Tua Tagovailoa, Jaylen Waddle and the Shiny Miami Dolphins vs. the Panthers

Tua Tagovailoa delivered a quick strike to Jaylen Waddle and the rookie catcher was off to the races.

Exactly as designed.

It was Waddle for 57 yards and he set up a touchdown and it was just a telltale play of a telltale loss of the Dolphins to the Panthers on Sunday.

The Hard Rock Stadium was vibrating.

And Tua was making an incredibly high passing percentage.

As designed.

And Waddle was gaining yards after catching – and, zoom in! – he looks so fast right now.

Four in a row: Instant takeaways from the 33-10 eruption of the Dolphins Panthers

Game summary: Miami Dolphins won fourth straight game on Sunday

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Miami beat the Panthers, 33-10, and they won four straight games.

“We look like the team we kind of wanted to be at the start of this year,” Tagovailoa said at the end.

After a 1-7 start it’s 5-7 and the Giants and Jets are suddenly waiting for a 7-7 mark and the playoff odds talks aren’t that crazy after all.

When the Dolphins drafted Waddle, they thought he would have the kind of game he played on Sunday, a big game-breaker for his former college teammate, Tua.

And as Tua has gotten healthier (from hip to ribs to finger), it looks like Waddle has been waddling around as well. He’s just looking faster over the past few weeks as his yards per take increase.

Tua attempted 31 passes. He finished 27.

He was a dart thrower. And he was approaching perfection.

In his last two starts, Tua completed 54 of 64 assists. It’s 84 percent.

Waddle put in a magnificent performance with 137 receiving yards. That day, Waddle lived up to his sixth overall pick status in an NFL Draft.

“Jaylen was in the right place at the right time,” Tua said. “There are times when it’s covered and it’s always open.”

No, it’s not perfect.

Miami’s offensive line still has its fragile moments. But Tua often overcame this on Sunday, moving around and out of the pocket, sometimes by design, and sometimes, by improvisation.

Tua defeated the NFL’s No.1 ranked pass defense.

When general manager Chris Grier and Flores put together this 2021 Dolphins roster, they envisioned a lot of what we saw unfold.

The Dolphins’ defense embarrassed accomplished Carolina signalman Cam Newton. Second-round rookie Jevon Holland intercepted him. Then, on the next series, Howard, with his contract changed and everything, intercepted it again.

Dolphins rookie first-round pass thrower Jaelan Phillips was a terror. He fired Newton. Then he added two more bags. He was relentless.

Miami’s defense looked like it was in 2020, only better.

So many reasons to be optimistic. So many reasons to hope. And after all it looked so lost in an almost inexplicable 1-7 start.

“Credit to the players,” said Flores, adding that, yes, his coaching staff have done a good job of putting their players in a better position to be successful.

George Godsey has become the undisputed leading offensive player. And while it’s not perfect, he’s done a good job in recent weeks.

The Dolphins have found ways to slightly improve the racing game.

The Dolphins have found ways to give Waddle a chance to play bigger.

And they won those four games without DeVante Parker or Will Fuller, by the way.

Tagovailoa has achieved a pass rating over 100 in four of his last five appearances, which is progress, which is exactly what Miami needs to see.

He showed tenacity, playing through painful wounds. And he’s won games, which matters most.

Under Flores, the Dolphins have improved after slow starts every season. It would help if Miami got off to a quicker start, but the mark of a well-trained team is one that improves instead of regressing.

In 2019, it was a 0-7 start, but a 5-4 finish.

In 2020, it was a 1-3 start, but a 9-3 finish.

And in 2021, a 1-7 start but now a 4-0 streak.

How will it end? Could Miami seriously be the first team to advance to the NFL playoffs after a 1-7 start?

It is not yet easy to make this call. But it’s clear the Miami players haven’t given up on Flores and left the season.

For that reason, it seems quite likely now that owner Stephen Ross won’t give up on Flores and probably not Grier either, anytime soon.

After all, a lot of Grier’s decisions are starting to look better.

But let’s see how it goes. Sure, it’s a lot more fun, isn’t it?

A four-game winning streak for Tua and the Dolphins.

And, to be clear, it’s not about smoke and mirrors. Sunday was a domineering performance returned by Miami, as a slight underdog at home.

There was a fierce defense. There were timely offensive plays, including several key third-down conversions from Tua, which improved Miami’s third-down offense.

There was a blocked punt recovered for a touchdown. It was total teamwork.

It was, on a glorious late November day in South Florida, exactly how dolphins designed things to go.

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