The conversation no Miami Dolphins fan wants to have was the one everyone walked away from muttering Saturday night:
So, that’s what one looks like.
That’s what one does.
The defining of a franchise quarterback might involve window dressing like completion percentage, third-down conversions, arm strength, deep accuracy or some other handy metric that’s within reach to talk it into existence.
But it’s a harsh bottom-line question: Can the quarterback pick up a team and carry it across the finish line repeatedly on the strength of his arm, legs, or moxie — whatever the game calls for — like Buffalo’s Josh Allen did against the Dolphins on Saturday night?
For 17 years, New England’s Tom Brady held the AFC East hostage. Now Allen is. You didn’t need to recite his 304 yards and 77 yards rushing against the Dolphins. You didn’t need to dissect his four touchdowns or calculate his fourth-quarter rating was 116.4.
You just had to watch those final two drives with the night up for grabs. Allen grabbed the control in a way that didn’t involve the offensive system or supporting cast.
There’s a short list of quarterbacks who can lift a team like this. Allen can do it. Kansas City’s Patrick Mahomes and Cincinnati’s Joe Burrow can, too. It’s the difference between them and, for now, quarterbacks like Jared Goff, Jalen Hurts and, yes, Tua Tagovailoa.
That’s no slap at the Dolphins quarterback in the way some will take it. They have put the cart before the horse since he was drafted, as if they can talk him into a high place. That’s not fair to him or the process of letting his career grow.
Tagovailoa has made significant strides this season. He had a fine game on Saturday, too, in throwing for two touchdowns that gave the Dolphins the third-quarter lead and directing an offense that put up 29 points.
Allen won the game, though. Him. Alone. Or as alone as any player can in a team game.
“That’s what Josh does,” Buffalo coach Sean McDermott said.
Down 29-21, his offense had punted four times and he’d fumbled once in the second half when Buffalo got the ball at its 25-yard line. Allen ran for 44 yards on one play and threw a 5-yard touchdown before (barely) running for the two-point conversion to tie the game.
“I was just doing what I thought we needed to win,” he said.
A Dolphins mini-drive then stalled at the Buffalo 43-yard line. That was the dagger they didn’t wield. After a punt, Allen took over at his 7-yard line. Six minutes left. Eighty-three yards away from the end zone.
As Allen threw for 14 yards on the first play, then 15 more a play later, it had the feel of game-winning-drive stamped on it. Expecting a quarterback to make this drive is part of the franchise tag, too.
Allen navigated a clock-crunching, 15-play drive that intentionally stopped on the doorstep of the end zone for the winning field goal with no time left.
“We made the plays when we had to,” Allen said.
How many quarterbacks do you expect to do that? Allen, Mahomes and Burrow right now. The Chargers’ Justin Herbert has five game-winning drives this year and 12 over three years, so he’s moving to that place. Jacksonville’s Trevor Lawrence’s career picked up with better coaching in a manner Tagovailoa’s did this season.
Others have fallen out with age or struggles. The Dolphins play Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers on Sunday. Like Tom Brady, he can still win games. He just can’t do it consistently like he once did.
The Dolphins left Buffalo with no shame in that loss but with details to clean up. The defense gave up a touchdown on the last play of the first half and a long, game-closing drive for the second straight week. The offense had some short-yardage issues to work out.
But Saturday was about one player. Brady was the measuring stick of the AFC East for a football generation. Now Allen is that player. He’s the franchise quarterback every team wants. That’s what one looks like, what one does, what the Dolphins hope Tagovailoa grows up to be.
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