Tua Tagovailoa Pulls Off Rare Feat Against the Patriots and Bill Belichick

Miami Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa went boldly Sunday into a place few rookie quarterbacks have ever gone: into the win column versus New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick.

Tagovailoa led the Dolphins to a crucial 22-12 win over the Patriots on Sunday at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens. Though Tagovailoa's stat line wasn't sparkling, it was stellar enough to become the first rookie quarterback to beat a Belichick-led team since 2013.

More importantly, the Dolphins improved to 9-5 on the season and retain their hold for the AFC's final playoff spot—ahead of the Baltimore Ravens, who are also 9-5 but lose the tiebreaker to Miami. The Dolphins will definitely make the playoffs if they win each of their next two games against Las Vegas Raiders and Buffalo Bills, both on the road.

Furthermore, the Patriots are eliminated from playoff contention for the first time since the 2008 season.

Tua Tagovailoa and Miami Dolphins
Tua Tagovailoa #1 of the Miami Dolphins looks to hand the ball off against the New England Patriots during the third quarter in the game at Hard Rock Stadium on December 20, 2020 in Miami Gardens, Florida. Photo by Mark Brown/Getty Images

New England (6-8) got a pair of Nick Folk field goals to give them a 6-0 lead in the first quarter. Miami's Salvon Ahmed scored on a 1-yard run with 10:32 to go in the second quarter to give the Dolphins a 7-6 lead, but a 45-yard field goal by Folk gave the Patriots back the lead, 9-7, which they took into halftime.

Tagovailoa scored two rushing touchdowns in the second half to help the Dolphins take control of the game. His first came from 3 yards away in the third quarter, and his second was a 1-yard run in the fourth quarter. Tagovailoa also completed a short pass for a two-point conversion.

Tagovailoa completed 20-of-26 passes for 145 yards and no touchdowns. He threw one interception.

The last rookie quarterback to beat a Belichick team was Geno Smith in October 2013, when he led the New York Jets to a 30-27 win over the Patriots in overtime. Since that game, there have been nine rookie quarterbacks to lose to the Patriots. They include:

Derek Carr (Las Vegas Raiders — Oakland Raiders at the time)
Marcus Mariota (Tennessee Titans)
Cody Kessler (Cleveland Browns)
Jared Goff (Los Angeles Rams)
Deshaun Watson (Houston Texans)
Josh Allen (Buffalo Bills)
Sam Darnold (New York Jets)
Daniel Jones (New York Giants)
Justin Herbert (Los Angeles Chargers)

Tagovailoa, a first round pick by the Dolphins this spring, and fifth overall, had a solid career at Alabama before a season-ending hip injury during the 2019 season. Tagovailoa began the season behind Ryan Fitzpatrick before taking the starting spot midway through the season.

Prior to the game, Belichick acknowledged Tua as a player to not take lightly,

"He gets rid of the ball very quickly, doesn't hold it much, sees coverage well, has taken good care of the ball, hasn't thrown the ball to the defense," Belichick said. "He understands the pressure, the timing of routes, gets the ball out quickly, and has enough quickness in the pocket to make it difficult for the pass rush to get to him. He can run a little bit, but I would say he's more of a quicker guy in the pocket that's elusive and really wants to throw more than he wants to run."