After two exciting quarterfinal matchups in JD Gaming vs. Suning and Top Esports vs. Fnatic, the League of Legends World Championship returned to a quick 3-0 stomp, with G2 Esports defeating Gen.G in a match reminiscent of DAMWON Gaming’s utter destruction of DRX in the first quarterfinals series.
G2 advance to face South Korean squad Damwon Gaming at 6 a.m. ET on Oct. 24 in a rematch of the 2019 worlds quarterfinal, while China’s LoL Pro League contenders, Top Esports and Suning, will square off at 6 a.m. ET on Oct. 25 in the second semifinal.
Here are the highlights from Sunday’s matches. Check out our recaps of the groups and play-in stages of the 2020 League of Legends World Championship for more information on previous matches.
G2 Esports 3, Gen.G 0
The end result of this series was always going to be an interesting semifinals narrative. Either we would receive the LoL Champions Korea summer finals we thought we would have between DAMWON Gaming and Gen.G, or there would be a rematch of last year’s quarterfinals between G2 Esports and DAMWON. Since DAMWON players have been pretty vocal about G2 living somewhat rent-free in their heads despite their domestic success, it’s great to see that we will end up getting this semifinals match in a week.
As for the games themselves, G2 looked much more prepared for the current metagame and brought their superior understanding of cross-map trading and mid-game wave management, skirmishing and lane assignments. Interestingly enough, G2 tend to make more mistakes early but overcome them almost immediately with a remarkably strong and intelligent mid game.
In this series, G2 were off to an excellent start from the first match where their pick composition was designed around Twisted Fate, Pantheon and Jhin. Gen.G were relegated to having to throw Taric in with their Kalista ultimate just to try to get a good 5v5 engage that their composition desperately needed. The series didn’t improve for Gen.G after that, although they did show a few signs of life in Game 3, where bot laner Park “Ruler” Jae-hyuk was visibly trying as hard as he could on Ezreal to at least drag his team to a fourth game.
The obvious player of the game was Rasmus “Caps” Winther, who amassed a 56 Kills + Assists in the series, the most of any player at worlds since 2015 KOO Tigers mid laner Lee “Kuro” Seo-haeng. His overall KDA for all three games was 14.
A fond farewell to: Gen.G
It’s sad to see Gen.G go out like this, especially with South Korea’s third seed in DRX leaving in a similar 3-0 fashion. One of the questions surrounding the three LCK teams at this year’s world championship was whether the LCK had improved as a whole, or whether it was just DWG rising to become one of the world’s best teams.
We now have that answer — although it’s somewhat skewed by the fact that DWG knocked out their LCK brethren in DRX — and it’s DWG who appear significantly ahead of the rest of their region.
Neither Gen.G nor G2 seemed particularly well-suited to the current meta going into this series — certainly not as much as other teams like DWG, Fnatic and Suning. However, Gen.G didn’t really seem to adjust their more standard, bot-lane-focused approach and play around jungler Kim “Clid” Tae-min in a similar way that Suning or Fnatic have played around Lê “SofM” Quang Duy and Oskar “Selfmade” Boderek respectively. They were also unable to pivot to the facilitator role that Top Esports’ Hung “Karsa” Hao-Hsuan took on in TES’ reverse sweep of Fnatic on Saturday.
Every game in a sentence
G2 Esports 1, Gen.G 0: Gen.G lock in a 5v5 composition but lack engage while G2 are able to play around that easily with globals to avoid fights.
G2 Esports 2, Gen.G 0: Gen.G try to pick a composition more like G2’s, but G2 have a significantly stronger mid game and better skirmishing.
G2 Esports 3, Gen.G 0: Ruler tries his hardest to drag Gen.G to a fourth game, but this game is also almost entirely G2.
Top Esports 3, Fnatic 2
Top Esports’ nail-biting 3-2 victory over Fnatic on Saturday in Shanghai became the first-ever reverse sweep in League of Legends World Championship history.
