miami Dolphins received a dose of FitzMagic after Christmas.
Veteran quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick replaced Tua Tagovailoa in the fourth quarter on Saturday and led his team to a remarkable win-win run in a decision between 26 and 25 at the Las Vegas Raiders, greatly increasing Miami’s chances of making the playoffs.
The game came with the Dolphins 25-23 and only 19 seconds. Fitzpatrick dropped back and hurled a hail of Mary down the left sideline, where he found an open receiver in Mack Hollins for a 34-yard completion. It was a relief for Hollins, who dropped a possible touchdown a few minutes earlier.
“For want of a better term,” said Hollins, “I live for it …”
“In that case, you are really raising a prayer,” said Fitzpatrick. “I didn’t know it was complete at first. My face mask was pulled off and my head was torn off. I turned to make sure they saw the face mask [Dolphins right tackle] Jesse Davis or [running back] Myles Gaskin had to tell me it was locked. “
Raiders defender Arden Key was the one who ripped Fitzpatrick’s face mask and added a crucial 15 yard penalty to the game. The extra mileage prepared the Dolphins for a 44-yard winning goal from Jason Sanders.
It was a wild five-minute finale that consisted of Fitzpatrick’s 59-yard touchdown pass to Gaskin. a Raiders starting gate 19 seconds ahead, supported by a very questionable pass interference call; and finally Fitzpatrick’s late lift.
Fitzpatrick said the fourth quarter marked the first time in his 16-year NFL career that he had to use the locker room. When he returned, Dolphins trainer Brian Flores told Fitzpatrick he was going into the game. After a handful of roller coaster series for both teams, Fitzpatrick made the Hollins throw what he called the best game of his career.
There was also a unique decision by the Raiders to let Josh Jacobs slide at the 1-yard line and score a field goal instead of going back over the goal line for a touchdown.
The 10-5 Dolphins now have a 62% chance of making the playoffs on ESPN’s Football Power Index and their path is very simple: win the Buffalo Bills next weekend and they’re post-season for the first time since 2016 bound.
This is the second time this season Tagovailoa has been benched in the fourth quarter of a close game in search of an offensive push. The other was lost to the Denver Broncos during a week 11. Fitzpatrick stayed in that competition just before comeback and finally managed to perform the incredible trick on Saturday.
Despite the late theatrical performances in Las Vegas, Flores said Tagovailoa will be the starter against the Bills this weekend. Flores said he went to Fitzpatrick on Saturday because the team “needed a spark to win the game” but that the rookie will still be number 1 on the depth map.
“When we have to go to a pitcher of relief as ninth [inning], we will do that, “said Flores.” Fitz, he’s always ready to go. … I have great confidence in Tua. He did a lot of plays for us. He did plays today. We just felt we needed a spark. Fitzy gave us that.
“Tua is a young player. He is developing. He is improving every day. He is learning from these experiences. He will be better next week.”
Fitzpatrick threw 182 yards in the fourth quarter, with the most yards in one final frame (2013, week 15 against the Arizona Cardinals).
Fitzpatrick managed to get more passes thrown more than 5 meters behind the field than Tagovailoa, who struggled mightily with the same throws. Fitzpatrick went 5-of-6 for 154 yards and a touchdown, while Tagovailoa was 3-of-7 for 35 yards. Fitzpatrick averaged 9.8 yards per attempt at 4.2 for Tagovailoa.
Tagovailoa, 22, said after the win it was a learning experience and he knew he needed to take more risks on the field, especially when the game was on the line. It’s an ongoing balance for Tagovailoa to take what the defense gives him and do the Splash games like Fitzpatrick did.
“It wasn’t really that shocking what happened. They call him FitzMagic for a reason,” Tagovailoa said. “This is the second time [getting benched has] happened. It’s just something to learn from. If Fitz is in there, I’ll support him. “
Time and again, Flores has relied on Fitzpatrick, 38, to be a skilled seamstress when needed in a difficult situation, without caring about what his arrival on the line-up means for Tagovailoa’s mindset. Both quarterbacks have announced that they will do whatever the staff think is the best chance for Miami to win. The team supports both and there doesn’t seem to be any controversy over who will be the quarterback, though players often notice the magical feeling when Fitzpatrick comes into the line-up.
“Different energies. Everyone knows Fitz; it’s a different guy. It’s a change,” Gaskin said. “Probably the funniest game I’ve ever played in my life.”
Ultimately, the moves Flores took paid off and possibly saved the Dolphins’ playoff chances. The questions will come to Tagovailoa in the long term and Fitzpatrick in the short term, but Flores continues to focus on what he thinks is best for the team now with their decisions.
“There are a lot of people in this locker room who are trying to win. That is at the forefront of the decisions I make here today and move forward while I am here,” said Flores. “Tua is a resilient boy. He’s a stubborn boy. He’s glad Fitzy went in there and we won the game because he’s a selfless man who’s first on the team. That’s why he’s here.”