So this is how it ended for the Miami Dolphins amid all the noise of Baltimore, this is how it ended in the middle of their huddle with 14 seconds left and 7 yards still to go in one of the greatest wins they’ve had in years.
“It’s us and them right now,” quarterback Tua Tagovailoa told his offense.
No crowd. No noise. Just us and them. Receiver Jaylen Waddle later talked of that moment with the offense listening and Tua speaking with a fire that, as he said, “fired me up,” he said.
But those words didn’t put a smile on Tua’s Mona Lisa. That came with the next play, his last pass, the one that snuck by a Ravens defender, came down in Waddle’s hands in the end zone and sent the Dolphins not just to a 42-38 win or a 2-0 record but possibly, just possibly, into the kind of future they’ve only talked about for the last couple of decades.
You could dream that hard, if you wanted, after a day like this, a quarterback performance like this and coach Mike McDaniel was doing just that. Tua had been magic in rallying the Dolphins from 21 points down in the fourth quarter in a way he hadn’t been as a Dolphin — a manner no Dolphins quarterback had been, to be fair, since Dan Marino. Six touchdowns and 469 yards passing?
“It’s what you get into sports for,” McDaniel said. “It’s as good for the coaching staff and him that it was coming to life. I think it was a moment that he will never forget, that hopefully he can use moving forward.”
If this magic was the birth of something, it was needed Sunday because Lamar Jackson was making history on the other side for Baltimore. This only framed Tua’s heroics more. Jackson became the first quarterback to throw and run for touchdowns of at least 75 yards in the same game. He threw three touchdowns and had a perfect quarterback rating in the first half.
“Oh-my-gosh, yes,” Tua said later when asked if he noticed what Jackson was doing. “Oh my goodness, of course. I mean, how can you not watch someone like that?”
Tua was still in his uniform, grass stains down the side, as he talked of the day in a quiet and composed manner. He had a marginal first half, a touchdown and two interceptions. The Dolphins were down 28-7 then in the kind of day that’s define this franchise for the past two decades.
Still down 21 points to start the fourth quarter, Tua came to life in the manner McDaniel said. He threw two touchdown passes — the second a 48-yarder to Tyreek Hill — to pull the Dolphins within seven points.
He then came to the line with just over five minutes left and saw Baltimore had no safeties deep. Hill saw it, too.
“I went ‘eeeee,’ ” Hill said afterward, making a shrill cry of a dolphin in the water that serves as some kind of warning signal to his quarterback
Tua didn’t need a signal. He saw Hill run free and clear and put a 60-yard touchdown pass in his arms for the tying touchdown.
The script wasn’t done. Baltimore took the lead on Justin Tucker’s 51-yard field goal. So Tagovailoa was asked not just to slay a record-breaking quarterback but the game’s all-time top kicker. He did, too, right to those words in the huddle and that pass to Waddle.
Only two quarterbacks in Dolphins history threw for six touchdowns in a game. Hall of Famers Dan Marino and Bob Griese each did it once.
“Now, maybe Tua will listen to me,” McDaniel said. “What I mean by that is, and I’ve said this to you guys before, It’s awesome to be critical of yourself. That’s good. He has a high standard for himself. But after the first game, I just wanted to see the guy enjoy playing football and understand that, yes, we want to make the perfect read and the perfect throw every time.
But, who cares if you just get better at one thing. You’re going to be pretty good at the end of the season, let’s just press forward.”
McDaniel wanted him to have fun. You don’t hear that much from a NFL coach about his quarterback. What you saw Sunday was even more rare around the Dolphins in recent years. The quarterback created all the fun right to the final huddle where he said it was us-versus-them and then made the pass to decide it all.