Here’s how it happened, a look back at Fnatic’s performance throughout worlds and a quick breakdown of each match of the historic series.
Although Top Esports were, and still are, a favorite to win the world championship as China’s No. 1 seed, there should be a small shadow of doubt after this series as TES looked more disorganized than in the single-game group stage. Fnatic, meanwhile were visibly ramping up after a rocky start and slight meta misread. Once they became comfortable in the current meta, they looked unstoppable with strong Level 1’s and focused drafts around jungler Oskar “Selfmade” Boderek as one of the team’s primary carries.
In their first two games against TES, Fnatic had full control of the bot side of the map, continuously making plays after their first reset and ensuring that Martin “Rekkles” Larsson and Zdravets “Hylissang” Iliev Galabov were ahead of Yu “JackeyLove” Wen-Bo and Liang “Yuyanjia” Jia-Yuan. Once TES’ bot lane collapsed, even with any advantages they may have been able to get in mid or top, TES struggled in teamfights and frequently took them without thought to setup.
TES started turning the series around when they put jungler Hung “Karsa” Hao-Hsuan on Lee Sin and Nidalee to make more plays in the early game. Even when their bot lane fell behind early, Karsa was able to make an impact elsewhere on the map to get other lanes, particularly Zhuo “Knight” Ding’s mid lane, ahead. Once TES were making more proactive plays early, even with a scaling draft like they had in Game 5, they were able to take teamfights much better and adjust to how Fnatic wanted to play around Rekkles and Selfmade.
Perhaps the most impressive part of TES’ victory is how they kept their cool, even after two disappointing losses to start the series.
A fond farewell to: Fnatic
Prior to this series, I had said that Fnatic was more well-suited to this meta because of the way they play around jungle and that they matched up well with TES because of how strong Hylissang is, while rookie Yuyanjia is in still developing as a support.
In their first two games Saturday, the Fnatic bot lane proved the latter point and showcased just how strong they were. Fnatic also had a strong understanding of when to make plays after resetting early to get themselves ahead, earning nearly all of the First Bloods in every single one of their matches. This Fnatic team grew significantly stronger as they learned how to better play around Selfmade this summer, and they should hold their heads high even in the face of this loss.
After some tremendous bot lane performances with Hylissang, Rekkles was asked to reflect on his performances against TES and at this world championship. Here’s what he had to say.
“I’m really happy how we were able to show, yet again, our strength as a duo on the international stage and I think it’s something we’ve managed previous years too, but it’s nice to see that we’ve still got it year after year so that part I’m happy about. But I think still, no one will really remember how we played today. I don’t think it will be OK, in a way, to lose because of this. A loss is a loss, and a win is a win, so in a week from now or a month from now, I don’t know when I’ll be looking back at this, but I still think I’ll feel very disappointed with what I managed to do today.”
Every map in a sentence
Fnatic 1, Top Esports 0: Everyone will be talk about Bwipo’s Singed, but it’s Hylissang that makes the massive difference for Fnatic, both in the 2v2 and outside of lane.
Fnatic 2, Top Esports 0: Another game where Fnatic play significantly better around their bottom lane and Hylissang is stronger than Yuyanjia.
Top Esports 1, Fnatic 2: With Karsa taking over with Lee Sin and TES’ bot lane doing better, TES are able to snowball their early lead despite greedy mid-game mistakes.
Top Esports 2, Fnatic 2: Although Fnatic continue their bot lane dominance, Karsa’s Nidalee takes over the game, Knight accrues a significant advantage on Jayce, and 369 soaks up all of Fnatic’s damage in teamfights.
Top Esports 3, Fnatic 2: Once again, Karsa’s Lee Sin makes moves early, and Yuyanjia redeems himself for his earlier performances as TES’ composition snowballs to a reverse-sweep victory.
