Since the beginning of last season, Tua Tagovailoa has started and finished 13 games. The Miami Dolphins are 10-3 in those games. All three losses came last season, in road games against playoff teams.
Tagovailoa got off to a bit of a slow start to his career, though it wasn’t quite as bad as many made it out to be. At the beginning of his third season last year, at age 24, he started to break out. That’s reasonable development.
But for some reason, there’s still a hangup when it comes to giving Tagovailoa his proper respect and placing him among NFL quarterbacks. There’s always some qualifier, some reason for people to hold back when it comes to praising Tagovailoa.
Here’s the truth: Tagovailoa is elite and the Dolphins are Super Bowl contenders. No qualifiers, other than those about Tagovailoa staying healthy. Yet again the Dolphins got a big win with Tagovailoa in the lineup, passing another road test with a 24-17 win against the New England Patriots. Miami had to hold on in the final minute with New England in Dolphins territory, but nobody is apologizing for any road win against a tough opponent. That’s two quality road wins to start the season, with Tagovailoa starring in each of them.
Tagovailoa is one of the NFL’s best quarterbacks. Hard stop. And if he keeps playing like he has the first two weeks, he’ll be an MVP candidate.
Tua Tagovailoa has another big game
Everyone wants to keep reminding the Dolphins they made a mistake picking Tagovailoa over Justin Herbert, but did they? Since the beginning of last season, Tagovailoa has been more productive. And the Dolphins have been better than Herbert’s Los Angeles Chargers. The only thing lagging behind is the narrative, which for some people was set when Tagovailoa wasn’t an instant star out of Alabama.
The Patriots have become a bland, boring team, but they still have a fantastic defense run by Bill Belichick. Belichick can make life very difficult on quarterbacks, particularly young ones. Tagovailoa was just fine against the Patriots, and on the road as a bonus.
On a day Herbert couldn’t move the ball when he got the ball first in overtime against the Tennessee Titans, here was Tagovailoa’s first-half passing line: 15 of 20, 181 yards and a touchdown. That came after a 466-yard day in a comeback win over the Chargers in Week 1. His touchdown to Tyreek Hill right before the end of the first half put the Dolphins ahead 17-3. Tagovailoa and the Dolphins offense wasn’t great after halftime, but it wasn’t a day the Dolphins needed him to get 466 yards for the win.
Tagovailoa might not have the cannon arm of some other superstar quarterbacks or the electric dual threat ability of others, but he has tremendous accuracy at all areas of the field, a great understanding of where to go with the ball (namely to Hill, over and over) and fantastic anticipation. Those are also quarterbacking skills, and Tagovailoa is elite at them.
If you prefer a quarterback who can throw it through a brick wall, that’s fine. If you want a quarterback who can pile up yards, touchdowns and wins, Tua has quickly become that guy.
Miami’s defense plays well too
Sunday night’s win wasn’t all about Tagovailoa and the offense. Miami’s defense which gave up too many points last week against the Chargers, was much better on Sunday night.
Vic Fangio’s scheme will be a good fit for the Dolphins. They kept everything in front of them for much of the game, not allowing many explosive plays. The Patriots offense looked pretty good against the Philadelphia Eagles last week, but it had a big challenge on Sunday against the Dolphins.
The Patriots finally had signs of life late in the third quarter when they sent Brenden Schooler in motion and he timed his rush perfectly, getting through and blocking a field goal attempt. But on the ensuing drive, Mac Jones threw an interception deep down the sideline to Dolphins cornerback Xavien Howard and Miami held its 17-3 lead.
The Patriots did score to cut Miami’s lead to 17-10 in the fourth quarter, then Tagovailoa made a big mistake. He threw short on a deep pass to Hill and it was intercepted by Christian Gonzalez. Miami’s defense picked up its quarterback, getting a sack and forcing a quick three-and-out. Raheem Mostert ran a 43-yard touchdown on the first offensive play after New England’s punt, and that pushed the lead back to 14 points. The Patriots wouldn’t go away though. They scored, then the Dolphins made an ill-advised decision to try a 55-yard field goal, which missed. The Patriots had a little more than two minutes and good field position, needing a touchdown to tie.
The Patriots seemed to convert a fourth-and-four on a wild unplanned lateral play from tight end Mike Gesicki to guard Cole Strange. Gesicki was short of the first down and had nothing to lose, so he flipped it to Strange, who bulled ahead. But a replay review showed Strange was short of the first down, and the Dolphins took over possession.
It wasn’t always pretty in the second half, but it was a win. The Dolphins have gotten a lot of those with Tagovailoa lately.