Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa is playing as well as any quarterback in the NFL this season.
His 3,177 passing yards rank fourth in the league, and his 22 passing touchdowns only trail the Buffalo Bills’ Josh Allen and Dallas Cowboys’ Dak Prescott.
Tagovailoa remains one of the favorites for the league’s Most Valuable Player award. The fourth-year player, though, is seeking to improve in one key area in the final six games of the regular season: turnovers.
In Miami’s 34-13 win against the New York Jets on Black Friday, Tagovailoa threw a pair of interceptions in the final minute of the first half. The picks increased his total to 10, which ties a career high and is tied for the fourth most in the NFL.
The first interception was a pick-six that gave New York its first points of the game when the Dolphins were up 10-0. The second gave the Jets the ball back with two seconds remaining, but safety Jevon Holland’s 99-yard pick-six wrestled control of the game back to Miami as the teams entered halftime.
“For him, he can protect the ball better. He knows that,” coach Mike McDaniel said Wednesday. “There’s literally no one on the planet that is more angry every time there is a turnover. I’m just telling you. And with that, he has to use it constructively and it can’t be absolutely. It can’t just be like, ‘I can’t throw picks.’ What does that mean? They’re going to happen. Well, in certain scenarios, do you need to take a risk? Does it need to be a completion? All of those things. That’s part of the growth process of every player, and I think we’re very fortunate, and I feel very fortunate, to have one of the best learners that I’ve ever been around and coached, at the quarterback position. He’s expecting to be better just like I’m expecting to be better, like we all should be.”
Tagovailoa, who finished the game with 243 passing yards and one touchdown, said afterward that he was happy with his play but knows he has to be even better if the 8-3 Dolphins want to be contenders in the AFC.
“I would say any quarterback in the league would probably get down on themselves the way I get down on myself when it comes to turnovers,” Tagovailoa said. “Especially when your defense is playing well, and you turn the ball over, none of us try to do that. We don’t ever want that to happen, but we do know it’s a part of the game that we play. So games are never won in the first, second or third quarter, and I understand that.
“As we went into halftime, I knew that I just had to come out and just continue to play the football that I should be playing to the standard that I expect for myself and my teammates expect from me. And we had to play those two quarters clean and there was still one mishap that I’ve got to continue to clean up. But outside of that, you just got to continue to play. The games aren’t won after you throw an interception in the first or second quarter.”
Dolphins offensive players have often said that the only that can stop them is themselves and self-inflicted mistakes such as turnovers have been prevalent in many of their below-standard performances. Miami has turned the ball over six times in the past two games, and its 19 giveaways are tied for the ninth most in the NFL.
It hasn’t cost the team in wins against the Jets and Las Vegas Raiders but those mishaps could be consequential when the Dolphins, in pursuit of a division title and top-four seed, conclude the regular season with matchups against the Dallas Cowboys, Baltimore Ravens and Buffalo Bills.
This week, though, the Dolphins are preparing for a Commanders defense dealing with upheaval and could primed for a big game. Washington last week fired Jack Del Rio as defensive coordinator and also parted with its defensive backs coach. The Commanders have forced just 13 takeaways this season, the eighth fewest in the league.
“Regardless of what we’re trying to do,” Tagovailoa said, “if we’re trying to push the ball down the field, if it’s not the exact look, live to see another down, throwing the ball away. Checking it down, whatever it may be. As long as we’re ending the drive with a [field goal], that’s what we’d like to do and not turn the ball over, so we should be better at that this upcoming week.”