It may already be too late for Tua Tagovailoa, if the reports are true. It may be too late for the Miami Dolphins to not do something stupid by giving up on their second-year quarterback much too soon and trading for Deshaun Watson despite the monumental risk and cost of that, not to mention the soul-selling morality of it all.
But if it is not too late yet, well, Tagovailoa showed Sunday at Hard Rock Stadium how good he can be, and how dumb it would be to not see that, to not give the promise of it a fair shot.
It was the stage for him to win over supporters and chase away doubters. To build faith and trust that he is the man to lead this franchise long term.
And he did, even in defeat, in a 30-28 loss to the Atlanta Falcons decided on a last-second 36-yard field goal — after Tagovailoa had handed his defense the lead with two minutes to play.
“To give us a late lead, that’s what you’re looking for from your quarterback,” coach Brian Flores said afterward. “We needed to stop ‘em there at the end. We didn’t do enough. When we had to play our best [defensively], we didn’t do that.”
One minute there was jubilation from the home crowd of 62,739.
The next there was the void of it as Miami fell to 1-6 with a sixth consecutive defeat.
Miami needed the lift but was denied it, one day after the equally needy Miami Hurricanes upset North Carolina State, 31-30, on the same field.
Tagovailoa would finish with 32 completions in 40 attempts for 291 yards, four TDs and two interceptions.
He rallied his team from behind and got the lead late, only to watch his defense be unable to stop Matt Ryan.
The bleep-storm of rumors, speculation and noise he endured this week over the possible Watson trade made Tagovailoa’s performance that much more impressive.
“It was a normal week for me,” said the QB. “I hear [the reports and rumors]. I just don’t listen to it.”
At one point late in the third quarter, after a Tagovailoa 6-yard scoring pass drew the Fins within 20-14, I heard a Tua chant. “Tu-a, Tu-a!” It seemed to bloom in one section and then quickly expire, never to be heard again this day. And that seemed fitting.
You want to believe in this likable kid, the fifth overall draft pick in 2020.
But he doesn’t always make it easy.
Even Sunday, while he did plenty of good stuff, the two picks were costly, one into the Falcons end zone, the other from the Atlanta 32 one play after an Xavien Howard interception gave Miami the ball right back.
The margin of error is too small in the NFL to do that.
And even smaller for Tagovailoa.
He does not have the luxury of any of this. He does not have the time. He will not get the benefit of doubt, or the gift of patience. Less than halfway into his second NFL season, Tagovailoa is on the clock to prove the skeptics wrong and — ludicrous as it is — time may be running out.
So he does not have the luxury of a promising performance, like Sunday’s, tempered by two interceptions.
He does not have the luxury of failing, for the second game in a row, to lift his desperate team from its losing streak by beating a bad team.
Tagovailoa needs take-this-team-on-his-shoulders-and-carry-it heroics to save this season while he saves his own Dolphins future.
And it might already be too late, if we are to believe the report out of Houston this week that the Texans and Dolphins are moving closer to a trade for embattled star quarterback Watson ahead of the NFL’s Nov. 2 trade deadline.
Such a deal seems spectacularly ill-advised without assurances that Watson will emerge unscathed from his myriad legal troubles. The 22 women accusing him of sexual impropriety related to massage sessions. The civil suits and specter of a possible grand jury indictment. The cloud of a possible NFL suspension as well.
And the cost! You’re going to spend three first-round draft picks and more for such a dubious risk? For a man of such dubious moral character if 22 women are to be believed?
The Dolphins’ woes do not start with Tua. A snapshot of an example:
Early third quarter, Dolphins down two scores for first time Sunday, game slipping away.
Time to respond. Right?
Second-and-10 from his own 39, Tagovailoa takes a 10-yard sack.
Third-and-20 from the 29, he passes complete — but for only half of the yardage needed.
Crowd boos. Punter trots in.
That’s play-calling. Timid, self-defeating play-calling.
The bottom line is harsh.
The Dolphins’ 1-6 record is among the worst through seven games in the franchise’s 56-year history. Miami began 0-7 in 2007, 2011 and 2019 (coach Brian Flores’ first season), and previously began 1-6 in 1967, 2004 and 2006.
Three of those losses came with Tagovailoa sidelined by a rib injury.
The past two games he has completed 65-of-87 passes for 620 yards and six TDs. Even offset by the three interceptions, those are numbers to build on, and build around.
He is showing progress. We’ll find out soon enough if it isn’t already too late for him.