If there was any doubt about Tua Tagovailoa, it has surely evaporated.
Coming off his first career NFL start, one that didn’t really showcase his full potential, the No. 5 pick in the 2020 Draft was nothing short of spectacular. Tagovailoa completed 20 of his 28 passes, recording 248 yards and two touchdowns. The rookie signal-caller added 35 rushing yards on seven carries, earning a 87.6 quarterback rating.
Better yet, he led the Miami Dolphins down the field multiple times, including a fourth quarter possession that set up kicker Jason Sanders for a 51-yard field goal, as the Dolphins edged past the Arizona Cardinals 34-31.
“I thought he made a lot of plays – a lot of big plays for us,” coach Brian Flores said. “We needed it. It was a back and forth game. They made plays and we made plays. The stage wasn’t too big for him tonight. He played well.”
Tagovailoa ultimately played a total of 56 plays in 28 minutes and 57 seconds. That’s a tremendous increase compared to last week’s contest versus the L.A. Rams, in which he had just 58 plays in 23 minutes and 31 seconds.
Now 2-0 in his first two starts, the Tagovailoa era is underway and in full effect.
And it’s just getting started.
At 5-3 on the season, Miami has become serious contenders for an AFC playoff spot. Still, they’ll need Tagovailoa and his club to continue repeating those successful steps that put them into that position.
That being said, here are the positives, negatives and things to look out for as the Tua era continues to form:
Last week, Tagovailoa became the first player to win his inaugural start with less than 100 passing yards and 20-plus completions since Donovan McNabb in 1999. For obvious reasons, the rookie wasn’t pleased. Neither were his coaches.
“I don’t think I played to the standard of what this offense is capable of,” Tua said. “There were certain plays where I could have stepped up and made the right throw, made the right decision.”
This time around, the former Alabama sensation had more confidence throwing the ball downfield, completing eight of his 11 passes that went for 10 or more yards. Those catches resulted in 140 yards and a touchdown. Compared to his Week 8 numbers – 1/3, 15 yards – and there’s obvious improvement.
According to PFF, Tagovailoa had eight throws go for 15 or more yards, tied for the second most in Week 9, behind Buffalo’s Josh Allen.
Tagovailoa also delivered when it mattered most, throwing 6 of 8 for 77 yards, a touchdown and no interception in Miami’s final three drives. Those numbers were deserving of a 144.7 quarterback rating. Adding to his resume, the rookie had 24 yards on three carries, including a quarterback sneak that sealed the deal to Sunday’s victory.
Tagovailoa was also open to the idea of sharing the ball to others, targeting nine different receivers against Arizona. Headlining it all was DeVante Parker, who had six receptions for 64 yards. Tua’s second touchdown came on an 11-yard throw to Mack Hollins, his first and only catch of the season.
To make that pass even sweeter, the Tagovailoa-Hollins connection had a completion probability of 16.4 percent, the most improbable completion by a Dolphins quarterback over the last 3 seasons, per Next Gen Stats.
Lastly, Tua looked extremely smooth rolling out left, something opposing teams will have to adjust to, being that he’s a left-handed quarterback.
Under Tagovailoa, Miami’s now 34-game streak of giving up one or more sacks is on-going, as he was taken down three times for a loss of 27 yards versus Arizona. Until present day, it’s the longest streak in the NFL.
Although it’s not completely his fault, it’ll be needed for him to escape the pocket and simply throw it away – which he almost messed up on, too.
On a 2nd and 10, Tagovailoa moved left in hopes of finding tight end Mike Gesicki. When those aspirations crumbles, he threw the ball away very softly, almost resulting in his first pro interception. To limit those things from happening, Tua can’t be relaxed under a blitz, and should meaningfully throw it away next time.
Other than that, two overthrown passes to Gesicki and Adam Shaheen weren’t pleasing, but are acceptable considering the limited amount of time Tagovailoa has played with them.
What to expect:
Looking into this upcoming Sunday, the Dolphins will take on the Los Angeles Chargers (2-6) at 4:25 p.m. Tagovailoa will take on rookie quarterback Justin Herbert, who Miami passed on in the 2020 Draft to take Tua.
The Chargers, who give up 240.2 passing yards per game this season (17th among NFL teams), are on a two-game losing skid and have lost six of their last seven contests. If Tagovailoa’s squad can repeat their production, this should push his starting record to 3-0.