Advertisement

As QB injuries complicate contenders, Dolphins’ Tua Tagovailoa remains upright

As the Dolphins hold the AFC’s No. 1 seed and pursue home-field advantage in the playoffs, it’s hard not to notice how injuries to football’s most important position have impacted the conference’s landscape.

The Jets’ Aaron Rodgers, Bengals’ Joe Burrow, and Browns’ Deshaun Watson have all been lost to season-ending injuries, leaving their respective teams to try to stay afloat with backup quarterbacks.

The Jacksonville Jaguars, whose loss to Cincinnati propelled Miami to the top spot in the AFC, saw Trevor Lawrence limp off the field with a right high ankle sprain that could linger for the remainder of the season.

Coach Mike McDaniel, in response to a question about the spate of quarterback injuries, said: “To me, it feels like the healthiest year for quarterbacks ever. ... shoot, for the Miami Dolphins, this is the year of quarterback health.”

The joke underscored what was a leading headline for the Dolphins entering the season but has turned into a positive development with a month left until the postseason.

After dealing with a litany of quarterback injuries in 2022, the Dolphins haven’t had to address one this season. Starter Tua Tagovailoa faced durability questions as the 2023 season began, even more so after a pair of stints in the league’s concussion protocol sidelined him for five games, including Miami’s season-ending loss in the wild-card round.

Miami Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa (1) and wide receiver Jaylen Waddle (17) walk off the field to the locker room after warmups in preperation for the game against the Washington Commanders at FedEx Field in Landover, Maryland on Sunday, December 3, 2023.
Miami Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa (1) and wide receiver Jaylen Waddle (17) walk off the field to the locker room after warmups in preperation for the game against the Washington Commanders at FedEx Field in Landover, Maryland on Sunday, December 3, 2023.

But as the Dolphins prepare for their home “Monday Night Football” game against the Tennessee Titans, Tagovailoa has played in all 12 games this season, only exiting early in the late stages of blowout wins. Tagovailoa has only been listed on the injury report once this season — for a cut to his right arm against the New York Jets that did more damage to his new tattoo than anything.

The fourth-year player has acknowledged that the injuries he’s sustained in the first few seasons of his career, which also include ailments to his thumb, middle finger and ribs, have come with a bit of bad luck. But after head injuries that caused him to consider retirement for a moment, Tagovailoa and the Dolphins were proactive to make sure he could avoid future concussions.

This led to jiu-jitsu training during the offseason and Tagovailoa has reaped the benefits of it, executing break-falling techniques during games to prevent his head from hitting the ground.

Tagovailoa said he doesn’t have plans to continue the martial arts training, but his post-game recovery and mid-week training process have also been important to stay fresh throughout the season.

It includes getting in a cold tub every morning and a regimen with head strength & conditioning coach Dave Puloka that consists of sprints and weight-lifting sessions.

Tagovailoa has rarely been hit this season. The Dolphins’ offensive line has only given up 18 sacks, the third fewest in the league, as the unit’s growth amid a litany of injuries has spearheaded the ascension of the offense. The Dolphins are 4-0 this season and 10-1 when holding opponents without a sack of Tagovailoa.

Miami Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa (1) looks to pass during second  quarter of an NFL football game against the New York Jets at MetLife Stadium on Friday, Nov. 24, 2023 in East Rutherford, New Jersey.
Miami Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa (1) looks to pass during second quarter of an NFL football game against the New York Jets at MetLife Stadium on Friday, Nov. 24, 2023 in East Rutherford, New Jersey.

Tagovailoa’s quick release has also played a role. His average time to throw of 2.38 seconds leads the NFL, as he often delivers passes before pressure can arrive.

Before Week 1, Tagovailoa said it was a goal of his to play in every game for the first time in his career. And as he inches closer to the feat, McDaniel said it has been the result of his deliberate intention.

“Football is a game where you can’t predict really anything that’s going to happen, but you can control certain things,” McDaniel said last week. “I think he’s done an unbelievable job of that. Just really proud and happy that we’re at this position in the season with him playing 12 games in a row because I know how much he directly has to do with it. And it wasn’t an easy position for him to be in.

“But what he did do is take himself as a man, as a player, to a different level within that commitment. It affects everyone. I think his confidence with his ability to stay healthy, guys can feel [that]. We’re just very fortunate that our quarterback is wired the way he is from a mental standpoint because I’m not sure if you guys are placing side bets, but there’s a lot of people that were betting against him. He knew that and as a result, he gets better from everything good, bad or indifferent.”