Dolphins put trust in Teddy Bridgewater with chance to clinch playoff berth

MIAMI – In the wake of Tua Tagovailoa’s return to concussion protocol, the Miami Dolphins are once again planning to move forward with veteran Teddy Bridgewater starting at quarterback.

Bridgewater started on Oct. 9 vs. the New York Jets when Tagovailoa first was put in the protocol. Bridgewater lasted just one snap before he took a hit and was removed from the game when the booth spotters believed they saw him stumble. He was placed into concussion protocol but was never diagnosed with a concussion. Miami, meanwhile, lost 40-17.

Dolphins coach Mike McDaniel did not say how many weeks Bridgewater is expected to start, nor did he put a timetable on Tagovailoa’s return. But while the team takes things day-by-day with Tagovailoa, Sunday’s game against the New England Patriots (1 p.m. E.T., CBS) looms large. Miami can clinch a playoff berth with a win and a Jets loss to the Seattle Seahawks in Week 17.

“I met with Teddy yesterday; I was exchanging ideas and talking through some stuff all the way till like 10:15 last night,” McDaniel said Wednesday. “And so moving forward … the whole team’s approach is Teddy Bridgewater is the starter. This is why we thought it so vital to go after him in free agency. This is why he’s done such a diligent job during the course of the season with his own injuries and such to be prepared for this opportunity. And I know the team is very excited.

“I feel very fortunate to have him and for him to get his opportunity that he’s totally prepared for.”

Here’s what to expect as Bridgewater prepares for his second start of the season:

Starter-caliber play

In two extended appearances this year against the Cincinnati Bengals and Minnesota Vikings, Bridgewater threw for 529 yards and three touchdowns against three interceptions, completing 65% of his passes. He didn’t dink and dunk, either -- Bridgewater averaged 8.6 air yards per attempt in those two contests, which would rank in the top 10 in the NFL if stretched out over the course of the season.

It's important to note that Bridgewater took only a handful of combined first-team reps at practice before both games; that’s not the case this time around.

“It has its benefits. Just being in there repping the plays in live action, full speed,” Bridgewater said in October. “So at the same time, each day you have to take this mental approach, like never before. It’s so easy to talk about it. But when you actually live in it, it’s totally different.”

McDaniel is confident in the veteran’s demeanor -- especially in high-pressure situations like the one his team faces over the next two weeks.

“I think with regard to professional football, at the quarterback position, there’s two ways you can go with it as a starter for a game when you have the entire week to prepare,” McDaniel said. “One way, the pressure gets to you, and sometimes it makes you worse. That’s not Teddy. Teddy thrives on those moments … I think that it is a big deal for guys that enjoy the moment, enjoy the camaraderie, enjoy the leadership, enjoy everything about being a starting quarterback.

“I’m happy for him to get the opportunity to fully prepare for a game that the team needs him for.”

His own style

Bridgewater has played in the league since 2015 and experienced the full gamut of emotions as an NFL quarterback. He’s been a starter, sustained career-altering injuries, backed up a Hall of Famer and played the journeyman role. He’s learned the value of remaining within himself -- especially when making a spot start.

“Honestly, [I learned to] just be yourself. I can’t be Tua,” Bridgewater said in October. “I had to learn a lesson when I was in New Orleans. I couldn’t be Drew Brees. So it’s like, as long as I continue to be myself, the guys realize this guy isn’t faking. He’s not trying to be something he’s not. It’s like it’s a sense of relief. Like OK, we know we’re getting the real version of him. He’s not trying to be something he’s not.

“That’s just my approach every day.”

Wide receiver Tyreek Hill expressed confidence in his ability to produce with Bridgewater at quarterback; the pair have connected 16 times for 275 yards in two games this season.

Hill added that while Tagovailoa possesses his own unique skill set, so does Bridgewater.

“Every quarterback is different. Every quarterback is going to bring his own swagger into the huddle,” he said. “And I feel like when Teddy steps into the huddle, there’s like a different mindset for us all. We understand Tua has his things that he does very well. And then Teddy, he has the same thing. He has the same certain package of things that he can do very well as well. When he stepped in for us, in the fourth quarter against the Vikings and came in and balled out, we needed that as a team.

“Teddy’s a guy who has been in his league for a long time and he understands and he knows what it takes to get the job done to win games.”

A humorous confidence

Bridgewater isn’t the loudest player in the locker room, but he’s never afraid to put his sense of humor on display, even if it’s a playful prank on an unsuspecting media member -- tapping their shoulder before darting out of their line of sight when they turn their head.

Hill said Bridgewater’s comedy finds its way into the huddle, too.

“Oh, he’s very funny,” he said. “I feel like when Teddy steps in the huddle, my first reaction every time I see him is like, ‘Bro, he’s about to say a joke and I’m going to laugh.’ But for Teddy, he obviously can throw the deep ball very well. He’s very accurate. Timing is very good. Good footwork. Good mechanics. Typical quarterback stuff.

“Like I said, he’s been doing it for a long time and he was able to play with us during the season, and he’s been here since training camp. So the chemistry is there with all the guys.”

That sense of humor can be disarming, in a good way, for a team riding a four-game losing streak. It expresses confidence and comfort to his teammates and should help the offense as a whole loosen up as the Dolphins look to secure their first playoff berth since 2016.

By the numbers

Because of Tagovailoa’s injury, the Patriots are a 2.5-point favorite, but that might bode well for the Dolphins. Bridgewater is 24-8 against the spread as an underdog, which is the best percentage ATS as an underdog by any quarterback in the Super Bowl era, among 181 QBs with at least 25 starts.

What doesn’t bode well for Miami is that when Tagovailoa plays fewer than 50% of the snaps, the Dolphins are 0-3 while averaging 16 points per game.

The Dolphins currently have a 68% chance to make the playoffs, according to ESPN analytics, and that rises to 89% with a win and falls to 54% with a loss.

Miami will be trying to snap a four-game losing streak after starting 8-3. No team has gone from being five games above .500 to losing five straight since the 2015 Atlanta Falcons, according to ESPN Stats & Information.

The Dolphins have allowed an NFL-worst 31.5 points per game on the road, where they are 3-5.

The defense Bridgewater will be facing is tied for sixth-best in the league in opponent QBR (49.3).