Armando Salguero: Tua Tagovailoa helps but victorious Dolphins turn elsewhere for star performance

©Miami Herald

Charles Trainor Jr./Miami Herald/TNS

Take a bow, Brian Flores.

Your defensive game plan, similar but not exactly like the one you used to confuse the Los Angeles Rams in Super Bowl LII, worked again.

The Miami Dolphins used parts of that plan to bring blitzes, to mix coverages, to drop linemen while rushing defensive backs, and confuse the Rams.

And the results were similar to what Flores got as the New England Patriots defensive play-caller in that February 2019 title game before he joined the Dolphins the very next day.

Except this time it worked for the Dolphins.

And Bill Belichick was nowhere in sight.

Dolphins 28.

Rams 17.

This game plan worked so well in the first half of Sunday’s game against quarterback Jared Goff and decorated head coach and offensive guru Sean McVay that the Miami defense scored as many touchdowns as the Rams offense.

It worked so well that the Rams had four turnovers this game after committing five turnovers the previous seven games.

And here’s a wild one: The Dolphins’ performance on defense was so compelling it threatened to take the spotlight from quarterback Tua Tagovailoa’s NFL debut.

Well, sort of.

I mean, everyone had eyes on Tagovailoa throughout this game as they will throughout his time as the Dolphins starting quarterback. But he wasn’t the star of this day.

He wasn’t the reason the Dolphins won.

He threw a three-yard touchdown pass to Devante Parker so he contributed. But this wasn’t exactly Dan Marino bursting onto the scene in 1983.

Tagovailoa finished with 12 completions on 22 passes for 93 yards, with the one touchdown pass. His passer rating was 80.3.

Tagovailoa played like, well, a rookie quarterback making his first start. So everyone will need to be patient to see fireworks.

But it was that defense that blew up the Rams plans of going back to L.A. with a win.

The Dolphins got a 78-yard fumble recovery touchdown from linebacker Andrew Van Ginkel. That play came when defensive end Emmanuel Ogbah sacked Rams QB Jared Goff and caused the fumble.

Van Ginkel scooped the loose ball and would not be caught until he was celebrating in the end zone.

The amazing thing is the play came after the Miami offense had turned the ball over inside their 25 yard line on a Myles Gaskin fumble. That turnover seemed disastrous because it was the on the heels of the Dolphins fumbling on their first offensive possession of the game.

The Van Ginkel score obviously got Gaskin off the proverbial hook.

The previous Miami fumble happened when Tagovailoa had the football knocked from his grasp by defensive lineman Aaron Donald on Miami’s first pass play of the game.

The Dolphins; pass pocket collapsed on that early play.

But the offensive line recovered nicely.

Tagovailoa had some moments when his throws were rushed. But Donald wasn’t a major factor the entire rest of the game and Tagovailoa suffered no other sacks.

Tagovailoa, making his NFL debut, improved as the game progressed. Honestly, it wouldn’t have been hard to be better than that first pass play. But he’ll need a lot of improving if he’s going to be the franchise quarterback the Dolphins are hoping for.

The Dolphins defense, meanwhile, was very good. It wasn’t perfect.

Miami yielded a 10-play, 89-yard drive to the Rams that resulted in a Robert Woods touchdown catch. That brought the score to 28-17.

But when the Rams went into hurry-up mode, the Dolphins were up to the task. If this defense plays at this level the rest of the season, the Dolphins are going to be relevant the remainder of the season.

As it is, the team is 4-3 now — the first time the Dolphins are over the .500 mark in the Flores tenure. Miami is one game out of first-place behind the Buffalo Bills in the AFC East.

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©2020 Miami Herald

Miami Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa (1) sets up to pass in the first half against the Los Angeles Rams on Sunday, Nov. 1, 2020 at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens, Florida. - Charles Trainor Jr./Miami Herald/TNS
Fans show their support for Miami Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa (1) during a game against the Los Angeles Rams on Sunday, Nov. 1, 2020 at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens, Florida. - Charles Trainor Jr./Miami Herald/TNS
Charles Trainor Jr./Miami Herald/TNS
Miami Dolphins defensive tackle Christian Wilkins (94) celebrates after a fumble recovery in the first half against the Los Angeles Rams on Sunday, Nov. 1, 2020 at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens, Florida. - Charles Trainor Jr./Miami Herald/TNS
Miami Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa (1) sets up to pass in the second half against the Los Angeles Rams on Sunday, Nov. 1, 2020 at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens, Florida. - Charles Trainor Jr./Miami Herald/TNS
Miami Dolphins wide receiver Jakeem Grant (19) breaks away to score in the second quarter against the Los Angeles Rams on Sunday, Nov. 1, 2020 at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens, Florida. - Charles Trainor Jr./Miami Herald/TNS
Miami Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa (1) rushes the field with teammates as they prepare to play the Los Angeles Rams on Sunday, Nov. 1, 2020 at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens, Florida. - Charles Trainor Jr./Miami Herald/TNS
Miami Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa (1) and wide receiver DeVante Parker (11) celebrate a first quarter touchdown against the Los Angeles Rams on Sunday, Nov. 1, 2020 at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens, Florida. - Al Diaz/Miami Herald/TNS
Miami Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa (1) fumbles under pressure by the Los Angeles Rams defense on his first possession in the first quarter on Sunday, Nov. 1, 2020 at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens, Florida. - Al Diaz/Miami Herald/TNS