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Miami Dolphins

Better, But Not Good Enough – Dolphins Cowboys Week 3 Recap

Travis Wingfield

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Outplaying Dallas in the first half, injuries, mistakes lead to third straight blowout loss for the Dolphins

Covering the spread indicates beating expectations, and even though the Dolphins first road game under Brian Flores ended in another lopsided result, it was decidedly the best performance of the season for Miami.

 

Stat Dolphins Cowboys
Total Yards 283 476
Rushing 72 235
Passing 211 241
Penalties 5 (35 yards) 8 (100 yards)
3rd/4thDown 4/18 (22.2%) 5/10 (50%)
Sacks For 1 3
TOP 29:04 30:56

 

Dropped passes, lack of ball security, shuffling a banged up offensive line, and some curious officiating kept Miami from capturing its first lead this season. Instead, Josh Rosen’s impressive first half led to only six points, and a four-point deficit going to the locker room.

Miami’s offensive surge (comical phrasing when considering NFL-wide perspective) led to the best time of possession mark this season, and sparked a spirited defensive effort. The Miami D picked off Dak Prescott and held the Cowboys to 10 first half points.

As the offense stalled out in the second half, the wheels fell off for the defense for a third consecutive week, including an ejection for Miami’s best player, Xavien Howard.

Finding positives in blowouts is tricky, and as disingenuous as it might sound, there were plenty Sunday in Dallas.

Let’s go position-by-position.

Quarterback

As a detractor of Josh Rosen’s long-term staying power in Miami, it’d be easy to point to the box score and say I told you so, but that’s faulty analysis. Rosen played a good game Sunday with toughness, leadership, generally sharp accuracy, mobility, and a much better sense for the game than we saw all camp.

Miami’s pass protection was better in the first half than it had been for two weeks, but Rosen was still forced off the spot to extend plays, which he did. Rosen had his second, maybe third touchdown dropped in the last two weeks when Preston Williams couldn’t pull down perfect pylon shot.

It’s easy to launch arrows at Brian Flores and his staff for waiting on Rosen, but the growth we saw was tangible. Those physical traits — the way the ball comes off his hand, and an improving, inherent sense for pressure were never the reason he didn’t win the job — it was the mental side of things, which are coming along nicely.

Rosen is a precious asset to the Dolphins. It still seems impossible that he can do enough to push the front office off the QB class next April — he’ll have to at least win a couple of games to get Miami off the number one pick alone — but playing like he did Sunday increases his league-wide value, which only stands to benefit the Dolphins.

Running Backs

This position group was thought to be a stacked stable of versatile weapons by many, but it has been among the most disappointing positions in the early going.

Kalen Ballage is showing the lateral agility of a Cadillac. That, with his spotty vision, makes for a very uneventful play when he touches the ball — he seems to go down on first contact every time (he made the first tackler miss only twice on 45 opportunities last season).

Kenya Drake maintains his explosive, dual-threat nature, but the same mistakes persist for the fourth-year player. Poor ball security, spinning his back into the defense with only one hand on the ball on a goal-to-go run, dropped passes, occasional gaffes in pass protection — it’s not good enough.

Wide Receivers

Preston Williams has the tools to be a number-one wide receiver. Xavien Howard said that, scouts that preferred him as a priority UDFA said that, his production has — at times — said that. But he needs to catch the damn football. Catching the ball is supposed to be the easy part, and Williams continues to get open, only to lack finish.

The FOX broadcast mentioned that Williams and Rosen are best buddies, and that chemistry shows up regularly. Williams’ line-of-scrimmage release skill set is pretty impressive, and he understands how to chase blind spots and stack defensive backs.

Jakeem Grant’s issue is similar to Williams — drops on offense and special teams. He dropped a simple screen today and muffed another punt, but he did show a proclivity for finding soft sports in the underneath zone, and was a fixture of the game plan. That needs to continue for the season to see if he can withstand a heavy workload for 16 games.

Allen Hurns was laid out on a brutal hit from Jeff Heath. He entered the concussion protocol and was very slow to walk off the field. Keep him in your thoughts.