Suning 3, JD Gaming 1
Another regional rivalry took center stage in the 2020 League of Legends World Championship quarterfinals on Friday. Following the repeat of the 2020 LoL Champions Korea summer finals on Thursday, Chinese squads JD Gaming and Suning faced off in an all-LoL Pro League showdown.
The results did not necessarily go as expected, with Suning not only besting JD Gaming 3-1 but doing so convincingly through strong teamfighting and skirmishes.
Unlike DAMWON Gaming’s series against DRX, where the two teams had played each other recently and DAMWON quickly stomped their opponent 3-0, Suning had not met JD Gaming since the second week of the LPL summer split.
Back then, it was a JDG 2-0 that Suning arguably should have won, but Suning were still in the beginning stages of building the team that is currently on the worlds stage; JDG also had a good understanding of how to stop Suning with vision control and flanks from top laner Zhang “Zoom” Xing-Ran or mid laner Zeng “Yagao” Qi.
— ESPN Esports (@ESPN_Esports) October 17, 2020
That approach was what was expected from this series as well. Despite the fact that Suning had arguably looked better in groups — something that could also be attributed to not having DAMWON in their group — and were well-suited to the current metagame, JDG presumably had the upper hand in this series.
Instead, we had the rare, shining moment where a much-lauded rookie player steps into the international spotlight and exceeds expectations in the best way. Most fans already knew of Suning bot laner Tang “huanfeng” Huan-Feng’s incredible journey to get to worlds thanks to an interview by the LPL broadcast team, but on Friday, he fully embraced his role as the LPL’s best up-and-coming bot laner.
Huanfeng’s Jhin in particular was remarkable, and he cemented his place as a king among Jhin enthusiasts with an ultimate from inside JDG’s base during Game 2 that went viral on multiple social media platforms.
Suning’s win was also a testament to jungler Lê “SofM” Quang Duy and support Hu “SwordArt” Shuo-Chieh’s veteran leadership on the team, something that rookie top laner Chen “Bin” Ze-Bin has cited as the reason why Suning are such a strong squad right now.
A fond farewell to: JD Gaming
For the majority of the year, JDG were one of, if not the LPL’s best teams. They were smart, well-coordinated, drafted around their players’ obvious strengths and weaknesses, and supplemented this with remarkable 5v5 teamfighting.
Even in their quarterfinals loss to Suning, there were several times where JDG’s group engages were clearly better, and if they had a lead (especially in Game 3, which was pretty much over for JDG once Bin’s Gangplank got a Level 1 double-kill and took a Sheen to the top lane) at those times, they would have won those fights.
Although they won’t be moving on at worlds this year, 2020 JDG were a special team to watch and should still be remembered as one of the LPL’s best.
Although huanfeng was the star of Suning on Friday, SwordArt’s efforts in helping lead this team and his direct involvement in huanfeng’s improvement should never be overlooked, especially since this is the furthest he has gone at worlds in his own career. The support had this to say about huanfeng’s growth.
“Huanfeng is a very hard-working player, and I think he made a lot of improvements in communications and also in terms of our synergy. Now he really immerses himself in the whole team. I don’t think we are able to provide that much help, but he can always carry the game. I think maybe not now, but later in some moment, I believe that huanfeng will become a really good player that will be memorable for all.”
Every game in a sentence
JD Gaming 1, Suning 0: Although Suning have a scaling advantage, Yagao’s Zoe and Zoom’s Renekton take over the mid-game.
Suning 1, JD Gaming 1: Suning’s scaling works out well here while Yagao is unable to have an impact on Galio, and huanfeng’s Jhin steps into the spotlight.
Suning 2, JD Gaming 1: This game is over from Level 1, when Bin’s Gangplank gets a double kill and Sheen to start the laning phase.
Suning 3, JD Gaming 1: JDG take an early lead, but stronger dragon setups and huanfeng’s Jhin once again lead Suning to victory.
