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 outrageous penalties from the NFL.
They tried all kinds of ideas because, it’s pretty clear, they didn’t want to try again with Tua Tagovailoa for the 2022 season.
But try as they might, nothing worked.
And now, perhaps, Tagovailoa is becoming the star they’ve been searching for.
It is early. Painfully soon. It certainly has a small sample size and all those caveats.
But Miami is 2-0 and Tagovailoa is coming off a 469-yard, six-touchdown performance in a 42-38 shootout win over the Baltimore Ravens. He was named the AFC Offensive Player of the Week for the effort.
He didn’t just put up big numbers either. He brought a calmness and a sense of control to the game that speaks to the fact that it was just a hot day against a weak defence.
He even bounced back from two interceptions and a sack to play his best in the fourth quarter. It was there that Miami scored four touchdowns to dig itself out of a 21-point hole with former league MVP Lamar Jackson.
In the past, it is quite possible that Tagovailoa would fall under pressure and mistakes. On Sunday, it was the next play.
“I want to do good every time I go out there,” Tagovailoa said. “I don’t want to throw interventions; I want to throw touchdowns. I want to put our team in the best situation I can, but you know we have to be real. You know the guys on the other side of the ball get paid, too. And they are very good players.
“All I can do is go out there and do what we’ve done in practice,” he continued. “It’s just a matter of playing football and hopefully we can bring home a win.”
Whatever doubts there were about Tagovailoa in the past, there appear to be none within the current Dolphin locker room. This is their guy, and this is the guy they are seeing develop in the offseason and practice.
“I think there’s also something that none of his teammates were surprised by, which is much more impactful than words,” Miami coach Mike McDaniel said. “You can feel when guys, they’re not like, ‘Whoa, dude, where did he come from?’ “
The Dolphins may not be 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.
When Miami once wanted to replace him, they surrounded him. The addition of Kansas City’s Tyreek Hill to go along with Jaylen Waddle means the Dolphins are rich with deep threats … and a QB who proves he can beat them.
Tagovailoa had two 40-plus-yard touchdown passes Sunday to Hill, including one that traveled 55.5 yards in the air, according to Next Gen Stats.
This is the real Ax – the man who led Alabama to a national title, won a Derby Crimson Tide QB 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, they think this is the real man.
“I don’t have to say too much, man, you just have to watch his game film,” said Hill, who made headlines last season when he declared that Tagovailoa was more accurate than Patrick Mahomes. “He’s Ax, and who he is and how consistent he is.”
Well, it wasn’t consistent. His 27 touchdown passes in his first two pro seasons were offset by 15 interceptions. He completed 66.2 percent of his passes good, but not incredible. There’s a reason Miami wanted Watson despite the baggage.
Tagovailoa’s 2022 numbers: seven touchdowns against two interceptions, along with a 71.1 completion rate. And those are just the basic statistics. Part of that is credited to improved mechanics that came from a season of relentless work.
Tagovailoa took all the stories about how Miami wanted someone else and used it to fuel him to be the guy they needed.
“He’s done a great job with his footwork,” said passing game coordinator Darrell Bevell. “I think you can go back and look at some of the plays from last year rather than what he’s doing this year. It’s a big focus for us. He’s buying into the focus and I think he’s done a good job with that.”
There are only two games. There are only two wins. There is still plenty to prove.
Say this about Tua Tagovailoa though, he knows all of that, he knows all of his past doubts, and he hasn’t let it affect his game. If he’s still proving himself to the Dolphins, 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 really appreciate.”