Devante Parker made a gorgeous one-handed stab on a takeoff route. He has fast become a favorite of Rosen as well, as the quarterback will search for his tall receivers into the boundary with one-on-one coverage working down the sideline. Parker is mostly effective at stacking the corners in this situation, as he did here on this beautiful one-handed catch.

Tight Ends

Durham Smythe made several impressive blocks, including some new wham action that was not part of the prior game plans. The wham invites a defensive tackle up field without a direct block, and Smythe’s job is to peel back and surprise the penetrating tackle with a wham block.

Mike Gesicki was hardly involved in the game plan as a pass catcher — he didn’t have the most favorable of matchups against the versatile Cowboys linebackers and safeties, plus Miami often went max protection. Gesicki did catch all three of his targets, all be it for nine yards.

Offensive Line

The first half commentary would be all positive, especially when the already depleted group had to shuffle again after Jesse Davis was lost with an injury (no word yet on the extent of the injury).

Michael Deiter, who has been progressing nicely at left guard, kicked outside to tackle, and that’s a position he’s simply not suited to play. Miami had to slide protection to deal with the speed of Robert Quinn off that edge, and it weakened the rest of the group.

Shaq Calhoun filled in for the second comrade down — Danny Isidora — we’ll have more on his performance in the film review later this week (admittedly didn’t get a great look at his work).

Daniel Kilgore had an excellent first half, but as it did for the entire group things regressed for him after the break.

Evan Boehm came off the bench and made his case for getting into the starting lineup, he played as well as any of the linemen in the game.

J’Marcus Webb was good save for a few reps, he’s been something of a godsend to this line the last two weeks. The group is barely hanging on, and that final thread might’ve torn if not for Webb’s inclusion.

Defensive Line

Apparently I started a feud between Davon Godchaux and Dallas Defensive Back Jourdan Lewis. Despite the 235 yards on the ground for the Cowboys, Godchaux often displayed the traits that will earn him a new contract under this regime.

Davon retweeted the above video, with a quote about him playing with the best line in football, which Lewis took exception to. Godchaux’s sheer power, low pad level, and strength at the point of attack allows him to lock out, disengage, and disrupt gaps in the running game.

The same was true on multiple reps for Christian Wilkins. Miami’s freaky-athletic first-round pick played with speed and quickness at Clemson, but he’s showing a penchant for the read-react, two-gap scheme this Dolphins staff wants to employ.

The rest of the line was not great. The John Jenkins honeymoon might be over. As good as he was last week, he was that bad today.

Charles Harris was schemed unblocked a couple of times by Kellen Moore and the Dallas offense — that tells you about all you need to know about his reputation around the league. He did put a hit on Prescott, but it was one of those unblocked reps.

Taco Charlton made some hustle plays, including Miami’s lone sack when coverage held up and forced Dak to flee the pocket.

Linebackers

Jerome Baker might need some help at the position next year, but he’s definitely a hit going forward. Among some bad reps, Baker made some “wow” plays, including an impressive coverage rep on Zeke Elliot with a two-way go.

He also made the Dolphins play of the day by chasing down a screen pass to the other side of the field, fighting through a wall of Cowboys, and preventing a first down on third-and-long.

Sam Eguavoen had his best game of the year, but things are still coming along slowly for the training camp star. He’s taking too many false steps, sticking to blocks, and not excelling in his area of expertise, coverage. He made seven tackles on Sunday.

Vince Biegel has earned more playing time, and rightfully so. He’s coming down off the edge to help the outside run game, and he’s a big part of Miami’s sub-package pressure looks.

Defensive Backs

Xavien Howard’s horrible day ended with an ejection, but he looked largely disinterested in the game. He was beat for a pair of touchdowns and a couple of additional long plays by Dallas’ star wide out, Amari Cooper.

Eric Rowe was better in this one, but Jomal Wiltz had another rough day that ended with a groin injury — the result of him trying to chase a tight end that got lost in coverage.

Bobby McCain picked off his first pass in his new role, and fellow safeties Johnson Bademosi and Steven Parker had excellent first halves working in this new coverage scheme. Bademosi made a pair of plays — one in man coverage working over a pick on a mesh concept, making a third-down tackle short of the sticks.

