How Tua Tagovailoa of the Dolphins achieved his 17….

How Tua Tagovailoa of the Dolphins achieved his 17-game season objective

MIAMI — Miami Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa was ushered into the media room at M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore, minutes after his team’s loss to the Ravens in Week 17.

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The Dolphins’ chance at the AFC’s top seed had just been crushed in a 56-19 loss that was punctuated by injuries and creeping doubt about Miami’s Super Bowl aspirations. Compounding things, the Dolphins needed to beat the surging Buffalo Bills in Week 18 to win the AFC East.

But as Tagovailoa settled in at the podium, the first question wasn’t about the big picture. It was about his left shoulder, which was banged up before he left the blowout with a little more than eight minutes left.

“Shoulder is good, shoulder is good,” he said. “Just a little sore.”

It’s not unusual for an injury status to be the first topic of a postgame news conference, but with Tagovailoa, it’s different. After suffering multiple concussions last year that prompted him to miss parts of five games, briefly consider retirement and cause the NFL to alter its concussion policy, there’s been a spotlight on Tagovailoa’s health and durability.

Every sack, every hit, every time he was shoved to the ground drew a slightly longer gaze to see how he would react. And each time, Tagovailoa was able to bounce back.

From offseason jiujitsu training that taught him how to fall without banging his head on the ground, to running an offense that utilizes short, quick passes to get the ball out of his hands before danger arrives, Tagovailoa and the Dolphins did what they could to ensure the quarterback’s health and success. The results were a second straight playoff berth, another run at MVP and 17 straight starts, a career high. Aside from how far he can take the Dolphins in the playoffs, the only question left is about his next contract.

“He tries to exude toughness at any opportune time, and he’s really willing to do whatever it takes,” Dolphins coach Mike McDaniel said. “I mean, case in point, he had issues with hitting his head on the ground, so he took jiujitsu and spent a lot of hours of his life training so that he could be proactive and preventative. Not everyone’s doing that. Not everyone would do that.

“Anything that he can control, he tries to take in his hands. He’s my guy, man.”

Ironically, while Tagovailoa escaped Sunday night’s 21-14 loss to the Bills relatively unscathed, many of his teammates were less fortunate. The Dolphins will be banged up when they travel to Kansas City on Saturday for a wild-card game against the Chiefs (8:15 p.m. ET, Peacock).

It’s not that Tagovailoa didn’t take punishment this season. He took hits at roughly the same rate as last season (4.8% sack rate in 2023 compared to 4.9% in 2022), but his offseason training allowed him to roll away from hits that might have sidelined him a year ago.

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“It’s a blessing that I get to play the entire season,” Tagovailoa said. “I think anyone would say the same around the league, that it’s a blessing to make it this far as healthy as anyone can be right now leading up to this week.

“So, very blessed. Very fortunate. And I don’t take this for granted.”

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