Dolphins vs. Rams score: Tua Tagovailoa wins first NFL start with help of Miami defense, special teams

Tua Tagovailoa's first career NFL start got underway in poor fashion, but he eventually bounced back and landed his first NFL win in his first NFL start, defeating the Los Angeles Rams with a 28-17 final score that doesn't capture how close the game wasn't. The Rams stripped the rookie fifth-overall pick on the first offensive possession of the Miami Dolphins, when Aaron Donald (yup, that guy) mauled his blocker and pushed him back into Tagovailoa's face before stripping the ball. The fumble was then recovered by Michael Brockers and followed by the Rams offense capitalizing with an early touchdown. The favor was repaid, however, when defensive lineman Christian Wilkins intercepted a struggling Jared Goff, awarding Tagovailoa great field position.

He'd make the Rams pay with the first touchdown of his young NFL career, tying the game and likely alleviating some early-game jitters that saw him make some uneven decisions. All told though, it was Goff who looked like he'd never started an NFL game before, posting a passer rating of just 9.7 through one quarter and only improving it through the sheer magnitude of pass attempts he had in his failure to dig his team out of the hole he tossed them into. 

Goff had four turnovers in the first half, and the Dolphins made sure to convert three of them into touchdowns. It wasn't an eye-popping debut by Tagovailoa, but a win is a win, and he owes it to his defense.

Why the Dolphins won

It wasn't exactly the shiniest first NFL start for Tagovailoa, and he needs to take his entire defense and special teams unit out for a big steak dinner -- considering it's what those two units did that ruled the day. Credit Tagovailoa for bouncing back from his early fumble to get a touchdown off Goff's interception, but his stat line was mostly forgettable in Week 8. What isn't easily forgotten, however, is just how bullied Goff was throughout the entirety of the game, with the Dolphins defense essentially stealing his lunch money on a regular basis and shoving him into a locker immediately after. 

Goff had four turnovers in the first half alone, and be it directly or indirectly, the Dolphins scored three touchdowns off them. Toss in an 88-yard punt return for a touchdown by Jakeem Grant and the 28-10 halftime lead was too much for a struggling Goff to overcome. Head coach Brian Flores has to be proud of what his defense did on Sunday, entering the game as 3.5-point underdogs but leaving with the win, because they were the hungriest dog in yard.

Why the Rams lost

At the end of the first quarter, Goff had a passer rating of 9.7, and it took the last drive of the half to boost it to 32.8. And as abysmal as that was, the rating doesn't take into account his two lost fumbles in a game that saw him consistently put his team in a deeper hole as it went on. Against the Dolphins defense, the usually creative and high-scoring offense of Sean McVay was stripped bare and left sitting on bricks in front of the police station, having had no sense of wherewithal against the Dolphins. 

At one point, Miami had 28 points scored with only 56 offensive yards total, a nod to just how prolific the defense and special teams unit were in Week 8. The Rams felt great after Aaron Donald forced a fumble on Tagovailoa's opening drive that led to the Rams taking a 7-0 lead, but that was more or less the end of their good time in Miami. For although it was Tagovailoa's first NFL start, it was unexpectedly Goff who played like a rookie. 

Turning point 

This is where things could've swung back in the Rams' favor -- in position to retake the lead after Goff's first interception led to Tagovailoa's first career NFL touchdown to tie the game at 7-7 -- but Emmanuel Ogbah said not on his watch. A forced fumble by was scooped by linebacker Andrew Van Ginkel for a 78-yard touchdown, giving the Dolphins their first lead of the game, and they never looked back.

Play of the game 

Just over a minute after the Van Ginkel touchdown, Jakeem Grant blew the roof off with an 88-yard punt return for a touchdown that put the Dolphins up 21-7 and shattered the fledgling Rams confidence. 

Speed kills.

Is McVay's kryptonite in Miami?

"I'm starting to think Brian Flores might have Sean McVay's number." -- Cameron DaSilva of The Rams Wire

What's next

The Dolphins now head west to face the lethal Arizona Cardinals, while the Rams head into their bye week licking their wounds and working to prepare for a battle with the high-powered Seattle Seahawks in two weeks.

Catch all the highlights and action from you might've missed in the live blog below.

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MIA 3.5, O/U 46.5

Season Leaders

passing
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M. Stafford 3316 YD, 27 TDS, 9 INTS
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M. Stafford 3316 YD, 27 TDS, 9 INTS
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T. Tagovailoa 1701 YD, 10 TDS, 6 INTS
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T. Tagovailoa 1701 YD, 10 TDS, 6 INTS
rushing
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D. Henderson 142 ATT, 648 YD, 5 TDS
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D. Henderson 142 ATT, 648 YD, 5 TDS
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M. Gaskin 139 ATT, 482 YD, 3 TDS
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M. Gaskin 139 ATT, 482 YD, 3 TDS
receiving
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C. Kupp 92 REC, 1237 YD, 10 TDS
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C. Kupp 92 REC, 1237 YD, 10 TDS
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J. Waddle 77 REC, 759 YD, 4 TDS
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J. Waddle 77 REC, 759 YD, 4 TDS
Live updates
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Dolphins can grind it down and secure the win here. Rams have no timeouts remaining, not counting the two-minute warning.

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Remember I mentioned how Goff would likely blow past 50 pass attempts and probably hit 60 before the game was over? He now has 53 and counting. Worst part is, he did this to himself by turning the ball over four times in the first half.

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Goff finds Woods for the TD and that now puts pressure on the Dolphins to at least get a FG on the next drive, after scoring zero points in the third quarter. Still a good bit of football to be played here.

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@RamsNFL via Twitter
November 1, 2020, 8:52 PM
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Jared Goff is now 19/41 passing with two interceptions and two lost fumbles, with 73 of his 188 yards going to Cooper Kupp. He's not spreading the ball around, he's giving the ball away, and he's now predictably trying to throw his way out of the casket.

Recipe for more disaster.

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Credit the Dolphins o-line through three quarters, allowing just one sack on Tua, and that was the sack fumble by Donald on the first offensive drive. They've not taken him down since, despite the Dolphins struggling to establish the run. They've also hit Tua only twice in this game.

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Hey Miami,

"You got any more of those defensive touchdowns?"

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@MiamiDolphins via Twitter
November 1, 2020, 8:24 PM
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Goff is going to try to throw his way out of this 28-10 deficit, especially with injury to Henderson. Perfect time for the Dolphins to tee off on him, and you better believe they know it. He's already at 34 attempts, and that could easily surpass 50 attempts (if not push near 60) before this game is over.

That's a recipe Flores loves.

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@RamsNFL via Twitter
November 1, 2020, 8:20 PM
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All of this will be a learning experience for Tua, but this all feels like nerves and the rookie learning curve more than any supposed lack of NFL ability. The Dolphins also can't establish the run, and that's bad news when you're trying to alleviate pressure on any QB, but especially one who's never started at this level before.

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@RamsNFL via Twitter
November 1, 2020, 8:17 PM
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@RamsNFL via Twitter
November 1, 2020, 8:10 PM
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Darrell Henderson (thigh) is questionable to return. He's been one of the lone bright spots for the Rams offense as Goff struggled mightily in the first half.

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Jalen Ramsey has been downgraded to out (illness) after leaving the game early in the first quarter.

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@MiamiDolphins via Twitter
November 1, 2020, 8:04 PM
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