Justin Herbert vs. Tua Tagovailoa: A silly debate

Justin Herbert vs. Tua Tagovailoa: A silly debate

We’re tribal creatures, and there’s nothing that appeals to us more than a simple binary where you choose your sides. Democrat or Republican? Coke or Pepsi? football or soccer? Make your choice, dig in hard and never give in an inch.

Sunday night brought us one of the best debates: a niche blood war in which the people involved stake their entire identities on it while the vast majority of the world literally doesn’t care. The terms of this fight: who is better, Tua Tagovailoa or Justin Herbert?

You may have a quick answer, or you may hesitate, arguing that making a final judgment on a moving target is futile. Either way, you most likely make your call and get on with your day. And that, my friend, is because your brain isn’t being terminally poisoned by social media, and for that you should be thankful.

The Chargers held off the Dolphins 23-17 when Herbert (39/51, 367 yards, 1 TD) absolutely thrashed Tagovailoa (10/28, 145 yards) on the box score. That was enough for Twitter to bury the #FinsUp contingent, which Herbert had labeled as a “social media quarterback,” one who produces highlights but no results. Of course, by and large, Miami still has a one-game lead for the sixth playoff slot — i.e., the one who doesn’t have to face Buffalo/KC in the first round — but if the lane’s open for a Twitter dunk, you draw Don’t settle for a soft midrange jumper.

“Both quarterbacks have merit, and we should appreciate them both” is the kind of sane, measured attitude that allows normal people to function in the real world, but in the desperately chirping hellscape of social media, milquetoast affirmations so they suffer the worst fate: they are ignored. Come with primary color warmth or don’t come at all.

The facts: Tagovailoa and Herbert were drafted fifth and sixth, respectively, in the 2020 NFL Draft. As such, like other pairs of quarterbacks who are drafted back-to-back, they are always tied. Unlike Peyton Manning-Ryan Leaf, there is no clear favorite yet. Unlike Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota, the teams that drafted them seem inclined to stick with them for a while. And unlike Carson Wentz and Jared Goff, they didn’t leave a crater, nor did they need another team to revive them. Still.

But facts on social media are worth all the weight of a tweet. This is a Vibe argument, plain and simple. Team Herbert and Team Tua ride with (or against) their chosen king based on how they feel alone, so let’s rate them that way.

Tagovailoa came to the league with more hype given his college background — as a freshman from Alabama, he threw the pass that defeated Georgia in the 2017 national championship and came to the relief of a man named Jalen Hurts. Herbert was more of a safe bet given the injury that ended Tagovailoa’s college career.

From the jump, Tagovailoa won draft night with a spectacular jacket honoring his grandparents:

Early in the 2020 season, Herbert took the lead early by winning the seed in just his second game as a pro, while Tagovailoa didn’t debut until Week 6 and didn’t start until Week 8. Granted, Tagovailoa played his way into the starting gig while Herbert got the job through an injury to Tyrod Taylor, who sustained the still stunning injury of an accidentally punctured lung – but however they sat in the driver’s seat, they (mostly) held on to the steering wheel ever since.

In 2021, Tagovailoa steered the Dolphins to seven straight wins, a feat from hell that would have been even more impressive had Miami not suffered seven straight losses. Tagovailoa missed most with a rib injury. Though Miami narrowly missed the playoffs, Tagovailoa led the Dolphins to their first season against the Patriots since 2000. Small wins, right?

Both players have suffered from factors beyond their control. Herbert has intensive care for a receiving corps, a rotating cast of barely-healthy passers who can’t all seem to stay on the field at once…plus, he’s the latest victim of the eternal curse hanging over the Chargers franchise. The team could be in winning formation, 21 points clear with 10 seconds left and still find a way to lose.

Tagovailoa, on the other hand, has been the quarterbacks’ “Is Pepsi OK?” from his arrival at Hard Rock Stadium until just a few weeks ago, and not just in the eyes of fans and critics. He spent much of 2021 knowing that more than a few people in the Miami firmament were casting envious glances at Deshaun Watson.

This season was a breakthrough for Tagovailoa, more of the same for Herbert. In 2022, Tagovailoa has thrown for 3,004 yards and 22 touchdowns with a 108.2 rating. In games he has started, the Dolphins are 8-3. Herbert, on the other hand, has thrown for 3,706 yards and 21 touchdowns and has a 93.2 rating; the Chargers are 7-6 in its infancy. (Yes, “quarterback wins” is the trashiest of all garbage stats, but remember: this argument only accepts vibes.)

The Chargers’ lack of overall success, even when Herbert unloads miracle shots, tends to cloud his detractors’ vision. He needs to beat Miami on a bigger stage than just December to rise in the public eye.

Tagovailoa, on the other hand, is a case of “both can be true” – he can be an injury-prone QB with a history of underperformance and a rising star whose potential was unleashed by Mike McDaniel. As with Herbert, he will need more success, team and individual, to shed the labels that stuck to him like duct tape for the first two seasons.

You will both get your chance. Both teams are heading towards the playoffs, new territory for both quarterbacks. Both teams have celebratory matchups in the near future: Miami on Saturday night vs. Buffalo, the Chargers on a New Year’s Day Sunday night in the Battle of Los Angeles. By then we should have a good idea of ​​who’s ahead in this particular little horse race… and then social media will gleefully tell us we’re wrong.

Tua Tagovailoa and Justin Herbert will forever be united in public memory.  (Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports)

Tua Tagovailoa and Justin Herbert will forever be united in public memory. (Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports)


Contact Jay Busbee at [email protected] or on Twitter @jaybusbee.

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