Reporter of the AFC Est
Tua Tagovailoa was at the center of the Miami Dolphins’ early season surge. The quarterback is now at the center of his late-season collapse. Tagovailoa threw three interceptions in the Dolphins’ 26-20 loss to the Green Bay Packers in Week 16 on Christmas Day.
Tua had a sensational first quarter. And it made me think, incorrectly, that the Dolphins got their act together after weeks of dysfunction. But Miami let Green Bay and Aaron Rodgers stay in quarters two and three. And then, in the fourth quarter, the Dolphins’ last three games ended this way:
It was a Merry Christmas for Rodgers.
For the Dolphins, it pushed their losing streak to four games. If Miami loses its next two games, it will miss the playoffs. If the Dolphins win their next two games, they will be in the playoffs.
And guess who they’re playing? To the New England Patriots. And against the New York Jets.
It’s going to be wild in the AFC East over the next two weeks.
But let’s touch on the good before we get into the bad for Miami.
The Dolphins got their big-play offense going in the first quarter, with two completely different plays that changed the game.
First, Tagovailoa dropped the perfect pass into a gap in coverage, while throwing off his back foot, to set up Waddle for a catch-and-run. But if you’ve watched this offense, you know that when these Dolphins receivers get going, they often don’t stop. Waddle took it to the house, generating 74 yards after the catch, which was 84 yards total.
That’s the type of play that defenses have taken to in recent weeks, with the Los Angeles Chargers and San Francisco 49ers throwing special coverages at Miami to prevent throws that attack the middle of the field.
But Tua didn’t trust this area for big plays. Tyreek Hill helped him attack the deep side of the field.
For the second big play of the first quarter, Tua made a 52-yard completion (which went 51 yards) to Tyreek that put the Dolphins near the goal line for a Jeff Wilson touchdown .
Check out fullback Alec Ingold tackling Packers linebacker Kingsley Enagbare on Wilson’s touchdown.
After that, the offense started to slide.
In the second quarter, Green Bay attempted a fake punt from its own 20-yard line, and Miami stuffed the play — an inside snap. Thus, Tua and Company had the ball in the red zone. But penalties and sacks led to a field goal attempt. A moment when they could have gone up by two touchdowns was not what they wanted.
Later in the second, the defense forced a three-and-out from Rodgers, but running back Jeff Wilson pushed the football on the second play of the Dolphins’ ensuing drive. That allowed the Packers to sneak in a field goal attempt before halftime, which kept them within one score heading into the third quarter.
And then it went from bad to awful.
The Packers offense didn’t have to do much, chipping away at the Dolphins’ lead. And Miami kept giving Green Bay opportunities to do so. Like the rest of the offensive mess, Tua’s interceptions only seemed to get worse. I just didn’t see the defense for what it was. The first interception appeared to be a product of over-aggression, with Tua trying to drop a ball in a tight window, but the quarterback threw high and into the hands of cornerback Jaire Alexander.
The next interception was a matter of the quarterback not seeing linebacker De’Vondre Campbell, who easily caught a ball intended for Mostert. And the final interception was a matter of Tua looking toward tight end Mike Gesicki. Corner Rasul Douglas laid off Hill, who was taking a tilt. And Douglas was able to come down to catch the floating pass meant for Gesicki. That effectively ended the game.
As great as Tua has been in 2022, with the quarterback getting the team off to a sensational start, there’s no denying his role in the team’s recent collapse. And that loss to the Packers has only increased the toll Tua has taken on this offense. And it’s really in the quarterback. While it used to seem crazy that the Dolphins would miss the playoffs, it is now doable.
Both the Patriots and Jets have a slim chance of making the playoffs. Both teams will be interested in ruining Miami’s season.
It’s a nightmare game for the player that can lead to a nightmare situation for the team. The pressure builds around Tua. And from what we’ve seen, the quarterback doesn’t handle pressure well.
Will it freeze in December? Or can he shake those awful performances? Tua’s job security depends on it. A possible contract extension depends on this. And, of course, the Dolphins’ season depends on it.
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Prior to joining FOX Sports as an AFC East reporter, Henry McKenna spent seven years covering the Patriots for USA TODAY Sports Media Group and Boston Globe Media. Follow him on Twitter at @McKennAnalysis.
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