The reevaluation of Tua Tagovailoa — is he the real deal?

·Columnist
·5-min read

The Miami Dolphins tried to get Deshaun Watson, even at the risk of fan backlash. They tried to get Tom Brady, even at the risk of NFL tampering penalties.

They tried all sorts of ideas because, it’s fairly clear, they didn't want to try again with Tua Tagovailoa for the 2022 season.

Yet try as they might, nothing worked.

And now, perhaps, it’s Tagovailoa who is becoming the star they were searching for all along.

It’s early. Painfully early. Small sample size and all of those caveats most certainly apply.

Yet Miami is 2-0 and Tagovailoa is coming off a 469-yard, six-touchdown performance in a 42-38 shootout victory over the Baltimore Ravens. He was named AFC Offensive Player of the Week for the effort.

It wasn't just that he racked up big numbers either. He conveyed a calm and a sense of control over the game that speaks to this being more than just a hot day against a weak defense.

He even bounced back from two interceptions and a sack to play his best in the fourth quarter. It was there Miami scored four touchdowns to dig out of a 21-point hole and out-duel former league MVP Lamar Jackson.

In the past, it’s quite possible Tagovailoa would have collapsed under the pressure and the mistakes. On Sunday, it was onto the next play.

Sunday's six-touchdown effort in a win over the Ravens showed Miami what Tua Tagovailoa might finally become. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)
Sunday's six-touchdown effort in a win over the Ravens showed Miami what Tua Tagovailoa might finally become. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)

“I want to do good every time I go out there,” Tagovailoa said. “I don’t want to throw interceptions; I want to throw touchdowns. I want to put our team in the best situation that I possibly can, but you know we’ve got to be real. You know those guys on the other side of the ball get paid, too. And they’re really good players.

“All I can do is go out there and do what we’ve done throughout practice,” he continued. “Just going to play football and hope we can bring home wins.”

Whatever doubts there were about Tagovailoa in the past, there apparently aren’t any inside the current Dolphins locker room. This is their guy, and this is the guy they have been seeing develop in the offseason and practice.

“I think there's also something to the fact that none of his teammates were surprised, which is much more impactful than words,” Miami head coach Mike McDaniel said. “You can feel that when guys, they're not like, 'Whoa, dude, where did that come from?' ”

Maybe the Dolphins aren’t surprised, but almost everyone else is. The rub on Tagovailoa was that he couldn’t throw deep, he couldn’t lead like a franchise guy, he let mistakes snowball.

Where Miami once sought to replace him, it instead surrounded him with weapons. Adding Tyreek Hill from Kansas City to go with Jaylen Waddle means the Dolphins are rich with deep threats … and a QB proving he can hit them.

Tagovailoa had two 40-plus-yard touchdown passes Sunday to Hill, including one that traveled in the air 55.5 yards, per Next Gen Stats.

So is this the real Tua — the guy who led Alabama to a national title, won a Crimson Tide QB derby that included Jalen Hurts and Mac Jones and went fifth overall in the 2020 draft despite dealing with a hip injury that ended his college career early?

Time will tell, but in Miami right now, the Dolphins think this is the real guy.

“I don’t have to say too much, man, all you’ve got to do is look at his game film,” said Hill, who created headlines last offseason when he declared Tagovailoa was more accurate than Patrick Mahomes. “It’s Tua, and who he is and how consistent he is.”

Well, he hadn’t been consistent. His 27 touchdown passes in his first two pro seasons were offset with 15 interceptions. He completed a good, but not incredible, 66.2 percent of his passes. There is a reason Miami wanted Watson despite the baggage.

Tagovailoa's 2022 numbers: seven touchdowns against two interceptions, plus a 71.1 completion rate. And that’s just the basic stats. Some of that is being credited to improved mechanics that came from a relentless offseason of work.

Tagovailoa took all the stories about how Miami wanted someone else and used it to fuel becoming the guy they needed.

“He's done an outstanding job with his footwork,” passing game coordinator Darrell Bevell said. “I think you can go back and look at some of the plays from last year as opposed to what he's doing this year. It's a major focus for us. He's buying into the focus and I think he's done a good job with that."

It’s just two games. It’s just two wins. There is still plenty to prove.

Say this about Tua Tagovailoa though, he knows all of that, knows all of the past doubts, and hasn’t let it impact his game. If he is still proving himself to the Dolphins, then so be it. He seems quite happy to do it.

“He deserves it,” McDaniel said. “None of it was given at all. He earned every ounce of that which I know players respect a great deal."