Miami is the nexus of cult phenomenons. Heat Culture, cryptocurrency, crash diets. Over the last year and a half, Tua Tagavailoa has also become a South Beach cult favorite. Tuanon is the most prominent group of devoted believers in the Dolphins quarterback. When the Tuanon founder died last year, Tagovailoa even donated $10,000 to his family’s GoFundMe.
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Many cults teach their followers that the inaccurate prophecies, and the collective pain will provide a payoff in the end. The path to enlightenment involves overlooking the faults of its leaders. Tuanon membership required his believers to praise him as their franchise savior spearheading the Dolphins return to prominence. The other thing about cults is that they’re usually led by charlatans. Tagovailoa and Mike McDaniel fed the league a bill of goods against the league’s bottom-shelf clubs, but in the light of day didn’t come close to stacking up.
For the past two years, I’ve been fighting a battle with anyone who can listen; acquaintances, colleagues, acquaintances of mine from Buffalo Bill country that Tagovailoa has the moxy to be that guy and for a while he was onto something.
“Pass velocity and mobility are overrated, but you can’t just discount a cat who has the nerves of steel to replace Jalen Hurts in a national title game, flex on UGA’s defense and uncork a deep bomb in overtime that staved off the Bulldogs dynasty for a few more years.”
“He isn’t injury-prone. He’s just operating behind a paper mache offensive line.
“ Replace him with Justin Fields and he’d be late on Tyreek Hill’s open windows on intermediate routes, and donating twice as many turnovers if he had to be a high volume passer.”
The goal posts have shifted in the last two years though, and Tuanon has remained resolute in their defense. On Friday morning, Tuanon’s defiant believers challenged the conventional belief and everything we’ve seen from the Dolphins quarterback with our eyes.
On Saturday night, Tagovailoa responded to his first cold plunge by losing control over his limbs in the fourth coldest environment for a game in NFL history, throwing 39 passes, but completing only 20 for 199 yards, one touchdown, and one interception in a 26-7 loss. The only statement Tagovailoa made was that he lacks the je ne sais quoi qualities of a quarterback that can get this Dolphins team over the playoff hump.
Tagovailoa is Jared Goff redux. He’s a good quarterback in pristine conditions, operating an offensive genius’ offensive Maserati, but he is a boot on Miami’s offense, preventing them from reaching their full potential. Saturday was the second-time this season Tagovailoa has been crushed in the Chiefs’ compactor. On the final drive of their previous matchup in November, he got so flustered when Steve Spagnuolo sent a Cover 0 blitz after him on fourth and long that he fumbled the shotgun snap and dove on top like a live grenade on fourth down. Earlier in the aforementioned drive, he overthrew a wide open Cedrick Wilson on a play that would have put them in scoring position. It foreshadowed how Tagovailoa slid from MVP convos to the Jared Goff 2.0 kiddie table.
In fairness to Tagovailoa, the quarterback he’s most compared to from his draft class, Justin Herbert, has never really gotten it done in January, either. But he gets a pass because he’s a big arm and prototypical passer whom coaches believe they can hone.
Miami’s charlatan led the league in passing but, in a muddy pocket, Tagovailoa evaporated. That was the theme again on Saturday. When Kansas City’s fourth-ranked pass defense and second-stingiest scoring defense bore down on Tagovailoa, he put the Dolphins in a pine box.
A select few quarterbacks are able to overcome their physical limitations. Joe Burrow’s arm strength has been derided by everyone from Urban Meyer to draft evaluators, who had him rated the top quarterback in his class. Tagovailoa isn’t as cool or poised in or outside the pocket enough to be the dynamic arm or explosive runner that Mike McDaniel’s offensive system requires.
Tagovailoa might be a viable answer As the head of a physical offense that wanted to grind the ball and pop a deep ball. But Mike McDaniel’s flag football quick-strike system has hit a wall with Tagovailoa behind center.
The Tua dilemma couldn’t have come at a worse time for all parties. Entering Tagovailoa’s fifth season, GM Chris Grier has to consider the downwind effect of gambling on Tagovailoa with long-term franchise quarterback money. Tyreek Hill and Jalen Ramsey are being paid top-tier money. Jaylen Waddle will be playing for an extension soon.
Meanwhile, the Chiefs are operating with a barebones staff at receiver after downsizing once Patrick Mahomes’ extension kicked in. And yet, Mahomes left the Dolphins disoriented, throwing through tight windows to receivers he found in a Salvation Army bin. On the Chiefs’ sideline Sunday, Mahomes looked like a quarterback whose championship window is dependent on seeing his own reflection in the mirror.
Tua Tagovailoa probably isn’t the quarterback a contending Miami team commits to for the long haul, but the one that primes them for their franchise savior. After four years of investing in Tagovailoa, disillusionment is finally settling in. The hardest part of being in a cult is leaving it.
Follow DJ Dunson on X: @cerebralsportex