NFL London: Trevor Lawrence and Tua Tagovailoa renew rivalry as Jaguars face Dolphins

Venue: Tottenham Hotspur Stadium Date: Sunday, 17 October Start: 14:30 BST
Preview: Watch NFL This Week and The NFL Show on BBC iPlayer
Coverage: Live on BBC Two and BBC iPlayer from 14:00, plus live text updates on BBC Sport website and app from 14:00

You just knew that Tua Tagovailoa’s words would come back to haunt him.

The Miami Dolphins selected the quarterback with the fifth pick of the 2020 draft and seven weeks into his rookie season, gave him the starting job.

Then after winning his first three games as a starter, he said of adjusting to the NFL: “I expected it to be a lot harder”.

He was benched during the very next game and has been underwhelming since, winning just half his games. Eleven months on, BBC pundit Osi Umenyiora isn’t the only one who’s “not 100% sold on him as the long-term answer for that offence”.

Now it’s his former college rival Trevor Lawrence, the top pick in this year’s draft, who is learning just how tough a transition it is in the NFL.

Miami and the winless Jacksonville Jaguars have swapped Florida for London this weekend, where their young quarterbacks will battle it out for a much-needed win.

Are Jaguars over fallout of Meyer videos?

Jacksonville might have had the NFL’s worst record last season but having the first pick in a draft featuring the biggest ‘can’t-miss’ prospect in a decade helped persuade legendary college coach Urban Meyer to take his first NFL job at 57.

It’s been a tough start though. After five games, Jacksonville and the Detroit Lions are the only teams yet to win this season. The Jaguars haven’t won since their 2020 opener and cross the Atlantic on the back of 20 straight defeats, the second-longest losing streak in the Super Bowl era.

Even Jacksonville’s James Robinson, who rushed for a career-high 149 yards last week, is surprised. “I can’t really wrap my head around that,” said the running back. “We’ve got to find a way to win.”

And their task was made all the more challenging by videos of Meyer, a grandfather who’s been married for 35 years, partying with a young woman.

They went viral, forcing Meyer to apologise both publicly and privatelyexternal-link before last week’s 37-19 loss to the Tennessee Titans, while Jaguars owner Shahid Khan said his conduct was “inexcusable”, adding: “Now he must regain our trust and respect.”

“In a locker room it’s all about those conversations with your coaches and that trust,” says BBC pundit Jason Bell.

“Meyer’s always been a great communicator in college and he needs to communicate with his team now, to re-establish himself as their leader. He builds organisations, and hopefully he can do the same at Jacksonville, but it just takes time.

“This year it’s all about looking at Trevor Lawrence, seeing exactly what he does well and then, in these years to come, rebuilding the offence around that. This is all about growth, that’s why it’s exciting to watch them, to see how they keep improving.”

Can Lawrence make history in London?

Lawrence knew he wasn’t joining a winning franchise. But after just five games with Jacksonville, he’s suffered more defeats in the NFL than he did during his high school and college career – he had a remarkable 86-4 record.

Only fellow rookie Zach Wilson, whose New York Jets lost last week’s game in London, has thrown more interceptions than Lawrence’s eight.

But Lawrence, who’s just turned 22, hasn’t gone back into his shell. He’s thrown for six touchdowns, averaged 229 passing yards a game and scored a rushing touchdown in each of the last two games.

Now he faces a Miami defence which allowed five touchdown passes as they slipped to 1-4 last week and, in the 30th regular-season game to be played in London, Lawrence can become the first rookie quarterback to win there – Wilson was the fifth to try and fail.

“I’ve seen a guy taking risks, because he has to, but each week he’s still throwing the ball, he’s not gun shy,” says Bell.

“He seems to improve his decision making a little bit every week. This is what we heard about Patrick Mahomes early on in practice. He was throwing a ton of interceptions every day.

“But you’ve got to figure out how to throw the ball in the NFL. It’s hard, the windows are smaller, so I like the fact he’s trying to do that each week. And for a guy who’s 6ft 6in, he is so athletic. He can run.

“So I think he’s just figuring it out. They’re going to build the team around him and I like his future. If the draft was done over, I’d pick him number one again, no doubt.”

Time for Tagovailoa to show he’s the right man for Miami?

Tua Tagovailoa in the college football national championship game in January 2018
In college football’s national championship game in 2018, Tagovailoa replaced the injured Jalen Hurts (now the Philadelphia Eagles’ starter) and his third touchdown pass gave Alabama an overtime win over Georgia

But for a nasty hip injury that brought a premature end to his college career, Tagovailoa might have been 2020’s number one pick, instead of the Cincinnati Bengals’ Joe Burrow.

The left-handed quarterback from Hawaii rose to prominence by coming off the bench to lead Alabama to victory in college football’s national championship game in January 2018. The year after they lost to Lawrence’s Clemson, who were beaten by Burrow’s Louisiana State University in 2020.

Concerns remain over his durability after Tagovailoa missed a week with a thumb injury last year, plus the last three weeks with cracked ribs, and despite a positive start, he was eclipsed by fellow rookies Burrow and Justin Herbert in 2020.

Miami favoured a low-risk passing game which almost got them into the play-offs. Tagovailoa has a quick release and tended to check down before taking time to look down the field for a deep throw.

Now back from injury and with the Dolphins having drafted wide receiver Jaylen Waddle, one of his favourite targets at Alabama, perhaps this is the time for the 23-year-old to let loose and show he can be Miami’s franchise quarterback.

“I want Tua to be the guy,” says Bell. “They built the offence around his skillset, being a distributor, but I’m not sure they’re even using Jaylen Waddle the way he should be used. I think in this next quarter of the season they’ll be able to figure out who and what they are.”

Umenyiora adds: “Defensively they’ve not played as well as expected after last year, but they have a fantastic head coach [Brian Flores] and good owners. I think this team is only going to get better. We just need to give Tua more time to see if he’s the right guy for Miami’s future.”

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