Tua Tagovailoa, Dolphins suffer self-inflicted meltdown in loss to 49ers

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Henry McKenna

AFC East Reporter

The San Francisco 49ers defense is among the NFL’s best, and yet quarterback Tua Tagovailoa’s nightmare day had more to do with the Miami Dolphins quarterback than it did with defensive end Nick Bosa or linebacker Fred Warner or cornerback Deommodore Lenoir.

This isn’t an effort to take away from the Niners, who won 33-17. They played a solid and complete game against one of the AFC’s best. They blew out Mike McDaniel’s Dolphins. And San Francisco’s win helped cement its efforts in jockeying for a top spot in the NFC. Bosa effectively ended the game with a strip sack that went for a touchdown at the end of the fourth quarter. Lenoir logged an interception that felt like a backbreaker in the first half. (And Warner logged a last-second interception after quarterback Skylar Thompson entered the game.)

But when Tagovailoa threw his first and second interception — and the game was still tight — the 49ers had recorded only four quarterback hits. He had faced some pressure, but nothing he hadn’t seen before. It just wasn’t his day.

Tagovailoa nosedived his team for the first time since 2021. His early-game issues held back the team and made its comeback efforts impossible.

The strange thing is that the Dolphins came out firing. They opened the game with a 75-yard touchdown to receiver Trent Sherfield. It looked like Miami might enjoy surprising success — and, when the 49ers responded with a touchdown, that the game might be a shootout.

But everything slowed down when Tagovailoa began to fire his passes too high on a consistent basis. His completion percentage (54.5%) was his worst in a single game this season. Then quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo suffered a left foot injury in the first quarter, and the Dolphins seemed to get a freebie when Brock Purdy was pressed into service.

Brock Purdy comes off bench, leads 49ers to win

Brock Purdy comes off bench, leads 49ers to win

Brock Purdy came off the bench for the 49ers and helped lead them to a tough 33-17 win over the Dolphins. Purdy had 210 passing yards and two passing touchdowns. Christian McCaffrey had 66 rushing yards, 80 receiving yards and one TD reception.

But Purdy played well, going 25-for-37 for 210 yards, two touchdowns and one interception. And Tagovailoa couldn’t cash in. He kept airmailing his passes. And eventually, they started costing Miami. He threw his first interception in more than 190 attempts. And then on the first play of the ensuing drive, he threw another pick. That second interception was most egregious, with Tua misfiring to Tyreek Hill. The poor pass went off Hill’s hands and into the hands of Lenoir.

The first interception was a nightmare. Because Tua was under pressure, he fired the ball a bit early and, in a stroke of bad luck, running back Jeff Wilson fell over in the middle of his route. That made for an easy interception, which 49ers safety Jimmie Ward made more dramatic by going Superman over Wilson.

The Dolphins can’t win without good quarterback play. We saw that when Tua missed time with his concussion. Miami got bad QB play from Thompson and Teddy Bridgewater. And the Dolphins couldn’t win. So with Tagovailoa struggling, he suffered his first loss as a starter this year. 

It’s not a game of no consequence. The Dolphins are in a tough fight with the Buffalo Bills in a race for the top of the AFC East. Perhaps Miami can look back at this game and chalk it up to their quarterback suffering from jet lag. Maybe this is a story they laugh about after a big playoff push. They certainly hope it’s not indicative of something more serious in Tagovailoa’s game.

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Prior to joining FOX Sports as the AFC East reporter, Henry McKenna spent seven years covering the Patriots for USA TODAY Sports Media Group and Boston Globe Media. Follow him on Twitter at @McKennAnalysis.

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