That’s the question that matters to Mike McDaniel, the Miami Dolphins’ coach with the zen sensibility. That’s the word he passes toward his premium, increasingly pugnacious passer, the one whose failure pleases so many, for reasons beyond any reason.
“A human being has ears and eyes,” McDaniel philosophized on the Wednesday prior to the Dolphins’ season opener, a game they would win 36-34, on the road, from behind, with Tua Tagovailoa throwing for 466 yards. “For Tua, it’s literally as boring as the same thing we’ve been talking through each and every practice, when anything goes right or wrong. And it’s like, ‘And?'”
“It’s worry about the next play, worry about how we are getting from the huddle to the line of scrimmage, worry about your technique and fundamentals, and your assignments,” McDaniel continued. “And you have to hold that independently. Because the second you start buying into a bad play or a good play, you’re, you’re really wishing the future into existence. It’s hard enough to play in this league, you can’t worry about extra stuff…”
“It’s that process that, across all sports, anybody who has been successful over a period of time has that process to them, because you are only as good as the next play that you have. And you shouldn’t stand on entitlement of previous plays if they were good. Or you shouldn’t shame yourself if you didn’t like the result. That mental fortitude, that strong mindedness, is something that not many people have. Tua’s wired that way, that gives him a chance to succeed.”
And….. so here we are.
In New England.
And Tua Tagovailoa, who has shown himself as resilient and defiant as any athlete in the South Florida market in some time, rallying back from a major collegiate injury, suffering silently amid an initial coaching situation (hello Brian Flores) that seemingly sabotaged him, enduring the slings and arrows from the national media about his arm, his physique, his concussion susceptibility and everything else…..
Now that quarterback — 1-0, in the MVP conversation already, and more sure of himself than ever — must show that he can succeed amid success. That he can counter complacency. That he can keep soaring and take his team with him.
So that’s what is at stake for Tagovailoa tonight, in front of a national television audience and against a legendary coach against whom he’s had uncommon success, already 4-0 vs. the Patriots of Bill Belichick.
Can he prosper as a frontrunner when even as the No. 5 overall pick, he’s always been the underdog?
What’s his “and” when all has gone well?
Because we know when he does when it doesn’t. Tagovailoa has shown an uncanny ability to excel after an error, in just about every game (see Green Bay, Christmas) when he wasn’t concussed. It happened again after he misfired on a 3rd and 12 deep in Chargers territory, down 24-20 in last Sunday’s fourth quarter, with his pass for new favorite Braxton Berrios intercepted in the end zone. The Dolphins, for a change in a game they were manhandled on the defensive front, quickly forced a punt.
And if you’ve been following his now four-season career, you knew what was next.
Touchdown, and the lead.
Someone with more time than I will compute his career passing rating on plays and drives directly following one of his miscues, but the odds are it’s triple digits.
When that’s when so many quarterbacks shrink and cower?
I asked him that this Wednesday.
“I think that’s been a big growth for me this offseason, is being able to sort of erase the next play, and really hone in on what the next play requires of me,” Tagovailoa said. “The saying of ‘each play stands on its own merit’ is sort of the approach that I take when I’m given a play to go throw out there. Sometimes that play could be an interception or I could have gotten sacked on that play. We call it again. We can’t think, ‘OK, since you threw this interception, you are not gonna read it that way anymore, you’re gonna change how you read it.’ For me, it’s all right, each play stands on its own merit. How would you read this if you were in your flow? You would read it this way. That’s how I tried, the OTAs, this camp, that’s how I tried to get my frame of mind, as far as each play, and you’ve just got to out there and make the correction and continue playing.”
He did that last Sunday. He did that with the blonde bomber Justin Herbert on the other side, the favored gunner who is actually the real dink and dunker of the too, even if public perception tells you different. Herbert didn’t come through when it mattered. He rarely does. Tua does in most of the moments that matter: third downs, fourth quarters, and so on.
And Sunday in Los Angeles, he had a big number to show for it.
What of the ongoing concerns and complaints about whether he can throw deep?
“I don’t care,” he said, laughing. “I mean, I don’t care. 466 is, that’s what 466 is if I can’t throw deep. Thanks.”
466 was last week.
So was 36-34.
So now, for Tagovailoa and his Dolphins….
The author, Ethan Skolnick, is the CEO of Five Reasons Sports.