DAMWON Gaming 3, DRX 0
Quarterfinals got underway at the 2020 League of Legends World Championship on Thursday. The first series was a rematch of the 2020 LoL Champions Korea final between DAMWON Gaming and DRX that went in the exact same way that first matchup did: a 3-0 sweep for DAMWON.
The moment DRX were drawn against DAMWON Gaming, they were already considered out of the tournament.
We had already seen what DRX could do against DAMWON in their summer finals best-of-five ,and it wasn’t much. DAMWON were not only able to best DRX individually, but more importantly had much stronger objective setups and trading across the map. DRX had, however, looked a bit more cohesive in the group stage, particularly in their games against LoL Pro League No. 1 seed Top Esports.
Although Top Esports won both of those games due to stronger teamfighting, there was hope for DRX. Despite the team’s reliance on mid laner Jeong “Chovy” Ji-hoon and a back injury hindering bot laner Kim “Deft” Hyuk-kyu, the team seemed like it might have improved enough to give DAMWON more trouble than they were able to in that quick summer final sweep.
*Jhin ults behind you*
“nothing personnel, kid” pic.twitter.com/LclfymKw21
— LoL Esports (@lolesports) October 16, 2020
More: Suning evolve into League of Legends World Championship dark horse | Is the gap closing between minor and major regions in League of Legends? | Ten years of worlds: A League of Legends World Championship oral history
I had hoped to say that this series wouldn’t play out as expected — that DRX would be able to take at least a game off of DAMWON. They could not. The series ended in similar 100-minute fashion, with DAMWON too strong to allow DRX even one game. DRX came closest in Game 2, but a clutch engage from DWG top laner Jang “Nuguri” Ha-gwon on Ornn flipped the game back into DAMWON’s favor, and they didn’t give DRX any advantages afterwards.
DAMWON will now go on to the semifinals to face either the team that knocked them out of worlds in 2019, G2 Esports, or another fellow South Korean squad in Gen.G. DAMWON should be favored in both matchups with how strong they’ve looked at this tournament.
A fond farewell to: DRX
For most of the 2020 LCK season, DRX were a fun team to watch and always near the top of the standings. They had interesting drafts (which sometimes hurt them more than they helped), and the continued evolution of Chovy was one of the highlights of the season. In 2020, the mid laner grew from a 1v1 outplay king who somewhat relied on favorable matchups from his team to a legitimate team player with much stronger teamfighting skill and engage sense, making DRX a legitimate threat against any team not named DAMWON.
DRX have two standout young players that people watch going into 2021, too, despite some rough performances Thursday. Jungler Hong “Pyosik” Chang-hyeon and, in particular, rookie support Ryu “Keria” Min-seok have a lot of potential going forward in future LCK seasons.
The saddest part of DRX’s exit: The revelation about Deft’s back injury. The bot laner’s been one of the best in the world and competed professionally since 2013. He hasn’t mentioned retiring, but given the physical setback and length of his pro career, we’ll hope that this isn’t the last time we see Deft in an international showdown.
DRX coach Kim “cvMax” Dae-ho reflected on the season after Thursday’s sweep, giving credit to both Chovy and Deft for helping coach the team.
“Thanks to Chovy and Deft, the core players, Keria, Pyosik, and Doran were able to soak in all of the game knowledge and experience,” cvMax said via a translator. “Also, Chovy and Deft were even coaching better than the real coaches. Maybe they were the realistic coaches of our team leading the team so well. I also learned so much by watching them doing feedback for the players. Compared to myself in Griffin and this year, I think I’ve become better at coaching, and it’s all from Deft.”
Every game in a sentence
DAMWON Gaming 1, DRX 0: DRX are unable to get their Caitlyn ahead early and DWG have stronger objective setups overall, even when it looked for a short moment like DRX would be able to poke them down in the mid game.
