January 25, 2022

Acqua NYC

Fit And Go Forward

Tua Tagovailoa’s late heroics not enough as Miami Dolphins fall to Kansas City Chiefs

The Miami Dolphins, for all of their gumption, simply are not on the defending champs’ level.

And that’s when they’re healthy.

Sunday, in the Dolphins’ 33-27 loss to Kansas City, they were certainly not.

With the game’s outcome in doubt, they had a special teamer covering Tyreek Hill in the middle of the field, three rookies on the offensive line, a long snapper chasing one of the league’s fastest punt returners in the open field, their fourth-string and fifth-string running backs splitting snaps, two college quarterbacks among the four healthy receivers and a rookie quarterback on one good leg.

So it was no surprise, then, that the defending champs led by three touchdowns late in the third quarter Sunday.

What was surprising: The Dolphins nearly came the whole way back.

Tua Tagovailoa, even a bit gimpy after rolling his ankle, was the best quarterback on the field Sunday.

(Reminder: The reigning MVP, Patrick Mahomes, was on the other sideline.)

And when he plunged into the end zone from 1 yard out just just over four minutes left in regulation — after the Dolphins forced their fourth turnover — Tagovailoa transformed what could have very easily been a blowout into a close game.

Miami was one defensive stop away from an all-time comeback. The defense simply couldn’t get it, giving up a 22-yard completion to Hill on fourth-and-1 on Kansas City’s final drive.

Big picture?

The Dolphins are probably not going to win the Super Bowl this year.

And that’s fine. At 8-5 and still in the Wild Card hunt a year after a complete tear-down, they’re ahead of schedule.

Win two more — starting next Sunday against the Patriots — and they should get in.

The good news, if there is any, is that there is no team like the Chiefs remaining on their schedule.

In truth, there’s no team like Chiefs in the NFL.

Nobody else has Hill, who scored two long touchdowns on his first two touches — the first on a jet sweep that went for 32, and the second on a double-team splitting bomb for 44 that left backup safety Clayton Fejedelem chasing far behind.

(Fejedelem was only on the field because Bobby McCain was out with an ankle injury).

Nobody else has Andy Reid, who might be the most creative play-caller in football.

And nobody else has Mahomes, who might be the best athlete in professional sports.

Together, they ground out a 10-play, 47-yard field goal drive on their final possession to ice the game.

They played like champions at a championship moment.

But Tagovailoa — who completed 28 of 48 passes for 316 yards, two touchdowns and an interception — deserves all kinds of credit, even if he didn’t want to take much of it after the game.

“It hurts a lot to come up short,” Tagovailoa said. “What we want to do is we want to win the ball game at the end of the game. We want to score one more point than the opposing team, which we obviously didn’t. … Offensively we didn’t execute the way we should have, and I know a lot of that falls down on me with the leadership with these guys in the third quarter.”

Tagovailoa added he made too many “rookie mistakes.”

That makes his future — when he no longer is a rookie and has a full complement of weapons — all the more intriguing.

The Dolphins’ thin group of receivers became absolutely twiggy after DeVante Parker left in the first half with a leg injury and did not return. Jakeem Grant didn’t play much of the second half with a leg issue of his own.

And the Dolphins might not have Mike Gesicki for the rest of the season after suffering what looked to be a significant shoulder injury late in the game.

That left Tagovailoa throwing to a bunch of complementary players, including converted quarterbacks Malcolm Perry and Lynn Bowden Jr and reserve running back Patrick Laird.

And yet he still almost pulled it off.

“This team fights to the end,” said running back DeAndre Washington, who started with Matt Breida, Myles Gaskin and Salvon Ahmed all out. “When adversity hit, guys didn’t really flinch.”

Perhaps not. But they took too long to stop the bleeding to win Sunday.

The Dolphins did much of what they needed to in the first half — and still went to the break down four points.

That’s how good the Chiefs are on offense. They can overcome two first-quarter interceptions by Mahomes — as many as he had thrown in the season’s first 12 games — and still lead at the break.

The Dolphins’ lone touchdown came on a deft improvisation by Tagovailoa, who came off his first read following play action and found Gesicki on a 7-yard scoring strike.

Miami led by 10 points early in the second quarter, but the Chiefs were relentless, scoring on 32-yard jet sweep by Hill (which featured poor angles and worse tackling) and a 6-yard pass from Mahomes to Travis Kelce.

That second touchdown started a 21-point avalanche in less the three minutes of game time that also included the bomb to Hill and a 67-yard punt return by Mecole Hardman that left everyone, including snapper Blake Ferguson, grasping for air.

The Chiefs’ lead grew to as many as 20 points after the Chiefs dropped Tagovailoa for a safety, and was on the verge of being even larger when Xavien Howard pulled in a ridiculous, one-handed interception at the goal line — his league-leading ninth of the season.

The Dolphins converted that momentum swing into a quick touchdown — Tagovailoa threaded a scoring pass between three defenders to Gesicki — and the Dolphins had hope.

That hope ended when Hill got loose on fourth-and-1 late, setting up Harrison Butker’s game-clinching, 46-yard field goal with 68 seconds left.

“There’s no moral victories,” Dolphins defensive tackle Christian Wilkins said. “We know we’re capable of more.”

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