PHILADELPHIA (AP)There will be one certainty when the Miami Dolphins visit the Philadelphia Eagles in a matchup of two of the NFL’s best teams on Sunday night: Tua Tagovailoa can’t replace Jalen Hurts at halftime.
Tagovailoa and Hurts are among the top young quarterbacks in the NFL. The 25-year-old Hurts was the MVP runner-up a year ago, when he led the Eagles to the Super Bowl. The 25-year-old Tagovailoa has thrived under coach Mike McDaniel’s system and this year has built off a breakout 2022, when he set career highs in passing touchdowns, passing yards and passer rating.
But the QBs who go head-to-head for the first time in the NFL will forever be linked by their tenures under coach Nick Saban at Alabama.
More specifically, the 2017 season national championship game when Saban benched Hurts, who had led the Crimson Tide to two national title games, at the half and replaced him with Tagovailoa. Tagovailoa was a freshman who had played mostly in mop-up duty when he came off the bench and threw three touchdown passes to give the Crimson Tide their fifth national championship.
Oh, and the play that sparked the comeback? Tagovailoa’s 41-yard touchdown pass to DeVonta Smith, the 1,110-yard receiving wideout from a year ago, when he reunited with Hurts.
Tagovailoa, who leads the NFL in passing yards and touchdown passes, remained the starter the following Alabama season. Hurts, though, led the Crimson Tide to a win in the SEC Championship game when Tagovailoa was injured. Hurts later transferred to Oklahoma for his final season.
Miami drafted Tagovailoa fifth overall in the 2020 draft while the Eagles snagged Hurts in the second round with the 53rd pick.
Now, they lead teams that are both 5-1 and considered Super Bowl contenders.
“I know it’ll be a good game and I don’t think of it as a Super Bowl preview or anything like that,” Tagovailoa said. “I just think that this is another team that we’re preparing for and in order for us to get to where we want to go to, we’ve got to play this game.”
Saban said this week he never felt there were simmering issues between Tagovailoa and Hurts, even as they battled for one of the premier positions in college football.
“I never had two players that were really, really good players at the same position who actually supported each other the way those two guys supported each other when they were here,” Saban said. “I think that comes from mutual respect and both guys being great team guys and putting the team before their own personal feelings. One guy went like 26-2 as a starter and got replaced by another guy for a whole year and supported him. And when that guy got hurt, he went in and won the game.”
Saban said he believed that Hurts improved more as a passer in the year he played behind Tagovailoa than in his years as a starter.
“The psychological support that they gave each other in every circumstance is something that I think is really, really special, and I’m sure they have the same feeling about each other,” Saban said. “I know they’re both great competitors, so they’re going to go do what they have to do for their team. But I do think there’ll be a mutual respect by both guys.”
Both QBs were respectful toward the other, although, in the heat of competition, neither necessarily gushed about his rival.
“It’s been great to see the things he’s been able to do over his career,” Hurts said.
Added Tagovailoa: “I got a lot of respect for Jalen. He’s been a great competitor since I got there to Alabama. He’s been a special player since I’ve been there, and he’s been a special player throughout his entire college career.”
Dolphins All-Pro cornerback Jalen Ramsey practiced Wednesday for the first time since having surgery in July to repair a torn meniscus in his left knee.
Ramsey, who suffered the injury during the second practice of training camp, will not play Sunday, but McDaniel said the team is optimistic that Ramsey will return soon.
“He told us before his surgery that he was going to – he kept telling me he was an alien,” McDaniel said. “So I’m starting to believe him. And that’s a cool thing for such a well-established player at the top of his game for the whole team to see, on how you attack things.”
The Dolphins have until Nov. 7 to activate Ramsey to the 53-man roster.
Miami currently has the league’s 20th-ranked defense, allowing 343.7 yards per game.
The Dolphins’ five wins this season have come against teams with a combined record of 5-24. The only team they’ve faced with a winning record is Buffalo (4-2). Miami lost that game 48-20.
Tagovailoa said Sunday’s matchup could be a litmus test.
“I think it’s always good when you’re facing a team that went to the Super Bowl, where they were just that short of winning it,” Tagovailoa said. “It’s always a test to go up against a team like this where they understand what it takes. They know the work that needs to be put in to make it there. And it definitely is a good opportunity to see where our team stands and where we’re at with that.”
Back by weirdly popular demand, the Eagles will wear throwback Kelly green jerseys on Sunday. The Eagles wore the color as their primary uniform from 1985 to 1995, an era when the team won very little, but the aura of former coach Buddy Ryan, the late Reggie White, Randall Cunningham and others from that time still looms large on the Philly sports scene.
Princess Diana once made the cover of People magazine wearing a Kelly green Eagles jacket.
The Eagles tried for years to bring back the color scheme as an alternate jersey but it wasn’t until the NFL said ahead of the 2022 season that teams could wear two different helmets that the idea could become a reality.
“Look good, feel good, play good, right?” Eagles coach Nick Sirianni said. “We focus on the task at hand, but that’s a cool thing. I know that when those jerseys came out, right, I went immediately to the store and got my kids those jerseys, and my son doesn’t take that A.J. Brown Kelly green jersey off very often. I think it’s an exciting thing for the fans and I think it’s an exciting thing for us.”
The Eagles have gone all in on Kelly green products outside of the uniform line, launching everything from Kelly green debit cards to the labels for special whiskey and vodka.
AP Sports Writer Alanis Thames in Miami Gardens, Florida, contributed to this report.
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