MIAMI (AP) — Tua Tagovailoa was walking to his car after practice Wednesday when he passed rookie teammate Rob Hunt, who was on a Zoom call while sitting in the parking lot.
“Rob Hunt’s got a nice car here. Wooo," Tagovailoa said, peering into the passenger's side window.
After Tagovailoa departed, Hunt revealed he drives a Kia Telluride. And Tagovailoa?
“I don’t know if I can tell this,” Hunt said. “He’s definitely driving a nice car. I give it — I'm not really a big car guy, but a lot of guys would give his car a 10.”
Whatever Tagovailoa drives, he has showed an ability to navigate bumps in the road.
The Miami Dolphins' top draft pick was benched in the fourth quarter of their most recent loss Nov. 22 at Denver. He sat out the next game because of a thumb injury that still has him limited in practice. He was unhappy with how he practiced last week, and with how he played in the first half Sunday against hapless Cincinnati.
Tagovailoa rebounded with his best stretch yet in the NFL. The Dolphins switched to no-huddle to start the second half, and Tagovailoa played better when he played faster, directing three consecutive scoring drives as Miami rallied to win 19-7.
Coach Brian Flores wasn't surprised that Tagovailoa got it together.
“I’ve been talking about his resiliency for weeks. Nobody's listening," Flores said. "Look, this is a tough kid. He knows how to deal with adversity.”
That trait likely will serve Tagovailoa well Sunday. More bumps in the road are certain when Miami (8-4) hosts reigning Super Bowl champion Kansas City (11-1) in a game that could stamp the Dolphins as legitimate playoff contenders or pretenders.
Will Tagovailoa and his offense try to keep up with Patrick Mahomes and his offense by employing the up-tempo approach that seemed like a breakthrough last week?
Flores said meh.
“No-huddle, that’s kind of the big thing that everyone’s talking about right now,” the coach said. "We’ve just got to do a good job of executing. You can no-huddle, you can huddle, you can do whatever you want. But if you don’t execute, none of it works.”
Offensive coordinator Chan Gailey might have been trying to throw the Chiefs off, but he was more enthusiastic about the potential role of no-huddle with Tagovailoa going forward.
“We will continue to use it,” Gailey said. “How much? I think it will depend on the game; it will depend on the situation. We felt like that would help us in the second half of the last game, and obviously it did.”
After Miami went up-tempo, Tagovailoa completed 13 of 16 passes for 167 yards during three third-quarter possessions, each of which resulted in a score. He looked more decisive, with quick releases that further fueled the offense's acceleration.
“When you’re on the ball and you’re going fast, it confuses the defense," Tagovailoa said. "They need to get lined up, and can’t get their call in at times. Then when you have guys motioning, it confuses their call if they have a blitz on, or the coverage they’re going to run."
The Dolphins' disruptive defense has allowed Tagovailoa to be primarily a caretaker quarterback so far, and he has been adequate in that role, throwing no interceptions while going 4-1 as a starter.
Against the Chiefs he'll likely need to be more aggressive, because Miami might need a lot of points to win.
Not that Tagovailoa ever expected a smooth ride.
“Adversity has always been in my life,” he said. “That’s just life. And in the NFL, it's a continuous learning process.”
NOTES: The Dolphins placed cornerback Jamal Perry on the reserve-COVID-19 list. Running back Matt Breida has been on the list since last week. Perry has played in 10 games with one start this season.
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