By Henry McKenna
FOX Sports AFC East Writer
Hill has completely changed quarterback Tua Tagovailoa.
That was fully on display Sunday as Hill and Tagovailoa led the Dolphins to a 42-38 victory, erasing a 21-point deficit at Baltimore in a wild Week 2 affair. Even without much of a rushing attack, the Miami offense went off behind Tagovailoa, Hill and Jaylen Waddle.
For those who tuned out after the second quarter — and some folks might have given up because everyone seems so quick to write off Tagovailoa — Tua put up the following stats in the second half: 24-for-30, 319 yards, five touchdown passes and zero interceptions. And he finished the game completing 72% of his passes for 469 yards, six TDs and two interceptions.
Hill had 11 catches for 190 yards and two touchdowns, and Waddle had 11 grabs for 171 yards and two touchdowns.
It is only the second week of the season. But the Dolphins look dangerous — the most threatening they’ve ever looked in Tagovailoa’s tenure. Not only did he beat the Patriots methodically in Week 1, but he beat the Ravens with one explosive play after another in Week 2.
And while we’ve often seen Tua play it conservative (like we saw in Week 1), we have not seen this aggressive version that showed up in Week 2. It’s the first point in Tagovailoa’s career when I have to wonder whether maybe — possibly — he might someday be more than a system quarterback.
It helps that Tua has Hill and Waddle, a pair of special receivers.
And it helps that he has coach Mike McDaniel, the trendiest and buzziest hire of the offseason — and all that hype now seems justified. Certainly, McDaniel was thrilled with Tagovailoa’s performance.
“Now maybe Tua will finally listen to me,” McDaniel said with a chuckle after the game.
What does he mean?
“It’s awesome to be critical of yourself. It is good. He has a high standard for himself. But just after the first game, I just wanted to see the guy enjoy playing football,” McDaniel said. “I couldn’t be happier for him and his teammates. I know that his teammates learned a lot about him … and I think he learned something about himself.”
One of the keys McDaniel preached to Tua was to move on from his mistakes. After all, Tagovailoa’s errors — a pair of interceptions — led to the team’s deficit. But McDaniel touted “how coachable” Tagovailoa has been since they started working together, and this performance was the latest example.
Why? Because after his second interception, Tagovailoa realized he was pressing the ball and making bad decisions. So he stopped. He started looking for the open receiver. And, my goodness, did his receivers get open.
“For me, I wanted some big plays and big plays now,” Tagovailoa said about forcing plays on his interceptions. “And so [in] the second half, we came in and played the way where we wanted to.”
The second touchdown was a testament to how quickly Hill has taken command of this offense and clicked with Tagovailoa. After both Tagovailoa and Hill recognized the Ravens were in Cover-0, the receiver said he was standing on the line of scrimmage with a smile on his face.
“I [was] cheesing already,” Hill said. “Immediately cheesing.”
Before the snap, Hill called for the ball with a “yee-yee.” And Tagvailoa’s response came quickly: a strike for 60-yard touchdown.
“That’s kind of the chemistry that me and him have built during this offseason — being able to see Cover-0 together, because I see it, he’s seen it, really the whole stadium sees it,” Hill said.
You’d think the Ravens would take more care in covering Hill, particularly after seeing him beat them for 48 yards earlier in the quarter. But they couldn’t account for the receiver for much of the fourth quarter. His first score came with eight minutes left on a third-and-10. Neither cornerback Marcus Peters nor safety Kyle Hamilton could keep pace. Hill had an insane amount of separation as he made the easy catch on the way into the end zone.
The haters will say Tagovailoa, notorious for a lack of arm strength, underthrew it. The realists will say it was a 48-yard touchdown, one that they made look easy. The only thing that stopped Hill and Tagovailoa’s chemistry was that the receiver pulled up with cramps.
“I don’t know if I’m drunk off the YAC or the IV, but I’m feeling loopy right now,” Hill said with a laugh after the game.
The Dolphins have every reason to feel good. They’re undefeated.
But they are imperfect. The rushing attack remains a work in progress. The passing game is still setting up the run, which is the opposite of how McDaniel’s offense is typically set up. Surely, he doesn’t care too much, given how well the passing attack is playing.
But when Miami looks at where it can improve, it will see that it averaged 3.4 yards per carry until Chase Edmonds rushed for a 28 yard carry on the team’s final carry, which only went for such a distance because absolutely no one saw it coming. The Dolphins had been so reliant upon the pass that they had copious running room. But they can’t hope for five-man boxes. They’ll have to block better for Edmonds and Raheem Mostert.
The Dolphins will likely address that issue as they get more comfortable operating in McDaniel’s outside zone blocking scheme. In the meantime, they have something to celebrate: a career game from their quarterback. He was asked how big this was for him.
“For me, every game is a big game,” Tagovailoa said.
Yes, that’s all well and good. But everyone else knows it. Maybe Tua does, too. His performance demonstrated a stunning level of development. And McDaniel is surely hoping his quarterback can keep it up.
Henry McKenna covers the AFC East for FOX Sports. He previously 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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