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Tua Tagovailoa Has Arrived

Has Tua Tagovailoa made a leap in his third NFL season? The Dolphins’ historic comeback against the Ravens on Sunday makes it seem promising.

There were plenty of people, including yours truly, who wrote off Miami Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa.

Barely averaging 200 yards passing per game in his second season out of Alabama, Tagovailoa was statistically a below-average NFL starting QB last year. His 49.7 QBR — far from a catch-all stat for QB play — was 18th, below division rival Mac Jones. His 4.1% of throws that resulted in touchdowns was 19th, below Davis Mills and Baker Mayfield. Finally, his 2.6% of throws that resulted in interceptions ranked 20th, right below Mills and Jones.

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But signal callers develop differently, and there’s a knee-jerk reaction across the sporting landscape to give up on players too quickly — especially someone with a history of hip, knee, and ankle injuries. Justin Herbert‘s fast success compounded the problem for Tagavailoa; Herbert was drafted a pick after him in 2020. But something has changed in Tagavailoa’s third pro season, and a performance like the one he had on Sunday has opened some eyes.

The 24-year-old completed 36 of his 50 passes for 469 yards and six TDs in Miami’s epic 42-38 comeback win over Baltimore. Here’s what he accomplished in the process:

  • Tagovailoa led the NFL’s first comeback from down 21 in the fourth quarter since the Philadelphia Eagles overcame the same deficit in Week 15 of the 2010 season against the New York Giants.
  • At 24 years and 200 days old, Tagovailoa is the third-youngest player in league history with six TD passes in a game. Only Patrick Mahomes (22 years, 364 days AND 23 years, 63 days) and Mitchell Trubisky (24 years, 41 days) were younger.
  • He became the fourth-youngest player in NFL history to record a 450-plus-yard passing game, trailing just Mahomes, Matthew Stafford (23 years, 328 days), and Jared Goff (23 years, 348 days).

We know the success Mahomes has achieved, but it took a while for Stafford and it hasn’t really arrived yet for Trubisky and Goff. How can Tagovailoa avoid that? Being surrounded with talented skill position players will certainly help.

Miami drafted Tagovailoa’s old Alabama teammate Jaylen Waddle sixth in the 2021 NFL Draft and this past offseason traded a host of draft picks to Kansas City for Tyreek Hill, who they signed to a $75 million extension. Waddle caught an absurd 104 passes as a rookie, and we know the speed and dynamic playmaking abilities Hill brings to a team.

On Sunday, Waddle and Hill became the first pair of teammates in NFL history to record at least 10 receptions, 150 receiving yards and two TDs in the same game. Hill became the first player since Ted Ginn Jr. in 2011 to have multiple 45-plus-yard TD catches in the fourth quarter of a game. His 284 yards receiving in his first two games is the most for a non-rookie receiver on a new team since Randy Moss’s 286 yards in the first two games of his all-time great 2007 season.

“This just shows the resiliency of our team,” Tagovailoa said. “You look at the big picture of it, the confidence goes up.”

Boardroom colleague Anthony Puccio recently dubbed the Dolphins a sleeper in the AFC, and the comeback against a strong Baltimore team illustrates why.

“I think it was a moment he’ll never forget and can use it moving forward,” new Miami head coach Mike McDaniel said. “I couldn’t be happier for him. His teammates learned a lot about him, and I think he learned something about himself.”

Tagovailoa’s completion percentage has improved each year— 64.1 as a rookie, 67.8 last year, and 71.1 so far in 2022 — but his big play abilities have been lackluster. In 2021, Tagovailoa finished 29th in completions of at least 20 yards, behind division rival Zach Wilson of the Jets. His six completions of at least 40 yards is in the top 25, but it was just one more than Teddy Bridgewater and Daniel Jones.

“We had a lot of questions about him being able to push the ball down the field,” said NBC’s Chris Simms. “He did that today to Tyreek Hill and (Jaylen) Waddle. They’re a fast football team.”

If Tagovailoa has truly turned the corner, the Dolphins are a dynamic threat to score with most teams in the NFL right now. Miami hasn’t made the playoffs since 2016 and hasn’t reached the postseason in consecutive years since 2000-01.

A legit Tua Tagovailoa gives this franchise a chance.

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