Tua Tagovailoa had the game of his young NFL career against Baltimore, but what can he do for an encore?
If Miami Dolphins fans allow themselves to dream, he would duplicate Ben Roethlisberger's insane 2014 feat of having back-to-back games with six touchdown passes, which the former Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback did against the Colts and the Ravens that season.
But obviously the goal should be more modest, simpler and more to the point for what the Dolphins want to accomplish this season and moving forward.
Can this be the year Tagovailoa solves the Buffalo Bills defense?
For starters, let's make clear that just as Tua and head coach Mike McDaniel pointed out that the quarterback got a lot of help during his record-setting performance at Baltimore on Sunday, he has not gotten a lot of help during his first three career starts against the Bills — whether it be porous pass protection, drops from wide receivers, the running game or whatever else.
But as we saw last Sunday, these aren't your 2021 Miami Dolphins we're talking about here and maybe Tagovailoa can use the Baltimore win as a springboard.
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TUA AND STACKING GOOD DAYS
More important than anything as far as Tagavailoa's continuing development as an NFL quarterback is to keep progressing, even if the numbers obviously won't look very often like they looked against the Ravens.
It's about, as head coach Mike McDaniel likes to say, stacking good days on good days.
"It’s using that day in a beneficial manner moving forward," McDaniel said. "So what that means to me is I mean situations, numbers, all those things I’m not talking about — statistically his rating or any of that stuff. It’s using that game for confidence, understanding how he got there — that was a ton of prep on the game week and harnessing that moment where he — the second pick he threw was the worst that he’s thrown in practice or games for me. And what he did after that, that’s something to hold on to.
"So I think stacking ... it’s impossible. The people are too good. Teams are too good. Coaches are too good. You’re just not going to get better stats week in, week out. It’s bigger than that. It’s how he approaches his position and whether or not – if he feels himself pressing, like he did when he threw that second pick, how fast can you get out of that yourself and utilize that whole experience for confidence moving forward.”
TUA'S PAINFUL STARTS AGAINST THE BILLS
While Tagovailoa has a 4-0 record as a starter against the Patriots, in case you missed the 7,000 times it's been mentioned on television or on social media, his mark is 0-3 against the Bills.
And all three of those games were rough for the Dolphins offense — and that's being kind — and painful for Tua.
There was the 2020 season finale at Buffalo when Tua threw for 361 yards (that was his career high until his 469 at Baltimore) but also was picked off three times in a 56-26 loss when a win would have put the Dolphins in the playoffs.
There was the September game at Hard Rock Stadium last year when Tua was done before the end of the first quarter, the result of broken ribs after getting nailed by A.J. Epenesa on a failed fourth-down pass attempt early in a 35-0 loss.
And there was the rematch at Buffalo last Halloween when Tua passed for 205 yards but had a passer rating of only 58.2 in a 26-11 loss during which he sustained a thumb injury that would force him to miss the next two starts.
If the Dolphins are going to eventually be able to win the AFC East, they're likely going to have to beat Buffalo at some point.
It's a daunting challenge, but Tua just might have the pieces around him to get it done, and if it happens Sunday it would be another gigantic step forward for him — even if he can't replicate the six touchdown passes.
“We understand that they’re a really good team," Tua said Wednesday. "That’s no secret. Everyone knows that they’re really good team. They’re tough defensively, they’re explosive offensively. So I wouldn’t say that we have a measuring stick for how good that these guys are because when you look at it, their opening game, they beat the Super Bowl champions of last year. And they didn’t just beat them; it was by a lot. And the next team they played, a really good team; they beat them by a lot. So for us, we’re just looking at playing the way we play and playing the way we’ve played for the past two weeks and we’ll go out there, they’ll get our best and we’ll get theirs.”