Dolphins’ Tua, after offseason of work to stay healthy, set to play full 17-game regular season

MIAMI GARDENS — After an offseason where Tua Tagovailoa put such an emphasis on staying healthy, the Miami Dolphins quarterback is bound to complete the regular season starting all 17 games.

Tagovailoa might finish the season as the NFL’s leader in passing yards and completion percentage, but the statistic that shows his added durability may be most resounding.

“It’s a blessing that I get to play the entire season,” Tagovailoa said Wednesday as his Dolphins (11-5) prepare for Sunday night’s prime-time clash with the Buffalo Bills (10-6) for the AFC East title. “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.”

Tagovailoa is set to make it through an entire season for the first time in his four-year NFL career. He notably was out for 5 1/2 games last season from two separate concussions. To combat the injury history and, specifically, blows to the head, Tagovailoa took jiu-jitsu lessons in the offseason to better brace for falls and tacked on muscle to his body to take on hits from heavier defensive players.

“It’s significant for the organization, but more importantly, it’s significant for the player,” Dolphins coach Mike McDaniel said before Wednesday’s drills of his quarterback’s imminent achievement of 17 starts. “He hadn’t stayed healthy for a whole season. So what he did was try to take control of everything that he could control and made that a goal.”

That is not to say Tagovailoa isn’t dealing with minor injuries leading up to Sunday’s regular-season finale at Hard Rock Stadium. Before facing Buffalo, Tagovailoa has been dealing with an ailing quadriceps for the past two weeks and a left shoulder injury sustained late in last Sunday’s 56-19 loss to the Baltimore Ravens, on a slide to cap a scramble up the middle.

“My shoulder is good, brother,” Tagovailoa said, after he was listed on the team’s injury report as a full participant in Wednesday’s practice.

Tuesday night’s episode of HBO series “Hard Knocks” showed that he was dealing with bruising on his left thumb and along the inner side of his hand after the Dec. 24 win over the Dallas Cowboys. It made throws late in that game difficult, as he was seen on the reality show complaining about his ability to grip the ball — something that improved as the week progressed toward the Ravens game.

“Everyone has the nicks and bruises at this point of the season,” Tagovailoa said. “So that’s not an excuse for me. But that’s what was going on.”

Related Articles

McDaniel noted the quarterback has gone above and beyond — not just in the offseason — but in-season, as well, putting in extra time to keep himself healthy.

“He doesn’t have office hours relative to what needs to be done with his body or his mind,” McDaniel said. “If he’s working out a contusion on his leg, however long that process needs to take, he’s not inching his way out of the door. He’s coming early, staying late.”

That notion transcends his bodily health and includes a devoted approach to preparation for his play.

“If he didn’t like the way that he executed some plays or if he didn’t like his ownership of the plays,” McDaniel said, “there’s been times that I see his car in the parking lot well after it’s dark.”

Tagovailoa enters the final regular-season game with 4,451 passing yards and a 69.6 completion percentage — both which lead the NFL — 28 touchdowns and 12 interceptions. All are career highs.

But the most important number for Tagovailoa is to come away with another win, which would secure a No. 2 seed and the AFC East title for Miami. A loss drops the team down to No. 6 in the AFC, which means a trip to Kansas City to face the Chiefs at Arrowhead Stadium.

“I don’t think I am making this any bigger than what it is,” Tagovailoa said. “I understand there’s seeding at stake, if you will, but outside of that, I think if we continue to prepare the way we’ve prepared and play team football, which I think is the most important thing for our team in this back half, then I think we’ll be fine.”

There’s also a scenario where a win means Buffalo ends up at No. 7, meaning the two teams square off right back at Hard Rock Stadium in the wild-card round of the playoffs.

“It wouldn’t matter what team we play,” Tagovailoa said. “I think what matters to us is our style of football and how we play and how we execute.”

But the Bills have presented the Dolphins with challenges in recent seasons, winning 10 of the past 11 in the rivalry, including postseason. Earlier this season, Miami suffered its first loss in a 48-20 blowout in Orchard Park. Tagovailoa is 1-5 against Buffalo in his career, with five touchdowns and five interceptions.

“They are very sound defensively,” Tagovailoa said. “They’re coached well. They know where their problems are. They hide their problems well. I mean, they are really good in that sense. They’re really good also with their disguise and showing shell and then going one-high, and disguising that with their other coverages and their two-high deal. They present some good problems for us, and it’s going to be a good challenge for us this Sunday.”

The Dolphins quarterback has standout wide receiver Jaylen Waddle’s status in question due to his ankle injury that cost him the Ravens game. Meanwhile, No. 1 wide receiver Tyreek Hill is dealing with his own ailing ankle, along with personal adversity of having his house on fire Wednesday. Television coverage of the fire pictured Hill, after leaving practice early Wednesday to attend the matter, in a walking boot.