Dolphins’ Tua Tagovailoa has attention of NFL world – and a national audience for his encore

Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa is the talk of the NFL after a season-opening performance in which he threw for 466 yards — the second most in his career — and three touchdowns in Miami’s thrilling 36-34 road win against the Los Angeles Chargers.

On Wednesday, the NFL announced Tagovailoa won the AFC’s Offensive Player of the Week award for the second time in his career. And with the standout outing, which included throwing the game-winning score to wide receiver Tyreek Hill, Tagovailoa not only was recognized by the league but saw his Most Valuable Player odds increase significantly.

Entering Week 1, Tagovailoa was 11th in odds to win MVP, according to BetOnline. But after the season opener, he’s now listed as a slight favorite above the Philadelphia Eagles’ Jalen Hurts and Kansas City Chiefs’ Patrick Mahomes.

On Sunday, the Dolphins will face the New England Patriots on the road, and the “Sunday Night Football” backdrop gives Tagovailoa an opportunity to build on his 2023 debut in front of a nationally televised audience.

“It was a good team win. That’s how I look at it,” Tagovailoa said after practice. “That’s how I’ll always look at it. Without the guys up front blocking, without the guys outside catching, without our run game going, none of that for me was possible. And without the defense getting that stop against a good offense, I don’t think we’d all be here talking about the win we had and the accomplishments that everyone on our side of the ball had.”

In producing one of the best performances in the NFL’s opening week, Tagovailoa not only put an end to questions about a Chargers game plan that befuddled the Dolphins offense last year but established himself as an early favorite for the league’s top individual award. Tagovailoa didn’t want to make much of the attention after the first game of the season, though.

Miami Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa (1) throws the ball during team practice at the Baptist Health Training Complex on Wednesday, Sept. 13, 2023 in Miami Gardens, Fla.

“When you start the season, it’s Week 1. Everyone overreacts on everything,” Tagovailoa said. “My personal opinion, take that for what it’s worth. You’re either going to win the Super Bowl after you win your first game, or you’re the worst team ever and everything that comes with that. So, I would say for myself, that’s one of the reasons I don’t pay too much attention to the outside noise.”

He added: “We still got to go on the road and we got 16 more. games to play against 16 really, really good teams. And it starts with New England this week and that’s our main focus.”

For his encore performance, Tagovailoa will face a Patriots team that he is 4-0 against in his career. In Week 1 of the 2022 season, a 20-7 Dolphins win, Tagovailoa completed 23 of 33 passes for 270 yards and one touchdown. He didn’t play in the second meeting, a 23-21 road loss, because of his second stint in the NFL’s concussion protocol.

Though Tagovailoa has had success against New England, he’s not dismissing a coach in Bill Belichick whom Mike McDaniel called “one of the founding fathers of this generation of football.”

Miami Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa (1) stretches during team practice at the Baptist Health Training Complex on Wednesday, Sept. 13, 2023 in Miami Gardens, Fla.

“They do a lot of good things, and it starts with their front,” Tagovailoa said of the Patriots’ defense. “Their front seven, how they’re able to maneuver where guys are, their exchange in personnel, making things look the same in that sense. Coach Belichick has been coaching in this league for way longer than I think I’ve been alive, so he knows exactly what he’s looking at when he coaches his guys. Nothing new under the sun for that guy, so we’ve got come, we’ve got to be prepared. We understand that that’s a physical team, and they’re going to make us earn everything that we can.”

While Tagovailoa’s season-opening game has drawn praise from various pundits and analysts, it hasn’t come as a surprise to those who see him on a daily basis. That isn’t to say they expect him to break records and throw for 400 yards each week, but they view what he did as the byproduct of a player who diligently went about improving during the offseason.

“It’s no shock to us,” running back Raheem Mostert said, “but at the same time, he’s really taking that step forward and you could just tell the confidence ... he has.”

When McDaniel was asked about Tagovailoa’s off-platform, 47-yard throw on third-and-10 that kept the Dolphins’ game-winning drive alive — the type of pass many have said he can’t make consistently — the second-year head coach jokingly responded: “I need to open more practices to you guys.”

And for Tagovailoa, he only needed to point to his stat line last week when his detractor’s most potent criticism was brought up.

“I don’t care,” he responded when asked if he thinks people are still questioning his arm strength after Week 1. “466. That’s what 466 is if I can’t throw deep.”