Bademosi’s other standout play was in coverage on Jason Witten. He rerouted the big tight end and nearly created an interception for Parker, who did well to drive on the football.

Recap

While the offensive line was healthy, moving the ball wasn’t an issues between the 20’s. Things bogged down in the red zone, including a trio of running plays inside the five that probably could’ve used some more deception, but the offense looked functional for the first time all season

Aside from the red zone calls, the plan held firm. Chad O’Shea’s quick-strike staples, and clever concepts to play off of prior looks created some big plays in the Dolphins passing game — particularly on this backside over route from Preston Williams leaking out behind play action.

The coverage plans that have made the Patriots so successful have shown up from time-to-time here in Miami, especially on Sunday. The Miami defense was excellent in the red zone in the first half, and that’s an endorsement to the schemes that drop seven and eight into coverage, forcing the quarterback to thread tight windows.

More growth from the quarterback, continued execution of the new schemes, and cutting back on the mental mistakes and penalties were all signs of progress. Cleaning up the physical mistakes and simple execution is the next step, one that should inspire hope if all of these things can become regular occurrences this season.

The Dolphins stayed in the game with one of the NFL’s best team, and probably should’ve taken a lead into the halftime break. This league is certainly not one for moral victories, but with a team that is challenging to be the most talent-challenged group in league history, there are silver linings.

Considering the expectations this season, clutching for silver linings is all we’ve got.

@WingfieldNFL

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2 Comments

2 Comments

  1. Avatar

    Erik Viel

    September 23, 2019 at 7:36 am

    This is absolutely not better. In fact, it is much more concerning. The Dolphins have lost 68-0 in the 2nd half and the coaching staff has shown complete ineptitude in making necessary adjustments. The supposed building blocks have been an utter disgrace. Jakeem Grant couldn’t catch a cold but can certainly muff punts, Devante dropped another TD, Preston Williams dropped another TD, Drake fumbles near the goal line, Xavien Howard gets smoked all day and then loses his composure and gets ejected, Ballage has shown absolutely nothing. Meanwhile, Minkah Fitzpatrick was amazing in his 1st game as a Steeler.

  2. Avatar

    Papapickett

    September 23, 2019 at 11:03 am

    Hey I was proud of the team. Howard definitely seems like something is bothering him whether it be hims being the last man standing or the fact the offense is averaging 5.5 points a game. But they played like a pro team. An overmatched one but they put a fight and I was pleased with their efforts. However the play that most stood out to me was Walt Aikens getting JUKED by Jason Witten. Aikens didnt close for contact on a late throw then stood in front of Witten until Witten walked around him. Ive never seen anything like that in the pros. Aikens would be gone if I had a say in it.

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Miami Dolphins

There’s A Fine Line Between Being A Genius & Being Dumb in the NFL

Jason Hrina

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Image Credit: Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

Think Brian Flores & Chris Grier aren’t smart?

After successfully navigating through all of the pre-draft smokescreens better than teenagers can survive the high school rumor mill, the Miami Dolphins are in a position to flourish for the next decade.

Yes, it’s something we’ve said before almost annually, but this time, there’s a clear foundation that will allow the roots of this franchise to prosper.

We’ve Heard This Before

Tony Sparano blossomed under the Bill Parcells‘ coaching tree in Dallas, bringing with him an aura of prominence and a pedigree for smash mouth football.

After a miraculous 10-game turnaround that took Miami from #1 overall in the draft to division winners, fans felt they had the proper leadership in place.

That was soon debunked when the Dolphins followed an 11-5 (2008) season with 7-9 (2009), 7-9 (2010) and 6-10 (2011). It’s not that any of us feel that Sparano was a bad coach, but it was more-than-evident that he was handicapped at the quarterback position.

The Dolphins go 11-5 in 2008 because their quarterback was the runner-up in the MVP race, and they falter to 7-9 after that because they decided to build around Chad Henne.

Good coach, but poor coaching decisions.

From there, the Dolphins hired one of the best human beings on the planet – Joe Philbin. The notorious problem with Philbin was: he couldn’t lead a football team.

