A floundering Miami Dolphins offense turned to its bearded veteran quarterback in the fourth quarter against the Denver Broncos.
Ryan Fitzpatrick replaced Tua Tagovailoa as Miami trailed 20-10, and nearly led the Dolphins to a late-game comeback. The Broncos ultimately held on for a 20-13 win.
Dolphins coach Brian Flores said after the game that Tagovailoa was benched purely for performance reasons. It was speculated on the broadcast that Tua, who was on the injury report with a foot issue this week, might've sustained a lower body injury.
Flores added that Tua would remain the starter for next week's game against the Jets.
"It's very clear this is Tua's team. Tua is going to continue to get better and grow," Fitzpatrick said, per Omar Kelly of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel. "Today was different than the last few weeks. They needed me to go in there and provide a spark."
FitzMagic's entrance immediately jumpstarted the offense, leading an eight-play, 44-yard drive culminating with a field goal to cut the lead to one-score midway through the final period.
A lost Melvin Gordon fumble just shy of the endzone on Denver's ensuing drive gave the Dolphins a chance to tie it. That bid would fall short after Fitzpatrick tossed a game-sealing interception 13 plays into his second series, allowing Denver to hang on for the victory.
"Whatever was going to be best for the team. When I was in there, we couldn't really get things going," Tagovailoa said, per NBC6's Ruthie Polinsky. "Coach felt it was best to put Fitz in to give us a spark. When I heard that - it's really what's best for the team."
The Dolphins benched Fitzpatrick earlier this season as the quarterback was in a groove, leading two straight wins. Tua extended that win streak to five straight for the 'Fins. Miami sat in playoff positioning entering the week, but trailed the 3-win Broncos squad for the bulk of the contest.
Tagovailoa took a sack early in the fourth quarter that led to the injury speculation. Prior to that, the rookie QB was ineffective all game, completing 11 of 20 passes for 83 yards, 4.2 yards per attempt, with one TD. He also took six sacks, overwhelmed by Broncos pass rushers behind a struggling offensive line.
With Tua under center, the Dolphins went 3-and-out five times, compiled just 10 first downs, and the only touchdown came off a short-field following an interception. Struggles such as this find their way to most rooks at some point, but Flores reiterated that he still believes in his young QB.
"He's healthy. He's a confident kid. He's fine," he said, according to ESPN.