Tua Tagovailoa has proven to his detractors that he’s a viable starting quarterback. He’s proven to his critics that he can ferry nuclear-powered offense. But Tyreek Hill’s cheat code speed can only get the Miami juggernaut so far. There’s still a barrier left for Tagovailoa to hurdle.
He’s got to overcome his penchant for underperforming against stifling, playoff-caliber defenses. It’s the final roadblock to his upward trajectory. On Sunday, Tagovailoa had another clunker against the type of resistance MVP contenders are typically able to overcome. While Miami’s defense gave Patrick Mahomes trouble and turned Travis Kelce into a bystander, Tagovailoa threw only 193 yards and one touchdowns.The run game clicked, the defense rolled and the offense benefitted from Kansas City’s crippling second half penalties. Everyone executed Sunday except Tagovailoa.
For much of the first half, Tagovailoa and the Dolphins offense were in standby mode and began the second half trailing the defending champs 21-0. Tagovailoa eventually snapped out of it, and Raheem Mostert put Miami in position to tie it up in the waning minutes. However, a flurry of mistakes ultimately cost Miami on the final drive.
On third-and-10 in Kansas City territory, Tagovailoa threw a duck, which plummeted to the turf well behind a wide-open Cedrick WIlson who had nothing but green grass ahead of him. On fourth down, Tagovailoa didn’t even give himself a chance to take a second shot downfield. While Steve Spagnuolo brought a Cover 0 blitz, Tagovailoa fumbled the snap, fell on top of it and the game was over. It was a deflating finish for the Dolphins and Mike McDaniels, who’d become the darling of the German media.
All in all, the Chiefs defense became the latest elite unit to mince Tua into chicken of the sea. For Tagovailoa specifically, Sunday was an unfortunate continuation of his shaky play against elite competition. Facing sub-.500 teams, Tagovailoa rises to the occasion. But he was a shell of himself against the Buffalo Bills, wilted under the pressure of Philadelphia’s rush and had to be consistently bailed out by the run game and defense against Kansas City.
On a weekend where Josh Dobbs mounted a rally for the Minnesota Vikings in his first week on the roster and rookie CJ Stroud activated the GOAT setting against Tampa Bay, Tagovailoa’s unsteadiness in pressure situations is even more conspicuous. Prior to this week, Tagovailoa led the MVP field by a hair. Mahomes probably overtook him after Sunday’s result, but even he was pedestrian in the second half. Mahomes completely vanished as the Chiefs offense went scoreless for the final 32 minutes of regulation.
It didn’t help that his favorite target, Tyreek Hill, aka the man who should be Midseason MVP, fumbled in the first half, surrendering a defensive touchdown to Kansas City’s defense. The last time the Dolphins defeated a team above .500 was against the Buffalo Bills in Week 3 of the 2022 season. Against teams with a winning record this season, they are averaging 22 points per game fewer than they do versus winning teams. Tagovailoa’s issues with concussions in the 2022 season suppressed much of this narrative, but it really began to grow legs after the Dolphins offense faltered against Fred Warner and the San Francisco 49ers’ stifling defense. Tagovailoa’s struggles sent the Dolphins into a tailspin they never recovered from. Now we know that it travels with them.
At 25, Tagovailoa is still a work-in-progress, but he’s playing for more than a Super Bowl in the second half of 2023. Miami’s championship window might be wide open now, but the Dolphins have to determine if Tagovailoa is the long-term answer. Tagovailoa and general manager Chris Grier tabled extension talks this summer. Tagovailoa’s 2022 breakout wasn’t a fluke, but was it a ceiling?
Fourth quarter comebacks against potential playoff foes is what separates the Jared Goffs from franchise cornerstones. When the motion, speed and finesse trickery can only get Miami so far, Tagovailoa has to begin carrying a more significant load.
Once quarterbacks sign an extension the clock starts ticking until the salary cap room around them dries up. Miami is paying Hill and Jalen Ramsey top-3 money at their respective positions. Given the type of salary that quarterbacks are being offered in contract extensions, more consistency against upper echelon opposition is a fair expectation for Tua Tagovailoa.
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