Joe Burrow guided his team to a win. Justin Herbert probably deserved one. And Tua Tagovailoa didn't have to do much to be successful in his NFL starting debut.
It was a mixed bag Sunday for the three quarterbacks drafted in the top six last April. It also was an intriguing look into what might be ahead for Burrow in “Joehio,” Herbert in Hollywood, and Tua in South Beach.
“It was fun just being able to go out there and play a full 60-minute game now, being that it was my first start in the NFL," said Tagovailoa after a 28-17 victory over the Rams in a game the defence and special teams basically won. “We really faced a really good defence . I’m proud of what we got to do offensively, but I do know that there’s still a lot of things we need to correct come Monday.”
Tagovailoa sat behind veteran Ryan Fitzpatrick for six games, and Fitz led the Dolphins to two straight victories to get to 3-3. But then came the bye week, and it apparently was Miami's plan all along to turn to a healthy Tua — even when the bye was moved up from Week 11 due to league rescheduling because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The best moves the lefty from the Alabama Crimson Tide showed were doing a dance following a 3-yard touchdown pass to DeVante Parker. Tagovailoa also retrieved the ball as a souvenir.
But it's not about Tagovailoa being Dan Marino quite yet. It's about establishing him as the team's leader for the next decade, even if he isn't tearing it up the way Burrow and Herbert are.
Tagovailoa also has something the other two NFL newbies don't: a potential playoff contender. So turning him loose might not be on the Dolphins' agenda in 2020.
Burrow, the top overall draftee, has been turned loose since preseason. There was never any question the 2019 national champion at LSU would be the man in Cincinnati. While the Bengals (2-5-1) are barren in so many areas, Burrow looks exactly like a franchise QB.
Burrow has 221 completions, the most by a player in his first eight career games in NFL history. He has completed at least 25 passes in six games, tied with Arizona’s Kyler Murray (2019) for the second-most such games by a rookie. Only Philadelphia’s Carson Wentz had more, with seven in 2016.
He shows poise, creativity — and toughness, a must for any quarterback, but absolutely essential for one joining a rebuilding team coming off a 2-14 year. Burrow has been as good or better than nearly every opposing quarterback he has faced.
And the Bengals are improving.
“We don’t feel like a 1-5 football team,” he said. "One or two plays go our way over the last couple weeks and we’re 6-2 or 7-1, but we know that we didn’t make those plays until today and it feels good to make them.”
It can't feel very good for Herbert, whose Chargers (2-5) can't hold leads. They've been outscored by only six points overall, but they find ways to lose in excruciating fashion — such as 31-30 at Denver on Sunday.
Still, Herbert has been pretty much everything the Chargers sought with the sixth overall draft pick. He had three touchdown passes in that loss to the Broncos, tying him with Houston’s Deshaun Watson (2017) as the only rookies with at least three TD tosses in four consecutive games.
He is resourceful, competitive and possibly more versatile than his two rookie peers.
And he sounds like a veteran already.
“If anyone thinks this doesn’t bother me at all, they’re wrong," Herbert said. "I take a lot of pride in this team. I know I’ve only been here for a little bit, but you can’t do anything about changing results that have already happened. All we can do now is look forward, go forward, continue to have great weeks of practice and get better.
"It’s obviously tough. It’s definitely tough any time you lose close games like that, especially for five weeks in a row. It’s tough, but we’re going to get better and there’s nothing we can do about it now. So just keep pushing forward and keep getting better.”
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Barry Wilner, The Associated Press