National Football League
Tua Tagovailoa throws 3 picks as Dolphins' playoff chances fall into doubt
National Football League

Tua Tagovailoa throws 3 picks as Dolphins' playoff chances fall into doubt

Updated Dec. 26, 2022 7:32 p.m. ET

Tua Tagovailoa was at the center of the Miami Dolphins' early season surge. The quarterback is now at the center of their late-season collapse. Tagovailoa threw three interceptions in the Dolphins' 26-20 loss to the Green Bay Packers in Week 16 on Christmas Day.

Tua had a sensational first quarter. And it made me think — incorrectly — that the Dolphins had their act together after weeks of dysfunction. But Miami let Green Bay and Aaron Rodgers stick around in quarters two and three. And then in the fourth quarter, the Dolphins' final three drive ended as follows:





It made for a Merry Christmas for Rodgers.

For the Dolphins, it advanced their losing streak to four games. If Miami loses the next two games, it misses the playoffs. If the Dolphins win the next two games, they're in the playoffs.

And guess who they play? At the New England Patriots. And versus the New York Jets.

It's going to be wild in the AFC East over the next two weeks.

But let's touch on the good before we get into the bad for Miami.

The Dolphins got their big-play offense going in the first quarter, with two totally different game-changing plays.

First, Tagovailoa dropped the perfect pass into a gap in coverage — while throwing off his back foot — to set up Waddle for a catch-and-run. But if you've seen this offense, you know that when these Dolphins receivers get to running, they don't often stop. Waddle took it to the house, generating 74 yards after the catch, which went for 84 yards in total.

That's the type of play that defenses have taken away in recent weeks, with the Los Angeles Chargers and the San Francisco 49ers throwing special coverages at Miami to prevent throws attacking the middle-intermediate of the field.

But Tua didn't rely upon that area for big plays. Tyreek Hill helped him attack the deep part of the field.

For the second big play of the first quarter, Tua heaved a 52-yard deep completion (that traveled 51 air yards) for Tyreek that put the Dolphins near the goal line for a punch-in touchdown from Jeff Wilson.

Check out fullback Alec Ingold blasting Packers linebacker Kingsley Enagbare off his feet on Wilson's touchdown.

Past that, the offense began to slide.

In the second quarter, Green Bay attempted a fake punt from its 20-yard line, and Miami stuffed the play — an inside run off a direct snap. So Tua & Co. had the ball in the red zone. But penalties and sacks led to a field goal attempt. It wasn't what they wanted a moment when they could have gone up by two touchdowns.

Later in the second, the defense generated a three-and-out from Rodgers — but running back Jeff Wilson fumbled the football on the second play of the Dolphins' ensuing drive. That allowed the Packers to sneak a field goal attempt in before halftime, which kept them within one score heading into the third quarter.

And then it went from bad to horrendous.

The Packers offense didn't have to do much, chipping away at the Dolphins' lead. And Miami just kept giving Green Bay opportunities to do so. Just like the rest of the offensive messiness, Tua's interceptions only seemed to get worse. He simply wasn't seeing the defense for what it was. The first interception appeared to be a product of overaggressiveness, with Tua trying to drop a ball into a tight window — but the quarterback threw high and into the hands of cornerback Jaire Alexander.

The next interception was a matter of the quarterback not seeing linebacker De'Vondre Campbell, who easily nabbed a ball intended for Mostert. And the final interception was a matter of Tua staring down tight end Mike Gesicki. Cornerback Rasul Douglas dropped off Hill, who was running a slant. And Douglas was able to drop off to nab the floating pass intended for Gesicki. That one effectively ended the game.

As terrific as Tua has been in 2022, with the quarterback leading the team to a sensational start, there is no denying his role in the team's recent collapse. And this loss to the Packers only increased the toll that Tua has taken on this offense. And it is really on the quarterback. Although it once seemed absolutely insane that the Dolphins would miss the playoffs, it is now feasible. 

Both the Patriots and Jets have a small chance of making the playoffs. Both teams will be interested in ruining Miami's season.

It's a nightmare game for the player that could lead to a nightmare situation for the team. The pressure is building around Tua. And so far as we've seen, the quarterback doesn't handle pressure well.

Will he freeze up in December? Or can he shake these awful performances? Tua's job security depends upon it. A potential contract extension depends upon it. And, of course, the Dolphins' season depends upon it. 

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Prior to joining FOX Sports as the AFC East reporter, Henry McKenna spent seven years covering the Patriots for USA TODAY Sports Media Group and Boston Globe Media. Follow him on Twitter at @McKennAnalysis.


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