By Lance Tominaga, ESPN Honolulu Web Editor.
After a 1-7 start to the season, the Miami Dolphins have won five straight games and are suddenly back in the playoff conversation. And while the team’s defense deserves most of the credit for the unlikely turnaround, the improved play of Hawaii’s own Tua Tagovailoa also merits consideration as well.
The NFL trade deadline also factors in.
Numbers don’t lie. Before the Nov. 2 trade deadline, Tua was a second-year player struggling to find his footing as a starting NFL QB. After his first five games, his stats read: 103 completions in 157 pass attempts (65.6%) for 1,042 yards, seven TDs and five INTs. After the trade deadline passed, Tua’s numbers in his four games looked like this: 92 completions in 118 pass attempts (78%) for 903 yards, five TDs and only one INT.
No doubt, part of Tua’s improved play can be attributed to his health. The former Saint Louis School and Alabama standout missed three full games and most of a fourth due to injury (first fractured ribs, then a fractured finger on his throwing hand). Add those ailments to his season-ending hip injury at Alabama in 2019, and it’s no wonder Dolphin fans were wondering whether the team made a mistake making him the fifth overall pick in the 2020 NFL Draft.
But there was also another factor at play. With the Dolphins struggling early on, rumors surfaced that the team was more than willing to trade for a new QB, specifically Houston Texans star Deshaun Watson. Although he adamantly denied that the trade rumors were bothering him, it had to have some kind of negative impact.
Asked by a reporter whether he still felt “wanted” by the Dolphins, Tua had this telling response: “I don’t not feel wanted.”
Pro Football Talk’s Mike Florio says that it’s no coincidence that Tua has performed better now that the trade deadline has come and gone.
“I think that he has improved significantly in recent weeks due in large part to the fact that the door has slammed on the Deshaun Watson talk,” Florio said. “I believe that affected him. I believe it was an issue. I believe he felt undermined. He felt the team didn’t believe in him. He felt he didn’t get a fair chance. And, once the window closed on a potential Deshaun Watson trade, maybe he internalized his feelings and decided, ‘you know what? I’m going to go out there and prove to them that they don’t need Deshaun Watson.’”
Of course, the season isn’t over yet. The Dolphins have their bye this week, then finish their schedule with games against the Jets, Saints, Titans and Patriots. Tua Tagovailoa is still battling to prove that he is Miami’s franchise QB. At least for now, however, he isn’t having to look over his shoulder.