Dolphins History Lesson: In-Season QB Changes

Alain Poupart

There's a reason the Miami Dolphins quarterback change has taken so many by surprise.

It's not because it's the first time they've replaced their opening-day starter for non-injury reasons because it's not. But these are most definitely different circumstances.

This one was not like the others.

Ryan Fitzpatrick is being replaced by rookie Tua Tagovailoa immediately after throwing three touchdown passes in helping the Dolphins win a second consecutive game by 24 or more points, something the Dolphins hadn't done since 1983.

Our research indicates six previous instances where the Dolphins replaced their opening-day starter for non-injury reasons.

It's the second time the change was made after a win, with the only other time coming in 1980 when future Hall of Famer Bob Griese was replaced as the starter in Week 3 of his final NFL season.

But unlike Fitzpatrick on Sunday, Griese struggled in that Week 2 game 40 years ago. He completed 4 of 13 passes for 49 yards with no touchdown and four interceptions before Don Strock rallied the Dolphins to a 17-16 victory against the Cincinnati Bengals at the Orange Bowl in the "onside punt" game (older Dolphins fans will get the reference).

Fitzpatrick threw three touchdown passes Sunday against the Jets when he completed 18 of 27 passes for 191 yards. Though he did have two interceptions, he still had a passer rating of 93.3 — no other opening-day Dolphins starter who got benched had higher than a 47.5 passer rating in his start before the demotion.

Here's perhaps the most telling stat as to why the demotion of Fitzpatrick was so different from the previous Dolphins changes: The other six opening-day starters who got benched combined for ZERO touchdown passes in their last pre-demotion outings.

That's zero. As in, not a single one.

Fitzpatrick: three touchdowns, two interceptions in his last start before his demotion.

All other Dolphins opening-day starters who were demoted: zero touchdowns, 14 interceptions.

This marks the second consecutive year that Fitzpatrick has been demoted after starting the opener, with Josh Rosen replacing for the third game last year.

But Fitzpatrick's performance in Week 2 last year was much difference, as he completed 11 of 21 passes for 89 yards with no touchdowns in three picks in the 43-0 loss against the New England Patriots.

This year will mark the second-latest point in the season the Dolphins have demoted their opening-day starter.

In 2010, Chad Henne started the first eight games, but was replaced by veteran Chad Pennington after he went 22-for-34 for 231 yards with no touchdowns and three interceptions in a 26-10 loss against the Baltimore Ravens.

Henne, incidentally, is the only Dolphins opening-day starter replaced for non-injury reasons who was not replaced in his last game before his demotion.

As fate would have it, Pennington was injured early the following week against Tennessee and Henne was right back at quarterback, only to also sustain an injury that forced the Dolphins to turn to Tyler Thigpen.

The Dolphins have replaced their opening-day starter after the opener twice in franchise history.

It happened after the team's very first game when Dick Wood completed 4 of 13 passes for 49 yards with no touchdowns and four interceptions and was replaced by Rick Norton in Week 2.

And then it happened in 2004 when Jay Fiedler beat out newcomer A.J. Feeley in training camp for the starting job but was pulled at halftime of the opener against Tennessee after going 5-for-13 for 42 yards with two picks. Feeley went on to finish the game and start the next week, though Fiedler eventually returned to the starting lineup.

And now we get to the other opening-day quarterback demotion, one that Dolphins fans surely remember fondly and hope served as a preview of what's to come this year.

This was the aforementioned 1983 season when Dan Marino was a rookie first-round pick but David Woodley began as the starting quarterback after the team went to the Super Bowl the previous year.

With Woodley struggling, Marino came off the bench in the third and fifth games before taking over as the starting quarterback in Week 6. This happened after Woodley was 4-for-12 for 34 yards with an interception in a 17-7 loss against New Orleans.

The rest, as we all know, is history. Marino dazzled in his starting debut, even though the Dolphins dropped a 38-35 overtime decision against Buffalo that evened their record at 3-3, but they rode Marino's right arm to a 12-4 season and the AFC East title.

Marino went on to make the Pro Bowl in that 1983 season on his way to the Hall of Fame.

DOLPHINS OPENING-DAY STARTERS REPLACED FOR NON-INJURY REASONS (and their stats in their last start before being demoted)

1966 - Dick Wood, 4-for-13, 49 yards, 0 touchdowns, 4 interceptions, 3.8 passer rating

1980 - Bob Griese, 3-for-8, 36 yards, 0 touchdowns, 1 interception, 12.5 passer rating

1983 - David Woodley, 4-for-12, 34 yards, 0 touchdowns, 1 interception, 7.6 passer rating

2004 - Jay Fiedler, 5-for-13, 42 yards, 0 touchdowns, 2 interceptions, 28.0 passer rating

2010 - Chad Henne, 22-for-34, 231 yards, 0 touchdowns, 3 interceptions, 47.5 passer rating

2019 - Ryan Fitzpatrick, 11-for-21, 89 yards, 0 touchdowns, 3 interceptions, 23.8 passer rating

2020 - Ryan Fitzpatrick, 18-for-27, 191 yards, 3 touchdowns, 2 interceptions, 93.3 passer rating

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