Tua Tagovailoa, starters underwhelm in preseason loss


MIAMI GARDENS — The Miami Dolphins had most of their starters play Saturday’s preseason game against the Las Vegas Raiders, but against a slew of backups, they delivered an underwhelming performance in limited opportunities.

Quarterback Tua Tagovailoa, who didn’t have wide receivers Tyreek Hill and Jaylen Waddle or left tackle Terron Armstead with the first-team offense, went 6 of 8 for 58 yards in two drives over a quarter-plus at Hard Rock Stadium. The two series for Miami’s third-year signal-caller netted 3 points.

“I was really happy with Tua,” Dolphins coach Mike McDaniel said. “He’s been having such a good camp, just in his development and ownership of the offense. I was very hopeful that he would be the same guy on game day.”

The Dolphins’ first-team defense surrendered an opening-drive touchdown to a Raiders offense not playing quarterback Derek Carr, wide receiver Davante Adams, tight end Darren Waller or running back Josh Jacobs, along with multiple starting linemen.

With third-teamers taking the lead in the fourth quarter, the Dolphins then gave it back up before a Jason Sanders field goal attempt with under two minutes remaining missed off the upright. The Dolphins lost the exhibition to the Raiders, 15-13.

Tagovailoa completed all three of his passes on his second drive for 29 yards, including a 16-yard chunk gain on first down to wide receiver Trent Sherfield and a third-down conversion to running back Chase Edmonds where Tagovailoa was patient reading through his progression before the pass to the flat.

“He distributed the ball well,” McDaniel said. “There was a couple of times where he got to three in his progression, and he adjusted with the defense.”

The Dolphins were going for a fourth-and-1 during Tagovailoa’s second series, but a false start from left tackle Larnel Coleman forced them to settle for a 46-yard field goal from Sanders.

Tagovailoa extended the opening drive with a third-and-4 completion to Edmonds for 17 yards after buying time and rolling left. That drive stalled when Tagovailoa hit tight end Mike Gesicki in the numbers between two defenders on third down, but Gesicki did not get his head turned around to see the ball coming.

“We were all a little rusty, but it’s nothing that a little film can’t fix,” Tagovailoa said. “I felt there were some things that we needed to clean up on — pre-snap operations and just everyone playing together, knowing our assignments and knowing what to do.”

Gesicki was targeted four times on the two drives and made two receptions for 11 yards. Curiously playing the entire first half, Gesicki finished with three receptions on six targets for 27 yards.

“I need it. I need all the reps I can get,” Gesicki said of the extensive playing time in the exhibition. “I played receiver the last three or four years. I’m playing tight end now, and any reps I can get live out there… I can use it.”

The opening series defensively showed how vital cornerbacks Xavien Howard and Byron Jones are to the unit. With Jones still on the physically-unable-to-perform list and Howard getting the night off, the Dolphins defense allowed mostly Raiders backups to drive 75 yards in 12 plays.

The Raiders were down to third-and-18 around midfield after a sack from defensive lineman Zach Sieler, but consecutive passes of 14 and 15 yards to tight end Jesper Horsted kept the drive going before running back Zamir White eventually scored a 2-yard touchdown run.

“I think the defense, as a whole, did good,” Sieler said. “We have some things to clean up and learn from [Sunday]but we did good.”

Miami’s cornerback depth may have taken another few hits Saturday. Nik Needham, who is the team’s top nickel cornerback, went to the locker room after trainers attended to his left hand, which he injured tackling White. He returned to the sideline but did not go back into the game. Fellow cornerbacks Keion Crossen and Mackensie Alexander, who joined the team on Monday, were also looked at by trainers on the field after injuries.

Miami Dolphins - The Fins Flash

Miami Dolphins – The Fins Flash

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Backup quarterback Teddy Bridgewater’s first pass attempt with the Dolphins resulted in a safety due to an intentional grounding penalty in the end zone. Gesicki missed the initial block that flushed Bridgewater out of the pocket.

Sanders was good on a 57-yard field goal attempt with 3:06 remaining in the first half. He started 6 for 6 on field goals this preseason before the miss at the end.

Bridgewater went 10 of 20 for 119 yards. He hit undrafted rookie wide receiver Braylon Sanders on a smooth floating 28-yard pass down the sideline for the Dolphins’ longest play of the half. Myles Gaskin, though, had a catch and fumble for a turnover before halftime to end that scoring threat. Officials initially blew the play dead as an incomplete pass on the field, which saved Miami from what probably would’ve been a long Raiders defensive touchdown.

In the third, Bridgewater found rookie fourth-round draft pick Erik Ezukanma for a pickup of 26, but he also later missed him on the drive. Bridgewater nearly had Sanders for a touchdown, but the Ole Miss target couldn’t come down with it on third-and-7 from the 20-yard line. The Dolphins kept the offense on the field on fourth down, and Bridgewater took a sack.

Down 12-6 in the fourth quarter, rookie quarterback Skylar Thompson, who saw all the action last week against the Buccaneers, lofted up a good-looking pass to running back ZaQuandre White, who juked out a defender before strolling into the end zone for the 19-yard touchdown.

Ezukanma hauled in a 34-yard pass from Thompson on that drive and then caught back-to-back downfield throws from the former Kansas State signal-caller. Thompson was 9 of 10 for 129 yards and the touchdown, and Ezukanma had six catches for 114 yards.

In addition to the Sieler sack, edge defender Porter Gustin, who is fighting for a roster spot and having a solid training camp, recorded a first-half sack. Defensive end Ben Stille had a sack in the second half, and defensive end Owen Carney had a third-down sack late that led to a Raiders field goal.

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