Tua Tagovailoa leads top-ranked offense into 'Sunday Night Football' showdown at Patriots

Dolphins QB 4-0 vs. Bill Belichick-coached Patriots
Miami Dolphins QB Tua Tagovailoa passes at New England Patriots in 2021
Posted at 4:29 PM, Sep 17, 2023
and last updated 2023-09-17 16:29:13-04

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa has been an enigma for Bill Belichick in his matchups with the Patriots.

Tagovailoa's made four starts against the future Hall of Fame coach. Four times he's walked away with a victory.

That track record is also exactly why Tagovailoa is expecting the unexpected from Belichick's defense heading into his fifth meeting with New England.

New England Patriots QB Bill Belichick looks at scoreboard during second half vs. Philadelphia Eagles, Sept. 10, 2023
New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick looks at the scoreboard during the second half against the Philadelphia Eagles, Sunday, Sept. 10, 2023, in Foxborough, Mass.

"Coach Belichick has been coaching in this league for way longer than I think I've been alive. So he knows exactly what he's looking at when he coaches his guys," Tagovailoa said. "Nothing new under the sun for that guy. So we've got to come out, we've got to be prepared. We understand that that's a physical team and they're going to make us earn everything that we can."

The Patriots did that in Week 1 against the defending NFC champion Eagles and quarterback Jalen Hurts, holding them to just one offensive touchdown in Philadelphia's narrow win.

Containing Miami may be even harder. The Dolphins enter with the league's top-ranked offense following a comeback win over the Los Angeles Chargers in which Miami had 536 yards. It was the most yards for a team in a Week 1 game since Baltimore had 643 yards in 2019.

Miami Dolphins QB Tua Tagovailoa throws as Los Angeles Chargers safety Derwin James approaches, Sept. 10, 2023
Miami Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa throws a pass as Los Angeles Chargers safety Derwin James runs toward him Sunday, Sept. 10, 2023, in Inglewood, Calif.

Tagovailoa was a catalyst in the Dolphins' production, passing for 466 yards and three touchdowns — including a late go-ahead TD pass to Tyreek Hill — in their 36-34 victory over the Chargers. The performance earned him AFC offensive player of the week honors.

Belichick said Tagovailoa's success has been a combination of melding his athleticism with the talent around him.

"He's had tremendous production over the last couple of years, led the league in a lot of different categories passing the ball. So, they've got a really efficient guy running the offense," Belichick said.

One of those players is Hill, who has accounted for six touchdowns in six total matchups against New England playing with Kansas City and Miami.

Miami Dolphins receiver Tyreek Hill vs. New England Patriots, Sept. 11, 2022
Miami Dolphins wide receiver Tyreek Hill runs with the football during the first half against the Miami Dolphins, Sunday, Sept. 11, 2022, in Miami Gardens, Fla.

The task of defending him this week will partly fall to cornerback Jonathan Jones. He said the biggest challenge with Hill is that "he continues to get better," finding new ways to release from defenders and gain separation. Then his speed takes over.

"Any play he can take a 3-yard pass and take it the distance," Jones said.

Complicating matters for the Patriots is that this will also be the first time they have seen Tagovailoa since last season's opener. He was sidelined with a late-season concussion and missed the second meeting between the teams.

"It's really underestimated how good he really is," Jones said. "He's won. If you look at his record since he's been there he's won a lot of games for them. Regardless of what people say, he's won games and it's a production business. … So, we're going to have our work cut out for us."