Failing to rein in Vontae Davis‘ hangovers, everything regarding Richie Incognito, the Chad Ochocinco saga (check out this damning ESPN article from 2012, which gives you a glimpse into how the player’s felt about Philbin early on), and all of the Mike Wallace drama. Those football teams had some decent talent, yet were never better than a mediocre 8-8 in Philbin’s 4 years.

Great person, but terrible with people.

Adam Gase then took a 1-4 season and made the playoffs at 10-6. All the optimism surrounding Ryan Tannehill seemed justified, and we were ecstatic for the future. But we came to learn that Gase’s coaching talents resembled more of a glorified offensive coordinator, which left players feelings ostracized and without a sense of direction – especially those on defense.

Like Philbin, Gase wanted a group of players that followed him, rather than developing a strategy that tailored to his players’ strengths. He traded away (or failed to re-sign) productive players drafted by Grier in years past, just because he couldn’t handle them.

After a 10-6 start to his coaching career (2016), we watched our hopes dwindle to 6-10 (2017) – accompanied with $10m worth of embarrassing Jay Cutler highlights – and then 7-9 (2018) after the “quarterback guru” couldn’t get any production out of a 2019 Pro Bowl & AFC Championship quarterback in Ryan Tannehill.

Offensive visionary, but he couldn’t see past his own shortcomings.

So Why is This Different?

This would be the definition of insanity….if it meant that we were following the same trend.

Yes, we understand the eternal caveat that we won’t know for sure until we see the results, but after a successful 2019 – and a stellar 2020 draft that features plenty of starting potential – we’re not going too far out on a limb to say that they have our trust.

Going into a vital 2020 NFL draft where the team held 3 first-round picks, the Miami Dolphins’ future rested solely on the leis of Tua Tagovailoa. For months we were on edge, because, as Dolphins fans, we just figured they would screw it up. But once they secured their quarterback of the future, the plan was simple: protect him.

Not only was the plan to build a wall in front of him, but Grier and Flores identified that some of these positions take more time to develop than others. Rarely do offensive and defensive linemen jump right in and become dominant players. The difference between pancaking teenagers in college to moving a mountain-of-a-man in the NFL is colossal.

Rookies go through such a strenuous process to improve their draft stock – immediately after completing a full college season – that they are burned out by the time their rookie year is over. That’s exactly what happened to Michael Deiter towards the end of last season; it’s no surprise we see their performance start to slide after putting in so much work throughout the year.

Drafting Austin Jackson (18th-overall pick), Robert Hunt (39th), and Solomon Kindley (111th) means Miami is giving their rookies time to grow before being asked to protect their most-important asset since Dan Marino.

Instead of a trying to learn the nuances of the NFL with a rookie quarterback, they can learn how an offensive play is properly setup, executed and audibled under a veteran, Ryan Fitzpatrick.

When it comes time to protect Tua Tagovailoa in 2021, they won’t have to worry if they understood the protection, if they’ll make a rookie mistake, or if they’ll naively and unintentionally do something embarrassing or costly. They’ll be able to focus on executing the play properly, giving Tua an ample amount of time to handle his own “rookie” adjustments.

With Raekwon Davis, the Dolphins acquire another player at a position that tends to need some time to grow. This move makes me wonder what the future holds for Davon Godchaux, who is expected to receive a very nice payday in free agency after this season, but for now, Miami can rely heavily on Godchaux and their 2019 1st-round pick, Christian Wilkins. Davis has the opportunity to learn under these two as he prepares to take on a much bigger role in 2021.

With their final 1st-round pick, Miami selected another young player at a cornerstone position. The adjustments rookie cornerbacks need to make when guarding an NFL receiver are somewhat substantial, and Noah Igbinoghene will be able to learn and make these adjustments while covering the opponent’s third or forth receiver – with the added security that he has an array of established and Pro Bowl veterans behind him.

This might hint at an ugly and somewhat inconsistent 2020 season, as roughly half of this roster is new to the team, but all of these young players will start to excel as Tua begins to transition into our full-time starting quarterback.

Which means the Miami Dolphins are ready to make a legitimate playoff run in 2021.

