South Florida sports fans awakened on Sunday with a Hurricanes hangover — that pain you feel when your college football team just finished its worst season in 15 years as a colossal disappointment in Year 1 of new coach Mario Cristobal.
The feelgood came fast, though, and it came in a double dose:
A morning report that Lionel Messi will be be signing with Inter Miami, the news breaking like a pinata full of magic.
Followed by a fifth win in a row for the Miami Dolphins, who last were 8-3 this deep into an NFL season in 2001.
Messi coming to town next summer as the highest-paid player in MLS history was made to seem all but certain in a report by The Sunday Times of London. Sources told the Miami Herald talks were in an ”advanced stage.”
Hours later at Hard Rock Stadium the Dolphins finished a 30-15 clobbering of the Houston Texans, a rout fashioned by dominating defense and 299 yards passing by Tua Tagovailoa, his season of redemption continuing and in full bloom.
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Tagovailoa played less than three full quarters before being given the rest of the day off Sunday. He is now 14-2 in his past 16 starts, including a perfect 9-0 run at home. He also extended to 174 his streak of passes without an interception, breaking the franchise record of 160 set by Ryan Tannehill in 2014-15.
Coach Mike McDaniel during the offseason attacked what he perceived as Tagovailoa’s lack of confidence soon after taking the job. He showed Tua a 700-play highlight film of the quarterback’s greatest plays.
“It was awesome. Really cool,” Tagovailoa said afterward of that reel of support from his coach. Tagovailoa wore a blue Hawaiian shirt over grass-stained football pants, an interesting sartorial stetement. “Anyone can attest to someone believing in them.”
McDaniel referred to his QB being “behind the 8-ball” his first two seasons in Miami, “with all the things going on. A lot of loud noise.” The club’s Deshaun Watson pursuit and Tom Brady speculation, he meant.
“This player may not have the confidence he should,” McDaniel surmised.
Finally there reached a point where Tagovailoa told McDaniel, “OK, coach, I believe you.”
A Pro Bowl-caliber season continued Sunday for the third-year passer. “M-V-P!” chants again blossomed in the full crowd.
Miami’s Tua-led fourth game in a row with at least 30 points is the team’s longest such scoring streak since 2009.
But there is a pinch-me aspect to both the Messi report and the Dolphins’ magical season.
We have been hearing Messi-to-Miami rumors and speculation for a few years now so there is a bit of a believe-it-when-we-see-it hesitation, right? It will seem too good to be true ... until it’s true.
With the Dolphins, who have feasted on a softish stretch of schedule, we wonder how good they are really are. We think they are quite good, playoff-good. But are they good enough to barge into the Super Bowl conversation?
The finding out starts now.
The schedule stiffens the rest of the way starting next week at San Francisco. Four of the last six regular-season games are on the road, and only one is against a team that was below .500 entering Sunday. And that team is Aaron Rodgers’ Green Bay Packers.
“There is nothing better in professional football than meaningful December and January games,” McDaniel said afterward. “To be on a competitive playoff run.”
The closing stretch ahead may be why McDaniel, asked about being in first place right now in the AFC East, said that was “neither here nor there.” Because no trophy is given in late November.
Miami will need to raise its game and prove itself starting this coming week. Sunday was no real test against a Texans team now an NFL-worst 1-9-1.
Disconcertingly, the Dolphins sailed to a 30-0 lead by halftime then seemed to coast.
“I wish we could have timed the first half by two,” said McDaniel.
Miami scored on Tagovailao’s 4-yard scoring toss to Durham Smythe, on Jeff Wilson’s 3-yard run, on Xavien Howard’s 16-yard fumble return and on a trio of field goals. Andrew Van Ginkel’s interception and return set up Wilson’s score.
That means the Fins’ offense managed only one touchdown drive on its own against a very bad Houston team.
That won’t suffice during the next seven weeks and beyond.
The Dolphins have teased us the past three months with flashes of dominance and lightning strikes of excitement.
Now we are going to find out how good this team really is.
What we do know is that Tua Tagovailoa moves forward full of the confidence his coach thought he deserved to have all along.