Fitzpatrick replaces Tua in Dolphins’ miracle win

  • Covered the Broncos for two seasons with the Denver Post
  • Graduate of the University of Houston
  • A native of Jackson, Miss.

The Miami Dolphins were gifted with a post-Christmas dose of FitzMagic.

Veteran quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick replaced Tua Tagovailoa in the fourth quarter Saturday and led his team to a remarkable game-winning drive to secure a 26-25 road victory over the Las Vegas Raiders, significantly boosting Miami’s chances of making the playoffs.

The play of the game came with the Dolphins down 25-23 with just 19 seconds left. Fitzpatrick dropped back and heaved a miracle Hail Mary attempt down the left sideline, where he found an open receiver in Mack Hollins. It was redemption for Hollins, who dropped a potential touchdown just a few minutes earlier.

Raiders defensive lineman Arden Key was ripping Fitzpatrick’s face mask at the same time, making it a no-look pass — and, most important, adding a 15-yard penalty. The yardage set the Dolphins up for a 44-yard winning field goal by Jason Sanders.

It was a wild last five minutes of the game that consisted of a Fitzpatrick go-ahead, 59-yard touchdown pass to Myles Gaskin, a Raiders go-ahead field goal with 19 seconds left aided by a very questionable pass interference call, and ultimately Fitzpatrick’s heave.

Also tucked in there was a unique decision by the Raiders to have Josh Jacobs slide at the 1-yard line, setting up a field goal, rather than the running back crossing the goal line for a touchdown.

The 10-5 Dolphins now have a 62% chance to make the playoffs, per ESPN’s Football Power Index, and their path is very simple: win next weekend at Buffalo and they are postseason-bound for the first time since 2016.

This is the second time the rookie Tagovailoa has been benched in the fourth quarter of a tight game in search for an offensive spark this season (the other was the Week 11 loss to the Broncos). Fitzpatrick fell just short of a comeback in the game and he pulled off the incredible trick this week.

Fitzpatrick threw for 182 yards in the fourth quarter, tied for his most ever yards in a fourth quarter (2013 Week 15 vs. Cardinals).

Fitzpatrick managed to complete more passes thrown more than 5 yards downfield than Tagovailoa, who struggled mightily on those same throws. Fitzpatrick went 5-of-6 for 154 yards and a touchdown while Tagovailoa went 3-of-7 for 35 yards.

Dolphins coach Brian Flores has continually counted on Fitzpatrick as the offensive spark when needed to enter the game, seemingly with little concern about what him arriving in the lineup does to Tagovailoa’s confidence. Both quarterbacks have said they will do whatever the coaching staff believes gives Miami the best chance to win.

Ultimately, the moves Flores has made have paid off and might have saved the Dolphins’ playoff chances.

In his postgame media availability, Flores said Tagovailoa will be the starter next weekend against the Bills. Flores says he went to Fitzpatrick on Saturday because the team needed a spark, but the rookie will still be No. 1 on the depth chart.

“If we need to go to a relief pitcher in the ninth [inning], that’s what we’ll do,” Flores said.

Tagovailoa said after the victory that it’s a learning experience and he knows he needs to take more chances down the field.

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