Is it possible all of these risks falter? Of course! Austin Jackson just turned 21 years old, and he wasn’t viewed as the best left tackle in college last season – he is a projection. Noah Igbinoghene wasn’t viewed as a 1st-round caliber cornerback, as most “experts” think he’s restricted to covering the slot rather than becoming a boundary corner. And then you have the general, inevitable fact that some of these picks just won’t pan out.

But we watched players like Mike Gesicki, DeVante Parker, Raekwon McMillan, Vince Biegel and Nik Needham take the “next step” under Brian Flores stewardship. It only makes us wonder who he’ll coach up next.

Now that Flores is more-comfortable as a sophomore coach, and the team understands his “win no matter what” philosophy, Miami should naturally thrive in year two….right?

Like all of these other coaches before him, Flores is an absolute genius after year one. And like all those coaches before him, he’s one season away from looking like a dunce.

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Miami Dolphins

Dolphins Waive TE Michael Roberts

Chris Kowalewski

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As the doors of the Dolphins’ training facility open to the newly signed rookie class, they close for another former Miami-hopeful after an active weekend of roster moves.

The Miami Dolphins have today waived TE Michael Roberts.

Roberts began his NFL career in 2017 out of Toledo as a 4th round pick of the Detroit Lions, possessing ideal measurements (6’5”, 265lb) for a playmaking TE.

A shoulder injury in December 2018 cut short Roberts’ time in Detroit and he was waived by the Lions following a failed physical as part of an attempted trade with the New England Patriots and subsequently waived quickly again after being picked up by the Green Bay Packers.

Roberts underwent reconstruction of the injured left shoulder in August 2019, having struggled both physically and mentally as his career path veered away from his dreams. Signed by the Dolphins in February 2020, it was hoped that Roberts could revive his NFL career in Miami’s TE room, competing with Durham Smythe for the TE2 spot behind Mike Gesicki.

At only 26 years old, it remains to be seen whether the young TE will be able to regain full health and return to the game, but the craziness of 2020 only puts further hurdles in his path as training camp rosters are reduced across the league to 80 players in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Don’t expect Brian Flores and his staff to sit on their hands when it comes to competition – 2019 highlighted on a regularly churning roster of names being given a chance to succeed – and this approach is expected to continue at certain positions. As such, Saturday’s news that former Chicago Bears’ TE Adam Shaheen had been acquired by the Dolphins ensures that healthy competition can continue to spread through the roster, and proves the willingness of the front office to give chances to promising players who may not have achieved during their first NFL stop.

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Miami Dolphins

In A Perfect World, Tua Tagovailoa Doesn’t Start a Single Game

Jason Hrina

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Image Credit: Butch Dill-USA TODAY Sports

If everything goes right, Tua Tagovailoa isn’t going to start a single game for the Miami Dolphins in 2020.

Nope, you didn’t misread that last sentence. Tua Tagovailoa riding the bench is the best thing that could happen to the Miami Dolphins this season, and if you think otherwise, then you haven’t been paying attention to what Brian Flores has been preaching since his arrival.

The obvious factor everyone is taking into consideration is the health of Tua’s hip. And while that definitely plays a part, it has minimal affect on his playing time. You see, barring a trade, Tua is the third-best quarterback on the roster right now.

Combine his inexperience, a COVID-restricted offseason, and that pesky hip injury, and it’s safe to say our questions have already been answered.

The Better Player Plays

With this team, it’s no secret that playing time is awarded based on a player’s performance both in games and during practice. It doesn’t matter where you were drafted or how much money you’re making, if you aren’t better than the athlete next to you, you aren’t playing.

In fact, didn’t we just go through a very similar situation last year when the Dolphins acquired Josh Rosen from the Arizona Cardinals for a 2nd-round draft pick?

We all assumed that Ryan Fitzpatrick was keeping the seat warm until Rosen – a top-10 draft pick one season prior – was ready, but when Flores had the opportunity to simultaneously give a young quarterback experience and tank for Tua, he did neither. Instead, opting to (nearly) sabotage the opportunity to draft Tagovailoa and win as many games as possible with Fitzpatrick.

Rosen has much more upside than Fitzpatrick, but he couldn’t muster more than 197 snaps under center last season.

