The kids keep writing the best little story in the NFL.
Sunday’s fifth consecutive Miami Dolphins victory had the imprint of both of the team’s 2021 first-round draft picks, with receiver Jaylen Waddle setting a franchise record for most catches by a rookie, and linebacker Jaelan Phillips with two more sacks -- his fifth straight game reaching the opponent’s quarterback.
Phillips, the ex-Hurricane, celebrated his second sack with a double rolling somersault.
“All my celebrations are random,” he explained. “Christian [Wilkins] says they suck. So we gotta work on that.”
Of course the most impressive young player, again, was the one not yet fully appreciated, or embraced.
His name is Tua Tagovailoa.
It is difficult to say a whole lot in five words but Tagovailoa managed to five weeks ago, when, in the midst of all the toxic garbage over his team’s blatant, tawdry interest in Deshaun Watson, Miami’s second-year QB was asked if he felt wanted by the Dolphins.
He did not say yes.
He said, after a beat’s pause: “I don’t not feel wanted.”
It was just after that rather degrading low point when Tagovailoa began to lift the Dolphins while simultaneously showing his team how wrong it had been to give up on him so soon over the misguided infatuation with Watson.
Tagovailoa on Sunday led the Dolphins to their fifth straight win with the efficient 20-9 handling of the New York Giants before 65,898 at Hard Rock Stadium. It has turned a desultory 1-7 season into one now with a breath of playoff hope entering the team’s bye week.
“We moved it offensively, stopped them [on defense],” said coach Brian Flores. “It was a good team effort. Complementary.”
If you closed your eyes Sunday you weren’t sure who’s home game it was, so many Giants fans were there in blue. But Dolfans took over in decibels as their team did on the scoreboard.
At one point Waddle left with a minor injury and exuberant fans began chanting his name. His raised his left arm, and the volume, in exhorting the crowd.
“Felt good,” he said of the chant.
Five-game winning streaks don’t happen without a lot of help from all over, and certainly big defense was this game’s signature.
Miami allowed only a trio of Giants field goals and otherwise every NYG possession expired with a punt or, in one case, an Xavien Howard interception.
Above it all, there was Tua, rising. Again
Miami’s QB has been so good in this five-game win streak that it has the attention of NFL history.
Tagovailoa’s 80.5 completion percentage in November was the second-most accurate single month in league annals. He was one completion shy of breaking the accuracy record set by Peyton Manning in December of 2008. Tua’s three games of 80-plus percent this year already have matched the all-time season record.
Sunday he was short of the 80 club but completed 30 of 41 passes for 244 yards including TD passes of 5 yards to Mack Hollins and 2 to Isaiah Ford. And no interceptions.
Still, the QB knows 20 points won’t win many games in the NFL.
“The [defense] keeps the pressure off us offensively,” he said. “I’m glad we won. But a lot of things we left out there on the field.”
Tua by now has earned the full, public faith of his employer, the one that drafted him fifth overall in 2020 but has never seemed to embrace the idea he is their guy long-term, the back-channel pursuit of Watson conveying quite the opposite of trust and faith.
How great it would be if the Dolphins now stated unequivocally they will not be pursuing or trading for or drafting any quarterback to replace the one they have. How great it would be if Tagovailoa began to feel the love he has been earning by degrees over the past month-plus.
How great it would be if the next time he was asked if he felt wanted by the Fins he might say simply and without ambiguity: “Yes.”
Miami’s bye week comes now, and it feels earned as much as merely scheduled.
The coaches and players who have unexpectedly won five in a row -- only the fourth team ever to climb from 1-7 to 6-7 -- deserve the respite, the chance to exhale and smile.
With all all he’s been through, so especially does Tua Tagovailoa.
So last word here to the Alabama grad, who closed his postgame news conference Sunday with a smiling nod to his alma mater’s Saturday SEC championship win over No. 1 Georgia.
“Roll Tide, huh!”