The early consensus on the rookie quarterbacks selected in the first round of the 2020 NFL Draft is fairly straightforward. Joe Burrow proved he was well worthy of the top overall selection before tearing his ACL in Week 11. Justin Herbert unexpectedly took over for Tyrod Taylor right before kickoff of Week 2 and shined far brighter than anyone expected as a first-year signal-caller, capable of making some absurd throws and putting up huge numbers on a semi-regular basis. Tua Tagovailoa, the last of the group to earn his starting job, has shown flashes of quality play but has yet to impress like his aforementioned counterparts.
Tagovailoa and Herbert faced off against one another a month ago. Tagoaviloa's Dolphins came away with a 29-21 victory. Tagovailoa played well enough to win, but not well enough to raise any eyebrows; his final statline consisted of 15 completions on 25 attempts for 169 yards with two touchdowns and no picks. Across from him, Herbert had one of his worst games of the year, completing 20-of-32 passes for 187 yards with two touchdowns and an interception. The game showed both rookie QBs were talented but have a long way to go-- which wasn't a surprise to learn.
Tagovailoa, though, has a chance to do what Herbert could not and therefore separate himself from the man who went one pick after he did: beat Bill Belichick. Or at least play well enough against Bill Belichick to give his team a chance to win.
The Dolphins play the Patriots in an important divisional matchup this Sunday, a potential wild card berth on the line. Belichick's delight in torturing rookie quarterbacks is well-documented and he's 21-5 as head coach of the Patriots against such signal-callers.
Herbert learned that first-hand two weeks ago. He couldn't do a single thing right against New England from the opening kickoff to when the clock hit quadruple zeroes in the fourth quarter. Herbert's team lost by the score of 45-0, which seems impossible. Herbert threw for all of 206 yards and zero touchdowns to go along with two interceptions despite throwing the ball 53 times, completing merely 26 of those attempts. It was one of "those days" for the Chargers where literally everything went wrong, but Herbert was flustered in easily his worst game of the year.
Now it'll be Tagovailoa's turn to try and solve the Belichick defense puzzle that easily stifled Herbert. Based on this season, it seems he's in store for a tougher day than Herbert. The Chargers QB had six 300-yard games and seven multi-touchdown efforts under his belt heading into his matchup with the Patriots in Week 13. Tagovailoa is coming off his first 300-yard effort of the season and only has three games with more than one touchdown pass.
But the most important stat in the NFL is wins, as the cliche goes, and Tagovailoa has the clear advantage over Herbert there even if his stats pale in comparison. Tagovailoa has won five of his seven starts this year. Herbert has mustered all of three wins for his squad despite starting five more games. That obviously isn't all Herbert's fault, just as Tagovailoa can't take sole credit for all his team's wins this year. But Tagovailoa has done a better job of putting his team in a position to win.
He will have a very difficult time doing that this Sunday. But it's his chance to make a statement. Tagovailoa went No. 5 overall while Herbert went No. 6, but Herbert has been seen as the better prospect all season because of the throws he's made and the numbers he's put up. None of that matters if you don't win football games. Tagovailoa leading the Dolphins to a win over the boogyman Patriots would be the biggest win of his young career. It's his time. Now we see if he can deliver.