DAMWON Gaming 2, DRX 0: A big teamfight in mid where Nuguri controls the entire fight with Ornn makes the difference for DWG.
DAMWON Gaming 3, DRX 0: Another limited-to-no-engage composition harms DRX as DAMWON are easily able to jump on them and, despite Doran’s Vladimir doing relatively well early in top lane, beat DRX in the mid game.
Exec: Wash. likely to remain Football Team in ’21
The Washington Football Team still may be going by its placeholder name this time next year.
“There’s a pretty good chance we will be the Washington Football Team next season,” team president Jason Wright told Washington, D.C., TV station WJLA on Tuesday.
The team retired the name it had used for 87 years on July 13, after launching a thorough review 10 days earlier. The temporary name was announced July 23.
“I think next year is fast because of how the brand has to come together through uniforms, through approval processes through the league,” Wright said Tuesday.
“We could get there quicker, it’s actually pretty hard to get there that quickly because of all the steps that need to happen.”
For years, Washington owner Dan Snyder had resisted changing the name; he told USA Today in 2013 to “put it in all caps” that he would never make such a move. Some who worked for Snyder said they believed then that he would rather sell the team than use a new name.
The controversy surrounding the name predated Snyder’s purchase of the team in May 1999. When Washington played in Super Bowl XXVI following the 1991 season, there were 2,000 protesters outside the Metrodome in Minneapolis. Jack Kent Cooke, the team owner at the time, said of any possible change, “There is not a single, solitary jot, tittle, whit chance in the world. I like the name, and it’s not a derogatory name.”
But Snyder and the franchise have been under more pressure after the protests following the death of George Floyd in May while he was in police custody in Minneapolis. Within a few weeks of Floyd’s death, sources said Snyder had been discussing the name change with NFL officials for several weeks already. The team also felt financial pressure from investors and several sponsors to change the name.
Information from ESPN’s Adam Schefter and John Keim was used in this report.
Why A Gamer Started A Web Of Disinformation Sites Aimed At Latino Americans
This article was written in collaboration with First Draft, a nonprofit organization that provides investigative research to newsrooms tracking and reporting on mis- and disinformation.
When we picture the entity behind a network of disinformation websites, a few archetypes spring to mind: shadowy figures intent on interfering with democracy, Russian agents, Macedonian teens. Not usually included: a gamer from a suburb of New York City who sells coffee beans with his wife at the local farmers market on weekends. But that’s precisely who was behind three sites that, until last week, were pumping out misleading, hyperpartisan Spanish-language content on both the left and right. They were just a few sites in a broader ecosystem of misinformation — and disinformation — that spreads such narratives to millions of Americans. But their story has something to tell us about the misinformation industrial complex overall.
Sean Reynolds, a YouTuber, gamer and entrepreneur, was the owner and operator of three websites and affiliated Facebook pages that peddled in misinformation, predominantly in Spanish. The existence of the network was first reported by Politico last week,1 but an exclusive interview with Reynolds revealed why he started the sites.
Namely, he said, he saw an opportunity.
“These websites and the content on them do not reflect my personal political leanings,” Reynolds wrote in a direct message on Twitter. “I am non-discriminating towards opportunities where there is demand and no supply, which in this case, there was no political opinion pieces written in Spanish on Facebook, so I found writers (ghostwriters) interested to fill that demand.” Reynolds did not respond when FiveThirtyEight asked whether he speaks Spanish but did say he does not personally write the content on the sites. In a video he posted on his gaming channel, he identified as half Jamaican and half German.
Since 2017, Reynolds has operated the three websites and their affiliated Facebook pages: PoliticaVeraz.com, which published right-leaning content, AlertaPolitica.org, which published left-leaning content, and LeftOverRights.com, a left-leaning site which initially ran English-language stories but switched to publishing in Spanish this August. When all three sites were active, they would each regularly publish 5-10 stories per day and then spread those stories through Facebook, where they would typically attract thousands of shares. After FiveThirtyEight contacted him, Reynolds took all three sites and their Facebook pages offline.
