A Thursday Night Football showdown between a 37-year-old, Harvard-educated quarterback who looks like he wants to lead block more than throw the ball and a second-year quarterback who once drank a bottle of Jack Daniels so he could break his own hand with a hammer to receive a medical redshirt in order to extend his college career. Football guys to a T — it doesn't get much better than that.
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Those two quarterbacks lead the two youngest teams in the NFL, but it was the old veteran Ryan Fitzpatrick who came out on top as he and the Miami Dolphins left with a blowout win over Gardner Minshew and the Jacksonville Jaguars. From the quarterbacks to the multitude of rookies taking the field, here are five big takeaways from the Dolphins' 31-13 upset win over the Jaguars.
TUA WHO? FITZPATRICK WAS OUT HERE WHEELIN' N' DEALIN'
It wasn't one of those “Fitzmagic” games we saw early in 2018 when he was with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the ones in which he routinely dropped bombs downfield, but Fitzpatrick executed Miami's offense to near perfection last night against Jacksonville.
The veteran quarterback earned a 91.5 PFF grade for the night, the fifth-best of his career in the PFF era (since 2006), and he threw a catchable ball on just about every pass — just one of his 20 passes was deemed uncatchable. All told, he completed 18 of his 20 pass attempts (90.0%) for 160 yards and two scores; he went 6-for-6 for 81 yards, a score and a perfect passer rating of 158.3 while under pressure and 12-for-14 for 79 yards, a score and a passer rating of 114.0 when he was kept clean.
There were no deep big-time throws from Fitzpatrick, but he did have a couple to the intermediate level, such as this seed to wide receiver Preston Williams:
Tua Tagovailoa, the fifth overall pick of the 2020 NFL Draft, is clearly Miami's solution at quarterback come 2021, but Fitzpatrick put on a performance that made us all forget that the Dolphins had Tagovailoa on the bench. Some may have thought that we might have seen Tagovailoa by now, but Miami is hesitant to put him out there on the field, given he isn't even a year removed from injury, but how could you throw the electric Fitzpatrick on the bench when he's playing as he is?
MINSHEW DID NOT PLAY LIKE THE FRANCHISE QB I THOUGHT HE WAS
I wrote about how I thought Minshew might actually be a franchise quarterback just a few days ago in my weekly recap article. Obviously, I would still take a tank for Trevor year over Minshew long-term, but the 2019 sixth-round pick had been looking like he could be the franchise guy if Jacksonville is out of reach on one of the premier quarterbacks in the 2021 draft class. Last night, though, Minshew looked far from that player.
Minshew recorded just a 52.9 PFF grade, which was the second-worst of his career. The backbone of Minshew's success thus far had been his accuracy and touch downfield, but that was nowhere to be found last night. He completed just three of 10 passes that were thrown 10 or more yards downfield and had just one big-time throw. And while it was an impressive throw and looked like the Minshew we all came to love, it came in the closing minutes of the game with the Jags still down by 18…
…then he came back on the next play and did this:
That was one of two turnover-worthy plays on the night for Minshew. His positively graded throw rate and negatively graded throw rate were precisely the same, which is never a good thing.
Minshew couldn't get anything cooking even when he had a clean pocket to work from. This isn't the be-all and end-all to the “Is Minshew actually a franchise quarterback” question, but it doesn't help matters any. The Worst-case scenario for Jacksonville at this point is that this hot-and-cold play from Minshew persists and leaves the team out of the picture on one of the 2021 draft's top quarterbacks. The last thing this team needs is to be stuck in quarterback purgatory.
NOAH IGBINOGHENE PLAYED WELL IN BYRON JONES' STEAD
Igbinoghene was a first-round pick in this past draft, but he was taken based on potential more than anything. However, he found himself with a hefty workload in Week 2 after the Dolphins' star cornerback Byron Jones went down with an injury. It did not go well for the rookie — he earned a 30.6 coverage grade when lined up on the outside in Week 2, allowing five catches for 115 yards and a score without making a single play on the ball.
Jones was still out for Week 3, which meant Igbinoghene got the start. And despite the rough start to his NFL career, the rookie came in clutch and played exceptionally well.
The Auburn product allowed just one catch on three targets (44 coverage snaps) for 2 yards when lined up on the outside, including this forced incompletion in the end zone:
An interesting thing with the improvement in Igbinoghene's play was how different the coverage schemes were. Miami played their patented Cover 1 defense 58% of the time in Week 2 but just 27% of the time in Week 3. In replacement, the Dolphins played more Cover 3 and quarters, which significantly decreased the amount of snaps Igbinoghene had in press-man coverage.
I wouldn't make a bunch of assumptions based on this one game, given how volatile coverage play is as well as the fact that Jacksonville was in pretty rough shape at the receiver position, but it is a promising sign for the rookie.
AFTER TWO WEEKS OF STRONG PLAY, C.J. HENDERSON GOT SAUCED
Through Week 2, C.J. Henderson was looking like one of the best rookies of the entire draft class. Actually, the Jaguars’ ninth-overall pick was looking like one of the best cornerbacks in the entire NFL. Henderson entered Week 3 against Miami tied for third at the position in PFF grade, recording an NFL-high five forced incompletions in the process. That came to a screeching hault against Miami.
Henderson posted a 29.7 PFF grade for the night, allowing all five of his targets to be caught for 62 yards and one score. The rookie corner also had a missed tackle and pass interference penalty.
Like with Igbinoghene, I wouldn’t jump to rash judgments after Henderson’s abysmal Week 3. Again, coverage play is volatile and we can’t forget about Week 1 when he was perhaps the reason Jacksonville pulled off the upset win over Indianapolis.
THE HYPE SURROUNDING LAVISKA SEEMED INSURMOUNTABLE AND WAS PROVEN TO BE TRUE
Around 2 p.m. on Thursday after the Jaguars announced D.J. Chark would be out for Week 3 with an injury, the Laviska Shenault hive came out in full force and started pumping the rookie up like a penny stock in 1999. While I’m a huge fan of Shenault myself and believe in him long-term, it was a lot to ask for him to produce at an elite level in Chark’s absence. He only managed 5-33-0 and 1-1-0 receiving and rushing lines on 45 snaps.
We did see a few plays from Shenault that were reminiscent of his days at Colorado, but they didn’t lead to any big plays for Jacksonville’s offense. He made a couple of contested catches on the night, and this play shows precisely of what kind of player Shenault can be:
At the end of the day, though, Shenault produced just 1.06 yards per route run, which is nothing to be jazzed about. Like with any rookie, patience is key. We'll eventually be talking about how dynamic Shenault is with the ball in his hands and he'll have his share of highlight-reel plays after the catch, but we have to give it time.