CHICAGO – Tuspan Tspangovspanilospan insists he was not looking at the scoreboard Sunday at Soldier Field, instead just sticking to the game plan and what was working, or, as he said “just playing 60 minutes.”
Perhaps there is a reason for that. Each time it appeared Tua and the Mispanmi Dolphins were about to pull away from the Chicago Bears, Justin Fields turned into Gale Sayers and kept the home team close.
But Tagovailoa kept the offense moving and, with the exception of one misguided fourth-down pass late in the game he’d like to have back, the maturation of one of the most polarizing players in recent Dolphins history continues.
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Dolphins coach Mike McDaniel sees it. Receiver Tyreek Hill sees it. Heck, all the Tua bashers have to see it by now.
The Dolphins quarterback is becoming that guy the organization expected when he was taken fifth overall in 2020.
“In seven months time, the growth has been unbelievable,” McDaniel said. “How he’s playing the position, learning the whole system, and then how he is handling the ebbs and flows of natural in-game momentum.”
Hill’s endorsement for his quarterback came in typical Hill fashion.
“I’m like a kid in the candy store,” he said about playing in this offense with this quarterback.
The 6-3 Dolphins escaped with a 35-32 victory thanks to an offense that was darn near perfect for about three quarters. After Tagovailoa found newly acquired running back Jeff Wilson for a 10-yard touchdown pass with six minutes to play in the third quarter, he had a 155.2 passer rating.
Perfection is 158.3.
That number slipped to 135.7 as he finished 21 of 30 for 302 yards and three touchdowns. His rating was just shy of his career best of 138.7 posted a week ago in Detroit.
To illustrate that progress, Tagovailoa’s highest passer rating last season was 109.5 He’s had five games this year with a passer rating in triple digits. That’s with missing two full games and most of another because of a concussion.
While others are willing to talk about Tagovailoa’s progress, the humble Hawaiian not so much.
“It can always get better,” said the man who leads the NFL with a 115.7 passer rating. “It can always be better.”
Well, sure. And while we’re in Chicago, Michael Jordan could have never missed a shot.
And Bears QB Justin Fields could have run for 400 yards Sunday instead of his 178, an NFL record for a quarterback in the regular season.
Of course, it helps Tue when the Bears secondary decided to give two of the league’s top playmakers, Hill and Jaylen Waddle, a minimum of a five yard cushion on almost every play. The Dolphins duo was wide open all day and all Tua had to do was put the ball on the mark, which he did most of time.
He would have had a better chance of missing Lake Michigan from the Navy Pier.
The two were targeted 15 times and made 12 catches, Hill seven for 149 yards and Waddle five for 85 yards. Each had a touchdown. And that does not include a couple defensive pass interference penalties on passes thrown to each that accounted for another 47 (Waddle) and 32 (Hill) yards.
Tagovailoa was asked how many times can he throw the ball to his top two targets.
“However many times they can get open,” he said.
He is serious.
The Dolphins found the end zone on four of their first five drives, the fifth being a missed 29-yard Jason Sanders field goal attempt at the end of the first half.
The second half was a bit more challenging as the Bears got more pressure on Tagovailoa. Although they did not record a sack, they did force Tagovailoa into hurrying two throws in which flags were dropped for grounding before being pick up, both times.
“I think the complexity of what (the defense is) seeing, guys motioning, guys moving, shifting, things like that,” Tagovailoa said about the early success. “I think their defense did a really good job with the second half adjusting.”
The Bears nearly adjusted themselves into a victory stopping the Dolphins on downs twice in the second half before forcing Miami’s lone punt of the game with about three minutes to play.
That ending could have been less stressful had it not been for the one pass Tagovailoa could take back. It came with 7:55 to play and Miami facing a fourth-and-1 at the Bears 14.
McDaniel opted to go for the first down instead of push a three-point lead to six with a field goal. Tagovailoa looked left, then scrambled to the right and lofted a pass to a wide open Durham Smythe. He was a little off balance when he released the ball and it was low.
Tagovailoa saw Smythe take a look up the field as he was ready to throw and and it threw off his rhythm.
“It kind of threw off the way I was going to throw it to him, because I didn’t know if he was going to turn up or not,” Tagovailoa said.
A rare misstep on a day the offense was humming for more than half the game and able to make enough plays late to hang on.
“He just continues to impress by … through the course of the game taking it one play at a time,” McDaniel said about his quarterback. “The players themselves can really feel the visceral confidence and energy that he’s bringing forth and responding to it on both sides of the ball.”