Just like that, the culture was set. Flores wasn’t fucking around – it was win at all costs, and the players bought in. One season later, that mantra certainly hasn’t changed.

Tua has more talent and better quarterback traits than Fitzpatrick and Rosen (probably combined), so there’s no arguing which quarterback we want to build a franchise around, but who is going to win the team more games this season?

I don’t doubt that Tua is a football genius that will pick up a playbook quickly, but knowing your plays and executing against an NFL defense are two completely different things.

Fitzpatrick has been in the league for 15 years while Tua has been in the league for 14 weeks; there is A LOT Tua has to learn before he can make the kind of reads Fitzpatrick can instinctively make after 139 starts in the NFL.

Josh Rosen may not evolve into an elite, franchise-saving quarterback, but he’s not terrible either. Two years of experience and a season-worth of starts (16) under his belt gives him an instant edge over Tua. The only thing that levels Rosen with Tagovailoa is they’re both learning Chan Gailey‘s offense for the first time – and for Rosen, this would be his 4th different offense in the past 4 years.

Otherwise, Rosen already has a rapport with the coaching staff, the medical staff, all of the workers in the building, and the receivers on this roster. In other words, he’s comfortable in his surroundings while Tua is trying to get acclimated to a brand new life.

There are going to be growing pains and a learning curve – two things we admittedly need Tua to experience in order to evolve. But the question becomes, when can Miami afford to experience those “opportunities”? Certainly not if they believe they are…

Playoff Bound

The Miami Dolphins – and most importantly, Brian Flores – believe they are in a position to make a legitimate playoff run.

Scoff however much you’d like at the notion that this team, one year removed from being “the worst team in the NFL”, is on a cusp of making a playoff appearance, but don’t tell anyone in the Dolphins’ organization that you think that.

A remastered secondary, a veteran presence among the front-7, an entirely new offensive line, and real, productive running backs means the Dolphins are all-but-guaranteed to improve on their 5-11 record.

In fact, the only thing holding them back from a legitimate playoff run is the quarterback position.

Ryan Fitzpatrick has won more than 6 games as a starter just once in his career, and Rosen only has 3 wins to his name (none as a Dolphin). If the team falters, it’s because these two quarterbacks couldn’t carry a well-built football team to the playoffs.

And that’s where the disappointment of another lost season is met with hope for the future. It won’t be until the Dolphins are mathematically eliminated from the playoffs that the team will trot Tua Tagovailoa out onto the field.

Waiting until so late in the season checks off every single box you need. It gives him time to:

  • Learn his way around the NFL
  • Understand the playbook better
  • Observe the game from the sideline
  • Gain chemistry with his receivers

Oh, and it also helps ensure that his hip is healthy, because…

I’m Sure He’s Healthy…

Being stuck inside during an international pandemic may have made it seem like a lifetime ago, but it’s only been three short months since we all clamored to a 14 minute video of Tua Tagovailoa throwing scripted passes; our eyes inexplicably glued to a man’s hips, unscientifically judging whether or not he was healthy. Try explaining that one to your significant other.

While we are all thrilled with recent medical reports and first-hand accounts from the quarterback himself, it would be downright idiotic to mess around with a hip injury.

The only reason Tua Tagovailoa was available at the 5th-overall pick was because of the uncertainty surrounding his hip, those concerns don’t suddenly disappear just because he’s on your roster and we’re excited to see our prized possession play.

Let his hip heal and let him practice against a secondary that includes Xavien Howard, Byron Jones, Bobby McCain, Brandon Jones, Noah Igbinoghene, and Eric Rowe. He’s going to learn just how quickly throwing lanes close and how tight they are to begin with.

Don’t convince yourself that Tua has to start games this rookie season to be the elite quarterback he’s projected to be. Patrick Mahomes started one game his rookie year. Aaron Rodgers didn’t start until his forth season in the NFL. If all of the hype is real, then his career will be just fine.

The plan isn’t to count moral victories, but to win football games – and Tua Tagovailoa gives the Miami Dolphins the best chance to do that for the foreseeable future. But for now, Ryan Fitzpatrick is your starting quarterback, and until Josh Rosen relinquishes the job as backup, it won’t be Tua’s until 2021. Mission Accomplished.

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