A FiveThirtyEight investigation found multiple links that tied Reynolds to the sites, including a common server and IP address among his personal website and his other confirmed businesses, the same Google AdSense and Analytics code for his personal sites and these pages and corporate records listing Reynolds as a process agent for both Left Over Rights LLC and Alerta Politica LLC (there was no record of an LLC for Politica Veraz). Reynolds also confirmed to FiveThirtyEight that he ran the sites.
Much of the content these sites published was misleading and hyperpartisan. A recent story on Politica Veraz, for example, claimed that Joe Biden had “forgotten the words to the Pledge of Allegiance,” when in actuality he quoted part of the pledge for emphasis in a speech. Meanwhile, recent stories published on Left Over Rights deployed spin from a left-leaning perspective, such as a story about the vice presidential debate declaring Sen. Kamala Harris had “destroyed” Vice President Mike Pence by asking him not to interrupt her.
The disinformation on Politica Veraz, in particular, often echoed messaging that was already circulating in far-right communities online and among followers of the QAnon conspiracy theory, pushing it towards a more mainstream audience. One article claimed that President Trump’s life was in mortal danger after he gave a speech at a Whirlpool Corporation Manufacturing Plant in Clyde, Ohio, where he said he had many enemies and that “this may be the last time you see me for a while” when discussing lower prices for pharmaceuticals. And while Reynolds said the sites’ content had minimal reach, that story was shared more than 6,000 times on Facebook, according to social media data tool BuzzSumo, and received nearly 40,000 interactions (reactions, shares, and comments combined). Similar messaging had been amplified by right-leaning users on Twitter before the Politica Veraz piece was published, including a tweet from an account that regularly shares theories associated with QAnon that was retweeted or quote tweeted more than 12,000 times.
Reynolds’s sites are far from the only source of misinformation targeting the Latino community. There are sites, Facebook pages and YouTube channels that operate on the margins, attracting little mainstream notice while garnering audiences in the hundreds of thousands. Their stories — rife with misleading spins on the news and outright falsehoods — are shared across social media and privately in messaging apps. They target communities that have fewer trusted sources that cater directly to them, according to media experts we spoke to, and amplify misinformation originating from extremist communities. And experts say this kind of misinformation can lead to voters not only being misinformed, but also feeling disillusioned by the political process.
Nevertheless, Reynolds said his goals weren’t necessarily to inform, misinform or disinform, but to make a little bit of money. So little money that he didn’t think twice about taking the sites down as soon as he was contacted by a reporter.
“I will say, though, that these websites (all three) were scheduled to be fully closed after the months of not posting and not generating any income to keep them running,” Reynolds wrote. (Two of the sites stopped uploading new posts in August and September, respectively.) “But now I’m getting contacted about them, and I just don’t have time for anything else, so I will have their closings sped up.”
Reynolds’s sites represent a brand of misinformation fueled by the ease and profitability of building an audience on social media, according to Joan Donovan, a researcher of disinformation at Harvard University.
“Social media companies have incentivized disinformation by rewarding it with financial dollars,” Donovan explained. “The fact that he was targeting Latinos with Spanish-language disinformation or misinformation from either side of the aisle shows a kind of willingness to create chaos so long as it makes money.”
It’s not as if the content was simply a translated version of English-language misinformation, either. It clearly targeted the Latino community, playing into existing fears such as worries about socialism, given its history in authoritarian Central and South American governments.
“Some of the key narratives are around the perceived threat of socialism coming into the United States, and connecting that to Joe Biden and Kamala Harris,” said Jacobo Licona, a disinformation researcher for Equis Labs, a Latinx voter research group. “Another one we often see is trying to discredit Black Lives Matter and paint them as violent. Since the murder of George Floyd, we’ve seen an increased effort by these bad actors in Latinx spaces to fuel racial tension in Black and brown communities.”
