SANTA CLARA, Calif. – The Miami Dolphins’ loss to the San Francisco 49ers on Sunday represented Tua Tagovailoa’s worst game of the season, despite the fact he threw two touchdowns of at least 45 yards.
The quarterback set season-lows in completion percentage (54.5%), completion percentage over expectation (-14.5%) and a season high in off-target percentage (27.3%) in the 33-17 loss. He also threw his first interceptions since Week 4, marking his first multi-interception game since Week 2.
Tagovailoa was uncharacteristically inaccurate, considering 42.4% of his attempts targeted receivers with 3-to-5 yards of separation, according to NextGen Stats, which designates as an “open” target.
That’s the bad news. But as the Dolphins prepare to face the Los Angeles Chargers on Sunday (8:20 p.m., ET, NBC), they are convinced Tagovailoa’s off day was an aberration.
His performance came against the best defense in the NFL, and linebackers Fred Warner and Dre Greenlaw are fast enough to cover the middle of the field, where Tagovailoa generally does most of his damage. Their ability to disrupt Miami’s offensive timing was something no other opponent had done to that extent, and it caused the Dolphins to press as a whole, coach Mike McDaniel said.
It did not, as McDaniel added, create a reason to panic about the development of a possible blueprint to beating Miami’s offense.
“You want to be hitting on all cylinders at all times, and the thing about a passing game is it can be very potent when all cylinders are hitting,” he said. “I think clearly it wasn’t in terms of our completion percentage, the throwing it to the opposing team, and just really being as consistent as we needed to be. And I think from my estimation, there was, as I told the team, I thought there were times that really guys were pressing.
“There were some times that we did have time to go ahead and make a play, and the (eligible receivers) got their depths and were available in the timing of the play, and other times that they weren’t, and we kind of let plays linger and really overlap to further existing plays. So these are things that from my vantage point are very, very correctable.”
Tagovailoa dealt with an ankle injury throughout the week; he was listed on the injury report but it didn’t limit him in any practice. He left the game for the Dolphins’ final drive with what the team reported as an ankle injury, but McDaniel said he anticipates Tagovailoa playing against the Chargers.
“There were instances where I just flat out wasn’t getting the ball directly to our guys,” Tagovailoa said. “But there were also instances where there were miscommunications … and like I said, and will continue to keep saying, we’ll get better from those.”
McDaniel said Monday that he is confident in a “robust turnaround” this week, and the stats support his confidence.
The Chargers own the NFL’s third-worst scoring defense at 25.8 points allowed per game and allow the most yards per rush in the league. If Miami can establish the run better than it did against the 49ers (33 yards on eight carries), it should open passing lanes for Tagovailoa against the league’s 24th-ranked pass defense in terms of yards per attempt.
The Dolphins could also see the return of left tackle Terron Armstead, who missed Sunday’s game with a pectoral injury. McDaniel said he expects the Pro Bowler to practice to some extent this week but hasn’t determined how much.
Miami’s locker room was predictably quiet following Sunday’s loss, but players didn’t sound any less confident in their ability to bounce back after their five-game win streak was snapped. As the team remains in California to practice before the Chargers game, McDaniel said he was happy with how players have responded.
“I think guys did learn various things without losing confidence,” he said. “They were very accountable, which is one of the reasons I’m so deeply invested and confident in this team and expect it to look better and take a step forward this next coming week.”