Tua Tagovailoa knows improvements must be made to lead Dolphins in playoff pursuit at Buffalo

Safid Deen, South Florida Sun Sentinel

Tua Tagovailoa, the Hawaiian native who now resides in South Florida, will experience another NFL first in the Miami Dolphins’ regular-season finale.

The forecast for Sunday’s road game against the Buffalo Bills, one which Miami needs to win to reach the postseason, calls for snow.

And if the forecast pans out, Tagovailoa will play in the first snowy football game of his career.

“Yeah, I’ve seen snow [before]. I’ve got to play with snow a little bit. That was in Alabama my freshman year. It was snowing there. They say it snows like every four years there so I was lucky,” Tagovailoa said with a laugh on Wednesday.

Tagovailoa — who Dolphins coach Brian Flores said will remain the starter for the Buffalo game — knows he needs to perform better against the Bills than he did against the Las Vegas Raiders last week.

A Dolphins win would help Miami reach the playoffs for the first time in the Flores era, and the franchise’s third trip to the postseason since 2001 (2008 and 2016 seasons).

More importantly, a win led by Tagovailoa could ease outside noise surrounding the Dolphins’ choice to select him with the No. 5 pick in the 2020 NFL draft.

“I’d say for me there’s really no extra, added pressure. The expectation for myself is very high in how I perform and how I go out there and try to lead the guys to victory,” said Tagovailoa, who is 6-2 as Dolphins’ starter this season.

“Obviously, this past weekend, I didn’t play to that standard. It’s more so me knowing that we’ve got to go out here and get the job done. If you can’t get the job done, then that’s on you. That’s on no one else.”

Still, there will be some doubt Miami should have drafted quarterback Justin Herbert, who was taken by the Los Angeles Chargers one pick later.

Or even some thought the Dolphins should use the first of two Dolphins first-round picks in the 2021 draft — which could be in the top four — to address the position once again.

Sunday’s game is more than just about helping the Dolphins reach the playoffs for Tagovailoa. But there’s nothing more he can do than simply play — and lead Miami to a win.

The Dolphins (10-5) were able to remain in playoff contention despite Tagovailoa’s poor performance last Saturday against the Las Vegas Raiders.

Tagovailoa completed 17-of-22 passes, gaining just 94 yards with a touchdown in the game before he was pulled for veteran backup Ryan Fitzpatrick, who led Miami to a comeback victory with 19 seconds left.

Fitzpatrick was 9 of 13 for 184 yards and a touchdown, while also leading two field goal drives. But his play of the game was a 34-yard pass down the left sideline to receiver Mack Hollins while a Raiders defender pulled his facemask and head to the side.

The pass, and 15-yard facemask penalty as a result of the play, set up Dolphins kicker Jason Sanders’ game-winning 44-yard field goal, keeping Miami’s postseason aspirations alive this week.

Tagovailoa, after being benched for the second time this season, seems like he did not take the demotion during the Raiders game to heart. His maturity has been praised by teammates and coaches during his rookie season.

“With our whole quarterback situation, I think Flo’ does a good job in communicating with me, Fitz, as well as our coordinator and our quarterback coach, and kind of seeing ‘hey, are you in a groove?’ Or ‘what can we do better?’ And if not — it’s always communicated,” Tagovailoa said.

“There’s really good communication between all of us. … He has the best interests for the whole team.”

Still, the Dolphins offense looks considerably different with Fitzpatrick at quarterback than Tagovailoa.

Fitzpatrick’s veteran savvy, comfort with playing alongside tight end Mike Gesicki and receiver Isaiah Ford for the second straight season and his willingness to stretch the field are apparent.

Tagovailoa is still getting used to playing with his teammates like Gesicki and Ford, rookie receiver Lynn Bowden Jr. and veteran receiver Mack Hollins.

Others like leading receiver DeVante Parker will look to return from a two-game absence due to a hamstring injury, while receivers Jakeem Grant (ankle) and Preston Williams (foot) will not play in Buffalo.

And the injuries have affected how Tagovailoa approaches the run-pass-offense scheme he wants to play with to be successful.

“You get the ball in the hands of our playmakers and you let them make plays. I would say that’s how you do it. That’s one way,” Tagovailoa said.

“Other ways are also just pushing the ball downfield. And I would say that’s what I need to do a better job with, especially this past game and games prior.”

Tagovailoa ultimately knows blame for the Dolphins’ offensive setbacks will fall on his performance more than other factors contributing to the cause.

And if those woes continue against Buffalo and prevent the Dolphins from reaching the postseason, the outside noise surrounding him and his future will only grow louder before his second NFL season.

“I think at the end of the day, it comes down to our 11 guys to their 11 guys. It’s football,” Tagovailoa said.

“You do know there’s a lot at stake. It goes back to what I’ve said before. You have to go out there and perform this is crunch time. Now is not the time to be making mistakes and all these things. You have to zero in on what to do to help the team be successful and get a win.”