FOXBOROUGH, Mass. (AP) — Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa has been an enigma for Bill Belichick in his matchups with the Patriots.
Tagovailoa’s made four starts against the future Hall of Fame coach. Four times he’s walked away with a victory.
That track record is also exactly why Tagovailoa is expecting the unexpected from Belichick’s defense heading into his fifth meeting with New England.
“Coach Belichick has been coaching in this league for way longer than I think I’ve been alive. So he knows exactly what he’s looking at when he coaches his guys,” Tagovailoa said.
“Nothing new under the sun for that guy. So we’ve got to come out, we’ve got to be prepared. We understand that that’s a physical team and they’re going to make us earn everything that we can.”
The Patriots did that in Week 1 against the defending NFC champion Eagles and quarterback Jalen Hurts, holding them to just one offensive touchdown in Philadelphia’s narrow win.
Containing Miami may be even harder. The Dolphins enter with the league’s top-ranked offense following a comeback win over the Los Angeles Chargers in which Miami had 536 yards. It was the most yards for a team in a Week 1 game since Baltimore had 643 yards in 2019.
Tagovailoa was a catalyst in the Dolphins’ production, passing for 466 yards and three touchdowns — including a late go-ahead TD pass to Tyreek Hill — in their 36-34 victory over the Chargers. The performance earned him AFC offensive player of the week honors.
Belichick said Tagovailoa’s success has been a combination of melding his athleticism with the talent around him.
“He’s had tremendous production over the last couple of years, led the league in a lot of different categories passing the ball. So, they’ve got a really efficient guy running the offense,” Belichick said.
One of those players is Hill, who has accounted for six touchdowns in six total matchups against New England playing with Kansas City and Miami.
The task of defending him this week will partly fall to cornerback Jonathan Jones. He said the biggest challenge with Hill is that “he continues to get better,” finding new ways to release from defenders and gain separation. Then his speed takes over.
“Any play he can take a 3-yard pass and take it the distance,” Jones said.
Complicating matters for the Patriots is that this will also be the first time they have seen Tagovailoa since last season’s opener. He was sidelined with a late-season concussion and missed the second meeting between the teams.
“It’s really underestimated how good he really is,” Jones said. “He’s won. If you look at his record since he’s been there he’s won a lot of games for them. Regardless of what people say, he’s won games and it’s a production business. … So, we’re going to have our work cut out for us.”
Tagovailoa led the NFL with eight passes that traveled at least 20 yards last week.
His off-balance 47-yard completion to Hill on third-and-10 was one of his best throws of the win over the Chargers. The pass traveled 50.8 air yards, according to NextGen Stats.
Tagovailoa’s ability to throw the ball deep has been criticized throughout his career.
“You can’t just take a drop in the NFL and just decide, ‘Hey, because everyone says I can’t throw the ball deep, let me just chuck this ball deep as far as I can.’” Tagovailoa said Wednesday, “It entails everyone on the offensive side to work together, to be in symphony and guys to be at the right places at the right time.”
When asked if he still thinks people doubt his ability to throw the deep ball, Tagovailoa smiled.
“I don’t care,” he said with a laugh. “That’s what 466 is if I can’t throw deep, thanks.”
Dolphins veteran left tackle Terron Armstead returned to practice Wednesday for the first time in nearly a month after he was injured during an August joint practice against Houston. He missed the opener with back, ankle and knee injuries but said he’s working on getting into playing shape.
“I missed a lot of time in training camp so I don’t have many reps under my belt for this campaign,” Armstead said, “so I definitely have to get those in and get into playing shape, get my hands right, my timing right, my communication right with the guys. You never know without doing it so I have to get in there and get active.”
Patriots quarterback Mac Jones has stressed the importance of trust this season for an offense that is evolving under new coordinator Bill O’Brien.
Jones showed a lot of confidence in rookie receivers Demario Douglas and Kayshon Boutte, targeting them a total of 11 times in Week 1. Douglass caught four of his seven targets for 40 yards.
“They’re definitely dialed in on the details,” Jones said. “Really, it’s just trying to make sure we’re working together, which we are. They’re smart guys, and I want them to just go out there and play fast, and I feel like they both did that.”
AP Sports Writer Alanis Thames in Miami contributed to this report.
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Kyle Hightower, The Associated Press