Politica Veraz regularly posted stories that played into these threads, like one that called the Obamas “Marxists” or another that inaccurately reported two Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department deputies shot in Compton were “ambushed by Black Lives Matter.”
This misinformation is being seeded in the midst of an election where Latino voters represent a powerful voting bloc. While Trump is trailing Biden among Latino voters in national polls, the margin is narrower in the key battleground state Florida. In a Univision poll released on Sept. 28, 52 percent of Latino voters nationally said they planned to cast a ballot for Biden, compared to 19 percent who were committed to Trump. But in Florida, 36 percent of Latino voters said they favored Trump.
Reynolds said his content was not effective and that the sites were not profitable or popular, and that he had been planning to shut them down before he was contacted by FiveThirtyEight. But data tells a different story. Combined, the three site’s Facebook pages had nearly 1 million likes and followers, and Politica Veraz alone attracted more than 500,000 interactions on its Facebook posts since July, according to data from Crowdtangle.
The allure of sensational, emotionally provocative misinformation is well documented. But this content was also able to appeal to an audience facing a dearth of targeted media, according to Randy Pestana, the assistant director of research at Florida International University’s Institute for Public Policy.
“The media outlets that appeal to Hispanics are limited. There are not a lot of them out there, and the ones that are out there more recently have been called fake news,” Pestana said. “There’s this movement where everything is ‘fake news’ if it doesn’t align with your opinion.”
He also noted that many Latino Americans consume news through social media, including Facebook and WhatsApp, making it easier for this kind of content to spread. The share of Latino Americans who get their news from the internet is higher than that of the U.S. population overall, according to surveys from the Pew Research Center. In a 2016 survey, Pew found that 74 percent of Latino respondents got their news online on a typical weekday, whereas a 2017 Pew survey found that 43 percent of the total population “often” got their news online. And while social media platforms have been cracking down on English-language misinformation to a certain degree, Spanish-language disinformation doesn’t always receive the same treatment, Pestana said.
Reynolds’s sites are now shut down, but there are plenty of other misinformation sources targeting Latino Americans. As we head into the final weeks of an election, many members of one of the most influential voting blocs continue to be bombarded with false information.
“The worst examples of the potential consequences of this is what we saw in 2016: People felt so disenfranchised by the political process that they opted not to participate in it,” said Steven Renderos, the executive director of MediaJustice, a nonprofit that focuses on racial inequality in communications. “That’s the risk we’re facing here today, that people will just opt out of engaging.”
Timing a surprise, but Brian Flores sets up Tua Tagovailoa for success
It’s Tua Time in Miami, and the immediate question is why now? It was well known that 2020 first-round pick Tua Tagovailoa would eventually become the Miami Dolphins‘ starting quarterback, but coming off back-to-back blowout wins does not seem like an ideal time to switch things up.
Most would have been fine with Tagovailoa sitting for longer, or even all of the NFL season, and learning behind veteran quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick, who had been playing very good football through six weeks. But after taking a step back, this move makes a lot more sense.
The way Dolphins coach Brian Flores has handled a difficult quarterback situation shows his plan will set Tagovailoa up for success, even if it isn’t exactly how I would have mapped it. The timing of the decision comes as a surprise, but Flores’ process has seemingly always had the rookie QB as his top priority. Flores has watched Tagovailoa in practice and if he deems him ready to start now, then the move might be well-timed.
Patience is rare among NFL teams when it comes to playing rookie quarterbacks. Flores resisted the pressure to play Tagovailoa heading into the Dolphins’ season opener at New England. And that same pressure was ratcheted up even higher when Fitzpatrick hit a rough patch and the Dolphins fell to 1-3. Add on, there was early success from rookie quarterbacks, including Cincinnati’s Joe Burrow and Los Angeles Chargers‘ Justin Herbert.
