Dolphins’ Tua takes lessons learned in late-game scenarios as he enters playoffs for coldest game he has played

MIAMI GARDENS — The Miami Dolphins’ playoff game against the Kansas City Chiefs could very well come down to a late opportunity for quarterback Tua Tagovailoa to win his first playoff game.

And Tagovailoa might have to do it in the coldest temperatures he has ever experienced.

Tagovailoa is coming off an outing that ended with his interception in a two-minute drive scenario with a chance to tie and force overtime in last Sunday’s regular-season finale against the Buffalo Bills.

Intercepted by safety Taylor Rapp as Tagovailoa targeted wide receiver Chase Claypool in double coverage with neither Tyreek Hill, who was hurt the play before, or Jaylen Waddle, missing a second consecutive game with his high ankle sprain, on the field, the 21-14 loss dropped the Dolphins to No. 6 in the AFC playoffs for a trip to freezing temperatures in Kansas City instead of the friendly confines of Hard Rock Stadium.

And Tagovailoa’s postseason opponent in the wild-card round game was another team against which he had a late drive, down 7, come up short.

When the Dolphins played the Chiefs in the regular season, a Nov. 5 meeting in Frankfurt, Germany, Tagovailoa had a nearly identical scenario, trailing 21-14 in a two-minute situation. That time, after two Raheem Mostert runs got the Dolphins into Chiefs territory, Tagovailoa threw a pair of incomplete passes, then missed a wide-open Cedrick Wilson Jr. on third down due to a miscommunication on the route and finally mishandled a slightly errant snap on the final fourth down.

Those are two prominent examples of clutch chances for Tagovailoa, but that’s not to say all his late drives were duds. In the opener at the Los Angeles Chargers, the Dolphins quarterback had impressive throws to Hill for a key third-and-long conversion and for the go-ahead touchdown as Miami’s defense then held against Justin Herbert for a 36-34 win. Tagovailoa also led a drive for a game-winning field goal against the Dallas Cowboys on Dec. 24.

Then again, there were also the missed chances late against the Tennessee Titans when the Dolphins blew a 14-point lead with just more than three minutes remaining. Tagovailoa came up empty at the end on that Monday night, making him essentially 2 for 5 in clutch opportunities this season.

“You just got to find a way, any which way you can help your team win, whether it’s a field goal or scoring,” Tagovailoa said about pressure situations late. “Just continuing to take what the defense gives me. There’s a lot of things on film that we can continue to get better at that had presented itself and just never took those opportunities. We had a lot of time in those instances and then in some of them there were miscommunications. But they’re all learning opportunities, and now it’s win or go home. So you can’t have those mistakes going into games like this.”

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For his career, when trailing in a one-possession game with under five minutes remaining, Tagovailoa is 53 of 89 (59.6 percent) for 601 yards (6.8 yards per attempt) with six touchdowns, four interceptions and a passer rating of 83.6.

Dolphins coach Mike McDaniel agrees the late-game scenarios are opportunities to learn and take into the playoffs, where if you still have to learn, you’re going to be eliminated.

“This guy has, in front of our very eyes, learned and continued to grow,” McDaniel said. “I would say there were some lessons learned and that’s the point because, if it’s going to happen, you better make it worth your while and help propel you in your ultimate direction and goal.”

With temperatures forecasted to be single digits and wind chill well below zero Saturday night in Kansas City, it will be colder than anything Tagovailoa has experienced. He recalls the coldest atmosphere he has been in was a high school all-star game in Seattle where it was between 15 and 20 degrees.

The Dolphins quarterback said he’s going without gloves, as he normally does, for the playoff game.

“I’m going to see what we can wear for the game,” he said. “You can’t prepare for a game like that with that kind of weather, so it’ll be new.”

Tagovailoa’s second-lowest passing total of the season, ahead of only his 173 yards posted in the finale against the Bills, came in that first meeting with Kansas City, 193. Chiefs defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo can dial up creative blitzes, going to the blitz seventh-most in the NFL, but he also mixes up looks.

“You’re going to see coverage and you’re going to see blitz,” McDaniel said. “He’s going to try to keep you off-balanced. It’s not like blitzing is necessarily a bad thing to face. There’s a lot of times that I actually prefer that just because, if you’re on your P’s and Q’s, there’s less field covered. However, you have to be on your P’s and Q’s. Everyone has to be coordinated.”

Tagovailoa led the league in passing yards in the 2023 regular season and earned his first Pro Bowl selection. The numbers, he said, he’s not as concerned with, as long as it leads to team wins, but he does appreciate the Pro Bowl selection as it’s a symbol of respect from peers in the NFL.