Two soccer games 43 days apart in 2019 saw Tua Tagovailoa become the Miami Dolphins quarterback with Joe Burrow joining the Cincinnati Bengals.

One was a clash between the top two college teams this season, and the other a laugh between the two worst NFL teams: the 2019 LSU-Alabama epic duel on November 9, 2019, followed by the Dolphins-Bengals “Tank Bowl” on December 22 this year.

Three years later it’s a full circle moment. Tagovailoa and Burrow are set to face for the first time since they dueled for the way through SEC West and into a national title game – if Tagovailoa is able to play through a back injury – when the dolphins face the Bengals at 8:15 pm prime-time on Thursday evening at the Paycor Stadium in Cincinnati.

The trajectory of both dolphins and bengals now looks much more promising than when they met on the penultimate Sunday of the 2019 season. Cincinnati is unexpectedly leaving for the Super Bowl last season and it is certain that she has her quarterback at Burrow.

Miami is one of only two teams to start 3-0 and have beaten some heavy fighters to take this record. Tagovailoa begins to answer questions as to whether it could be a long-term solution for dolphins. For three weeks, he is second in the NFL in passing yards (925), third in passing touchdowns (eight), and fourth among passes that qualify for percent complete.

In this match at the end of December 2019, the playmakers were Ryan Fitzpatrick and Andy Dalton. Teams have long been eliminated from competition in the playoffs and all that remains is to establish their position in the NFL draft. Bengals had 1-13 and dolphins 3-11. Miami’s defeat to Cincinnati could see the Dolphins be able to overtake Bengals with another defeat next week, coupled with a Cincinnati win to close the season.

It seemed that such a possibility was out of the question when the Delfiny, in the first of Brian Flores’s three seasons as coach, took the lead 35-12 at the start of the fourth quarter. Dalton then threw three touchdowns in the 6:11 final with two points followed by a two-point conversion, the last time passed by the rules. In extra time, however, a goal from Jason Sanders sealed that for Miami.

The Bengals made the best choice. The Dolphins, winning again in New England to close the regular season, finished fifth, but were nevertheless second in the team to pick the quarterback in the 2020 draft.

Who these playmakers will be was largely shaped by that November afternoon in Tuscaloosa. LSU Number 2 and Alabama Number 3 were 8-0. The winner had an internal path to play for the SEC title, College Football Playoff, and then the national championship.

For much of 2019, it was almost a doomed Tagovailoa to be the best quarterback in the next draft, but Burrow’s jump this year catapulted him to the top. Burrow, on his way to victory on Route 46-41 and ultimately to the Heisman trophy, defeated Tagovailoa. He was 31 out of 39 for 393 yards and three touchdowns. Tagovailoa, playing from behind early, had 21 of 40 to 418 yards and four touchdowns.

The following week, Tagovailoa suffered a hip injury that cut short his college career, but was nevertheless a second quarterback when the Dolphins picked him over from Oregon’s Justin Herbert, who landed at the Los Angeles Chargers with number 6.

Many believe that a hip injury continued to impact Tagovailoa’s casting ability still last season. In the same campaign in 2021, Burrow returned as a rookie after his devastating knee injury. He led the Bengals to the AFC North crown and won the playoffs against the Las Vegas Raiders, Tennessee Titans and the Kansas City Chiefs powerhouse to reach the Super Bowl by losing to the Los Angeles Rams.

“He got away from injury and led his team to the Super Bowl,” said Tagovailoa. “My point is, that should tell you a lot about his character, it should tell you a lot about his leadership and the belief that the organization has with him.”

Maybe Tagovailoa could be on a similar path this season with the Dolphin unbeaten start.

What impresses Miami coach Mike McDaniel, apart from Burrow’s style he first noticed, is that Burrow lived up to the expectations of being the top pick.

“It’s a burden for some,” said McDaniel, who last season’s San Francisco 49ers offensive coordinator was one victory since Burrow in the Super Bowl. “It was a blessing for him and I really respect the guys who go out take all that hype and give him justice or outweigh him.”

McDaniel spoke highly of Burrow’s vision, awareness, mobility, touch, and accuracy in his throws, and his ability to improve his teammates. Defensive coordinator Josh Boyer sees a fierce competitor with strong att*ck control.

“When there are readings, he takes throws,” said Boyer. “When there are no readings, he can make things happen, improvise and throw. If you open the running belts, he can use them.

Before Burrow achieved real college success at LSU, he was in Ohio where he was teammate with Dolphins defender Jerome Baker. Even when Burrow was on this level, Baker saw the potential.

“Just his whole personality, the way he goes about his business, it’s hard not to notice,” said Baker. “He will do anything to win. He plays with audacity. When you just play with it, you may just feel like we’re good. He will lead us there.

Dolphins on Thursday will have to keep up with Burrow, receiver star Ja’Marr Chase and the rest of the Bengal playmakers with a secondary who still does not have a Byron Jones corner (PUP list) and has defenders Xavien Howard and Kader Kohou and the safety of Brandon Jones dealing with injuries.

The Miami Defense, traveling for a short week after playing 92 snaps against the massive Bill att*ck on Sunday, will be try to get a constant rush of applications on the Nora against an offensive line that is vulnerable to pressure.

McDaniel found Tagovailoa questionable on Tuesday for the game on Thursday night. Tagovailoa replied, “That’s the plan” when asked if he expected to play with back and ankle injuries. He was also judged in Sunday’s victory over Buffalo for concussion. If Tagovailoa is unable to play, Teddy Bridgewater will lead the att*ck.

The last time the Dolphins and Bengals met in 2020, in the rookie seasons of Tagovailoa and Burrow, Burrow got injured and missed playing.


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