Tua Tagovailoa throws for 6 touchdowns in comeback win over Ravens

Miami Dolphins wide receiver Jaylen Waddle (17) celebrates with teammates Robert Hunt (68) Mike Gesicki (88) Chase Edmonds (2) and Connor Williams (58) after scoring the go ahead touchdown during the fourth quarter of an NFL football game against the Baltimore Ravens at M&T Bank Stadium on Sunday, September 18, 2022 in Baltimore, MD.

Miami Dolphins wide receiver Jaylen Waddle (17) celebrates with teammates Robert Hunt (68) Mike Gesicki (88) Chase Edmonds (2) and Connor Williams (58) after scoring the go ahead touchdown during the fourth quarter of an NFL football game against the Baltimore Ravens at M&T Bank Stadium on Sunday, September 18, 2022 in Baltimore, MD.

dsantiago@miamiherald.com

Mike McDaniel addressed his team on Saturday night, aware that the NFL’s week-to-week nature likely wouldn’t allow the Dolphins to cruise to another win like their season-opening victory over the New England Patriots at home.

He honed in on what has been a buzzword early in his tenure as Dolphins head coach — adversity — and pushing through the tough moments that lie ahead.

But as McDaniel stood on a podium and reflected on what had occurred at M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore, he joked that his players “took me way too literal.”[ly],” as he could not have envisioned what took place.

In one of the most improbable comebacks in recent NFL history, the Dolphins rallied from a 21-point deficit in the fourth quarter to defeat the Ravens, 42-38, on Sunday.

Quarterback Tua Tagovailoa, who passed for a career-high 469 yards and six touchdowns, threw the game-winning, 7-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Jaylen Waddle with 19 seconds remaining.

With the victory, the Dolphins are 2-0 for the first time since 2018 and move on to their next AFC test, a home game against the Buffalo Bills.

Ten months after a 2-7 Dolphins team stunned the Ravens in Miami Gardens on “Thursday Night Football” in a sloppy 22-10 win, they provided similar dramatics in a down-to-the-wire, high-scoring affair.

Trailing 35-14 at the beginning of the fourth quarter, the Dolphins outscored the Ravens, 28-3. According to ESPN Stats & Info, it’s the first time in 12 years a team has won a game after trailing by at least 21 points in the fourth quarter. Previously, teams had a 0-711 record.

At the center of the Dolphins’ second-half turnaround was Tagovailoa, the third-year player who shone in the biggest moment of his young career. In the fourth quarter, Tagovailoa completed 13 of 17 passes for 199 yards and four touchdowns.

“I would say I’m always confident in what I can do, confident in myself,” Tagovailoa said. “But I think that just shows the resilience of our team. It brings all our confidence up, confidence in one another, confidence that if the offense has a turnover that the defense is going to get us the ball back and vice versa.”

For much of the afternoon, the Dolphins and Ravens looked like teams that had switched places from their Week 10 meeting last November.

Miami faced an early 7-0 deficit after wide receiver Devin Duvernay returned the opening kickoff for a 103-yard touchdown.

A Dolphins defense that confused quarterback Lamar Jackson into one of the worst games of his career in 2021 had no early answers for the 2019 league MVP. Jackson countered Miami’s blitz packages in the first half with several quick-hitting passes, including a 75-yard catch-and-run score by wide receiver Rashod Bateman that put the Dolphins behind 14-7. Jackson accounted for 437 total yards and four scores, including a career-high 79-yard touchdown run.

The Dolphins offense was able to move the ball but was defeated by a pair of Tagovailoa interceptions in the first half. The second pick set up Jackson’s third touchdown pass and placed the Dolphins in a 28-7 halftime deficit.

However, McDaniel had a clear message to his players at halftime.

“I just challenge[d] them to say, ‘Who cares what the score is?’” McDaniel said. “It’s about how we play football together. This is an opportunity. It’s a tough one, but it doesn’t even matter. Let’s go and get something out of this game to feel good about in the second half, and we will worry about the score sometime in the fourth quarter. Let’s just string some stuff together on both sides of the ball.”

Tagovailoa led the Dolphins to a touchdown on their opening possession of the second half — a 12-play, 75-yard drive capped by a 14-yard pass to tight end Mike Gesicki (four catches, 41 yards) — and it wasn’t long before they played the “perfect complementary football” McDaniel said was needed to pull off such a comeback.

The Dolphins gave up touchdowns on three of the Ravens’ four offensive possessions in the first half but kept Baltimore out of the end zone in its final four drives, including a key fourth-down stop down 35-21 with 9:11 remaining.

When the Dolphins needed clutch plays late on offense, Tagovailoa leaned on the team’s two stars, Waddle and Tyreek Hill. 84 seconds after the defense stuffed Jackson short on the fourth-down run, Tagovailoa found Hill for a 48-yard touchdown, his first as a Dolphin.

A quick three-and-out gave the Dolphins the ball back and 87 seconds later, Hill was back in the end zone after beating rookie cornerback Jalyn Armour-Davis deep for a 60-yard touchdown catch, tying the game at 35 with 5: 19 remaining.

Waddle (11 catches, career-high 171 yards, two touchdowns) and Hill (11 catches, 190 yards, two touchdowns) were on the receiving end of 14 of Tagovailoa’s 24 second-half completions.

“It was just like he was out there playing Madden,” Hill said of McDaniel’s play-calling. “Just lining us up quickly and was like just, ‘Tua, get it to the guys that you know can create space.’ That’s what we were able to do, stretch the ball down the field. Get Chase [Edmonds] involved, get Raheem [Mostert] involved. You know, everybody was involved today.”

A 51-yard field goal by kicker Justin Tucker gave the Ravens a three-point lead with 2:23 left but a Dolphins offense that had no problem reaching the end zone quickly was back in scoring position. They traveled 68 yards in six plays and two minutes.

Hill and Waddle praised the calm of Tagovailoa and the way he commanded the huddle, down to his final words before the deciding play: “It’s either us or them.”

“Mike told us this in our team meeting, that this is going to be a great opportunity for us,” Tagovailoa said. “That if we do ever get down against these guys, we know that you’re not looking to put your head down. We’re always going to be in the game and just play one play at a time. And Mike is always going to say this, this is kind of like the mindset for our team, is that adversity is opportunity. And that’s how we played.”

This story was originally published September 18, 2022 4:29 PM.

Daniel Oyefusi covers the Dolphins for the Miami Herald. A native of Towson, Maryland, he graduated from the University of Maryland: College Park. Previously, he covered the Ravens for The Baltimore Sun.

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