MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. (AP) — Tua Tagovailoa clutched the ball and dropped back to pass near the 50-yard line as receiver Tyreek Hill blew past double coverage. With two defenders running at full speed but still several steps behind Hill, Tagovailoa launched the ball in Hill's direction. Touchdown, Miami.
A downfield pass from Tagovailoa to Hill is certain to happen at some point each week. Still, it puzzled the Patriots in the first quarter of Sunday's 31-17 win by the Dolphins. Miami will need its top players to keep performing when it faces the Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs this week in Frankfurt, Germany.
“Tua did a fantastic job of selling the fake,” Hill said, “the corner and the safety bit up, and the rest was history.”
Just as important as the play itself was that it came on a drive after Tagovailoa had thrown an interception.
Tagovailoa has made it a point of emphasis to respond better to in-game mistakes, and it was the second time in three games that he had a touchdown pass on the drive immediately following a pick.
“Tua was locked in,” coach Mike McDaniel said, “didn’t have ebbs and flows. He was able to make plays after being frustrated, which has been one of the reasons he has had success — or that much more success — this season.
"He’s learned in such a short period of time how to be critical of yourself but not handcuff yourself, as well, because if you’re self-lashing for a series or a quarter, you’re not going to like the results of your play. I’m very, very proud of where he’s at.”
Hill had his fifth 100-yard receiving game of the year, and his 12th since joining the Dolphins ahead of the 2022 season. He has a league-leading 1,014 receiving yards this season, and if he can maintain that pace, he'll make history by becoming the first receiver to top 2,000 yards.
Hill has 2,724 yards since joining Miami, the most ever by a player in his first 25 games with a team in the Super Bowl era. Odell Beckham Jr. was next best with 2,625 for the Giants in 2014-15.
The All-Pro receiver is having one of the most productive seasons of his career as he prepares to face the Chiefs for the first time since being traded by Kansas City, which drafted him in the fifth round in 2016.
“I’m just excited to play against my old brothers,” Hill said. "It’s just like if you’re in high school and you move to a different city, it’s still ball. At the end of the day, my job is to go out there and do what I’ve been doing all year, and that’s have fun, help lead this team, and create opportunities for whoever. I’m still going to be the same old Cheetah, baby."
The Dolphins' pass rush has picked up in recent weeks, thanks largely to the linebacker tandem of Bradley Chubb and Jaelan Philips. Both players had a sack apiece Sunday, bringing Miami's season total to 27. Chubb, acquired from Denver at the trade deadline last year, leads the team with five sacks.
WHAT NEEDS HELP
Ball security. Miami's two turnovers Sunday resulted in 10 points for the Patriots and kept New England in the game. Tagovailoa threw an interception for the third straight game, and Raheem Mostert fumbled at Miami's 19 on the first play of the third quarter. The Dolphins have turned the ball over in five straight games.
Jaylen Waddle. The third-year receiver is on pace for his third straight 1,000-yard season. Waddle had a season-high 121 yards receiving and a touchdown Sunday, averaging 17.3 yards per catch. With Hill's 112 yards, it was the first time this season that Miami has had two 100-yard receivers in a single game.
Jalen Ramsey. The former Los Angeles Rams cornerback made his Dolphins debut after missing the first seven games recovering from meniscus surgery. He had an interception and a forced fumble.
The run game. Miami's No. 1-ranked rushing attack wasn't much of a factor for the second straight week. After rushing for a season-low 45 yards against the Eagles, the Dolphins recorded 70 yards — 3 yards per rush — on Sunday. Mostert had 46 yards on 13 attempts.
RG Robert Hunt is day to day after injuring his hamstring Sunday. ... CB Xavien Howard missed his second straight game with a groin injury. ... C Connor Williams (groin) was available to play in an emergency scenario after missing the past two games. ... LT Terron Armstead (knee) is eligible to return from injured reserve this week. He will travel to Germany with the team and could start practicing, McDaniel said. ... S Jevon Holland remained in the concussion protocol Monday following a hit in Week 7.
12-1 — Tagovailoa's record as a starter against coaches who have won a Super Bowl. He has victories against Bill Belichick (six), Sean Payton (two), Sean McVay, Jon Gruden, John Harbaugh and Mike Tomlin. His one loss was to Kansas City's Andy Reid on Dec. 13, 2020.
The Dolphins have a bye after their showdown with the Chiefs in Frankfurt.
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Alanis Thames, The Associated Press