The Final Word: Dolphins have their QB in Tua Tagovailoa, Saints make a statement and Steelers survive a scare

I know I’m beginning to sound like a broken record here, but these NFL Sundays have been great in 2020 – and Week Nine was no different.

There were close games, frantic finishes, and a few surprises along the way…

Five Major Takeaways from Week Nine

1) The Dolphins have their man

You need a franchise quarterback to truly thrive in today’s NFL. It’s not possible to get by solely with a passer – the Houston Texans are a testament to that – but you must find your long-term answer at the most vital position in the game.

The Miami Dolphins have been searching for their answer since the great Dan Marino retired in 1999. Among those who have tried and failed to fill his shoes are some less-than-inspiring names in Cleo Lemon, Gus Frerotte, Joey Harrington, John Beck, Ray Lucas and Jay Cutler.

I know it was only one game – Sunday’s thrilling 34-31 win over the Arizona Cardinals – but I think the Dolphins have their guy in first-round rookie Tua Tagovailoa. Learn to say his name, people, because this kid is going to be a star.

He throws with power and accuracy, he can move, and his energy just lit up his entire team in a close game. Miami have won four in a row and are ready for a Tua-led playoff charge.

2) Magical Kyler Murray

As good as Tua was, you could argue he was out-played by Arizona’s second-year quarterback, Kyler Murray. He was absolutely sensational to watch and very close to being undefendable. Murray tormented the Dolphins in the air and on the ground.

He is so electrifyingly quick and his change of pace so stunning, he looks like a diminutive character in a video game – I feel like he should be collecting gold coins as he runs around the field. Murray evaded Miami’s pressure time and again on Sunday as he rushed for 106 yards and a touchdown, while also throwing for three scores.

Due to them being in different conferences, Tua and Murray will sadly only play against each other every four years – unless they meet in a future Super Bowl, which I think is entirely possible given how truly special these two can become in the next five years.

3) Allen out-duels Wilson

Our first live game on Sunday saw the Buffalo Bills host a Seattle Seahawks team led by Russell Wilson, who had thrown a league-leading 26 touchdown passes heading into Week Nine. On the other side, Bills quarterback Josh Allen had fallen into a slump with just four TDs thrown in four games.

But Allen exploded out of the gate on Sunday and never looked back as Buffalo recorded a surprising but well-deserved 44-34 victory. The dynamic and big-bodied quarterback threw for 415 yards and three touchdowns, while Wilson, who had some positive moments, threw two interceptions, and lost two fumbles.

I love the way Allen plays the game and, in Stefon Diggs, he has one of the best route-running receivers in the game. The Bills broke out of their offensive slump in a big way and I expect that form to continue this week at Arizona.

4) Saints make a statement

Heading into Week Nine, the New Orleans Saints had been far from perfect. But they were winning. They exited Week Nine with that winning streak stretched to five games and perfection not being too far off as they hammered the division-leading Tampa Bay Buccaneers 38-3.

The Saints started so fast that they were over the hill and out of sight before Tampa Bay picked up their initial first down of the game. Within 20 minutes, Saints quarterback Drew Brees had completed passes to 11 different receivers. He ended the night with four touchdown passes and a rating of 135.2.

By contrast, Tom Brady suffered the worst defeat of his glorious NFL career. He was intercepted three times by a resurgent New Orleans defence and was also sacked three times. This was a dark night for Tampa but one in which the Saints reminded us that, when healthy, they are one of the NFC’s very best.

5) Steelers survive a scare

There are no easy games in the NFL. Players tell me that all the time. I normally nod along politely but I rarely believe them. Surely the Pittsburgh Steelers were going to enjoy an easy game on Sunday against the Dallas Cowboys?

The Cowboys were on their fourth passer of the season in Garrett Gilbert and he was playing behind a makeshift offensive line, against the most aggressive and successful quarterback-hunting defence in the league.

Of course, it’s never that simple and maybe there really are no easy games in the NFL. Dallas played tough from start to finish and Pittsburgh needed a touchdown pass from Ben Roethlisberger to Eric Ebron with just over two minutes remaining to record a 24-19 win.

Pittsburgh also survived a more significant scare when Big Ben injured both knees while being hit in the pocket. There were serious concerns but Monday brought positive news that he is sore but should be fine.

Player of the Week: Josh Allen

I’ve mentioned the numbers put forward by Allen on Sunday but here is why it was so special. Allen was playing with a heavy heart as his grandmother, Patricia, died unexpectedly on Saturday night at the age of 80.

Allen was brilliant, but Buffalo’s fans might have been even better after the game. Bills Mafia rallied and by Monday, the fans had donated more than $100,000 to the Oishei Children’s Hospital in Buffalo in their quarterback’s name.

There are times when you wonder where all the good news is in the world. Here is one to warm our hearts on a cold November day.

Play of the Week

The Cowboys and, in particular, special teams coach John Fassel went deep into their bag of tricks to keep things close against the Steelers.

Pittsburgh punted the ball away to Dallas and C.J. Goodwin sprinted back to begin blocking for his return man and, halfway through running back to his own endzone, Goodwin sneakily grabbed at his hamstring and jogged the rest of the way. Cedrick Wilson fielded the punt on the right side of the field, threw the ball all the way back to the ‘ailing’ Goodwin, who promptly made a sensational recovery to sprint 73 yards into Pittsburgh territory.

Gamesmanship or genius? Either way, it led to three vital points for Dallas in a very close game and is the kind of play we can expect to see from teams with nothing to lose in the second half of the season.

Coach of the Week: Mike Tomlin

This is something of a longevity award this week, as the Steelers avoided a losing season for the 17th year in a row by moving to 8-0 in 2020 with victory over the Cowboys.

Mike Tomlin has not been there for all 17 years but he does become only the second coach in NFL history to open his career with 14-straight non-losing seasons, joining Marty Schottenheimer. That is tremendous consistency given the up-and-down nature of the NFL.

On my Radar

The Kansas City Chiefs were given a real scare by the Carolina Panthers before emerging with a 33-31 win. Patrick Mahomes was at his sensational best for the Chiefs as he threw for 372 yards and four touchdowns.

Mahomes has now thrown 25 touchdown passes and just one interception this season. But here is my only concern… where is the Kansas City running game?

A win is a win but balance is going to be important as Old Man Winter truly wakes up across America. The Chiefs ran the ball just 12 times for 30 yards on Sunday.

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