But still, Flores resisted to cave to any outside pressure.
The second-year head coach, seemingly one of Fitzpatrick’s biggest fans, preached patience to the Dolphins fan base and promised he would not be rushed into starting Tagovailoa. He treated this decision as if he were the father and the quarterbacks were his sons, so in the safest scenario — up 24-0 late in the fourth quarter against the NFL-worst New York Jets in Week 6 — Flores let Tagovailoa get his feet wet by inserting him into the game. Tagovailoa had five plays, two throws and a moment he’ll remember forever.
Then, when everyone felt Fitzpatrick was most secure in his starting job, Flores made the move to Tagovailoa. This wasn’t a spur-of-the-moment decision, either.
“Expect the unexpected from coach Flo,” one team source told ESPN.
One player told ESPN he was surprised by the move, but noted Tagovailoa keeps improving and he makes one or two “wow” highlight plays in practice every week.
The biggest thing to know about the Dolphins’ move is that it’s more about Tagovailoa’s development than Fitzpatrick’s play.
Fitzpatrick did nothing to lose his job. In fact, Fitzpatrick’s play would give every reason to believe he strengthened his grip on it. He ranks seventh in the NFL in QBR and he’s the most beloved player in the Dolphins’ locker room.
Jeff Saturday expresses surprise at the Dolphins’ decision to start Tua Tagovailoa for their next game, and Stephen A. Smith weighs in on the move.
But everything about the 2020 season was about preparing for life with Tagovailoa as the starter and finding the ideal moment to make that transition. Although it’s a blow for Fitzpatrick to be benched while playing his best football of the season, Flores’ QB plan has never really been about him in the grand scheme of things. It has always been about Tagovailoa.
It will be 351 days since Tagovailoa’s scary, career-threatening hip injury when he makes his first pro start on Nov. 1 against the Los Angeles Rams (1 p.m. ET, Fox). Don’t underestimate the impact that anniversary has on the decision to start him.
Another important factor to consider is the Dolphins are entering their Week 7 bye, which gives Tagovailoa two weeks to prepare. It’s worth wondering if Miami’s plan was always to start Tagovailoa after the bye week, which was initially scheduled for Week 11 before schedule changes happened because of the coronavirus affecting other teams.
The Dolphins’ move is reminiscent of the 2004 New York Giants benching Kurt Warner, who was playing well and had led his team to a 5-4 record in the first half of the season, for rookie Eli Manning.
The Manning-led Giants struggled, going 1-6 the rest of the way and missing the playoffs. Manning threw more interceptions than touchdowns, but the experience was invaluable. Manning led the Giants to the playoffs each of the next four seasons, including two NFC East titles and a Super Bowl championship.
It’s possible and maybe even likely the Dolphins’ offense takes a step back initially with Tagovailoa leading it. Miami has two rookies, right guard Solomon Kindley and right tackle Robert Hunt, protecting Tagovailoa’s blindside. Although the offensive line is much improved through six games, Fitzpatrick did a lot to cover up its faults. Tagovailoa’s timing will have to be on point and fast for him to avoid getting hit often.
Another impact on how this transition has played out? The Dolphins are ecstatic to have Fitzpatrick in the fold to show Tagovailoa the way. Fitzpatrick will support him and teach him, and that’s a rare trait in today’s NFL. That dynamic between the experienced QB and the rookie has had a big impact on how this has all played out.
Flores believes this is the right time for Tagovailoa and it makes more sense. The Dolphins (3-3) are in the thick of the playoff race and it will be invaluable to get their rookie QB the experience he needs. This is a franchise in a rebuild with promises to prioritize the long-term over the short-term outlook.
Tagovailoa is the Dolphins’ most talented quarterback and biggest star since Pro Football Hall of Famer Dan Marino — and this is before he has even started a game.
Tua Time begins in a bit of a surprising way, but early indications are the rookie quarterback is set up for success.
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