Dolphins’ Tua exhibits new leadership style following loss to Bills — and it’s something his coach brought out of him

MIAMI GARDENS — It seemed like Miami Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa was sending a message to his locker room with one of his quotes following the team’s embarrassing 48-20 loss to the division rival Buffalo Bills.

“Very humbling, and for some, it was much-needed,” Tagovailoa said at the visiting team podium at Highmark Stadium.

It’s not something Tagovailoa would’ve done much his first three NFL seasons — certainly not his first two years with the Dolphins. It took a certain level of moxie to put it out into the world that some of his teammates needed to be humbled, complete with a tug of his shoulder pads as an exclamation point, a mic-drop equivalent if he was holding one in his hand.

That humbling defeat came after the Dolphins (3-1) scored a franchise record for points in a game the week before, dominating the Denver Broncos, 70-20.

The Miami quarterback elaborated on what he was seeing from his teammates after Wednesday’s practice in preparation for the New York Giants (1-3).

“You can see, being in a locker room, some people, some guys take things with a grain of salt and some don’t,” Tagovailoa said. “Sometimes, something like that is well-needed in losses, and especially the way we lost, to get our guys closer together, get guys doing things maybe they’ve never done or maybe they’ve never had to do.

“It’s a good challenge for some that are willing to take up that challenge and, hopefully, do something with it on Sunday.”

Tagovailoa has noticeably increased his leadership presence over the past two seasons, and he has grown comfortable doing it under coach Mike McDaniel since the Dolphins made the transition to him from former coach Brian Flores.

“I definitely have become more vocal,” Tagovailoa said. “I think when I first came into the league during COVID, it was a little hard for me to find myself leading the way I wanted to lead because of the hierarchy with how I was told I should’ve led. It just wasn’t the way I felt comfortable with, and so I didn’t lead in that sense.

“Having Mike and the new coaching staff come in has definitely helped, allowed me to be myself, and with that, with me being able to be myself, that’s just how it became to be. More vocal, feeling comfortable talking to guys certain ways and it’s also how you approach guys in this league. Some people respond better when you yell at them, some respond better if you just pull them to the side and have a man-to-man conversation.”

To Tagovailoa, the needed leadership at this time isn’t just about motivating the Dolphins to bounce back from a 28-point loss to merely invest extra energy in the Giants this Sunday. It’s about building a consistent approach that transcends the highs and lows of a season. A team shouldn’t have to build itself back up after any loss or resist the urge to settle after a convincing win.

In that, Tagovailoa reports there’s not some big difference in the way the Dolphins are getting after practice going into Week 5.

“I think guys are approaching it the same way this week,” he said. “I don’t think anyone’s pushing any harder to do more or to do anything out of the ordinary. Guys are coming in to work, and they’re working on their craft.”

Part of that, as Tagovailoa noted after the loss to Buffalo, is to improve offensive communication. He said that has gotten better early in preparation for New York, which maybe won’t lead to the offense faltering like it did following those first two scoring drives in Orchard Park.

“It’s been a lot better,” Tagovailoa said. “I think communication issues start from the beginning of the week, starts with today, Wednesday. I think we had a pretty good day. There’s been a lot of things that have been installed that we got to get in and out of the huddle to get the looks that we want, to present the motions that we want.”

Working for the Dolphins in getting back on track offensively is that the Giants have a different approach to defense than what worked for the Bills.

While Buffalo stayed in a lot of two-high safety coverages, New York likes to have one safety up top or sometimes none. The Giants’ 49.6 blitz percentage, according to Pro Football Reference, is second-most in the NFL, while the Bills mostly rush four with a 17.6 percent blitz rate that is third least.

It could present more opportunities for Tagovailoa to get the ball out quickly to star receivers Tyreek Hill and Jaylen Waddle in space.

“Knowing that those guys are really the backbone of the team, we just got to stay connected,” he said. “When there’s space, space is our friend. We try to use that to our advantage. If they pressure, we got to have answers quick, get the ball out quick and allow our guys and our playmakers to make plays.”

McDaniel said he expects the Giants to do what they do at their core, but he also anticipates some variance Sunday.

“People generally don’t change their DNA,” McDaniel said. “We’ll definitely see some stuff that we haven’t seen. But that’s something that you hope to experience and get good at because if you’re having the appropriate success that you’re trying to work for, that is quite literally the norm.”

Miami Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa during practice at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens on Wednesday, October 4, 2023. (Carline Jean/South Florida Sun Sentinel)
Miami Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa during practice at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens on Wednesday, October 4, 2023. (Carline Jean/South Florida Sun Sentinel)