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Tua Tagovailoa knows he needs to slide, but competitive nature clouds the issue | Habib

MIAMI GARDENS — To all of us not named Tua Tagovailoa, this is an easy call.

Get down. Slide. Run out of bounds. Do whatever you have to do to make sure defenders can’t mistake that “1” on your chest for a bull’s-eye or giant “S.”

“I wasn’t trying to be Superman,” Tagovailoa said after Sunday night’s win over the Steelers that had some wondering if superhero syndrome had overcome him.

Tagovailoa realizes more than just kryptonite can hurt him, that the list includes Steelers defensive back Tre Norwood and that he played with fire when he lowered his head and plowed into Norwood.

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Tua Tagovailoa runs the ball against Steelers linebacker Devin Bush.
Tua Tagovailoa runs the ball against Steelers linebacker Devin Bush.

“I had my coaches telling me, ‘We don’t ever want you to do this,’ ” Tagovailoa said Wednesday.

It’s one thing for coaches to say it.

It’s another thing for the player to listen to it.

Do you copy, Mr. Tagovailoa?

“Obviously, I get that,” he said.

Tua Tagovailoa's instinct is when he sees what he wants, ‘go and get it'

Except in the next breath, Tagovailoa sounded like a player trying to convince himself that he believes what he believes, if that makes sense.

“To me, it’s football,” he said. “You go out there and, like, I can see the first down in instances and you want to do all that I can to go and get it.”

He’s not the only NFL quarterback to feel conflicted. The play in which Tagovailoa met Norwood came on a third-and-8. After getting flushed out of the pocket, he scrambled and came within a yard of the line to gain before the crunching collision.

Was the reward worth the risk?

The situation says maybe not — the play began on the Miami 32, with the Dolphins up 16-10 in the third quarter.

The result says maybe — Tagovailoa nearly moved the chains. You try telling a professional athlete who can sniff success to ignore it.

Later in his media session Wednesday, Tagovailoa was talking about receiver Tyreek Hill being so competitive, he has to be the best at “whatever it is.” That includes pingpong, Fortnite, streaming. If these guys weren’t wired this way, they’d never get where they are.

The problem is, how to keep Tagovailoa where he is: on the field, in one piece. The Dolphins are 4-0 with Tagovailoa, 0-3 without him. That “3” is the alarming number. We all know Tagovailoa’s lengthy injury history, most recently including a concussion. That missed-games figure gets much larger, you can kiss Miami’s playoff hopes goodbye. Could any first down be that important?

“Can you watch this and not hold your breath a little bit?” NBC analyst Cris Collinsworth said of the Norwood play.

“Nope,” play-by-play man Mike Tirico replied.

“I can’t either,” Collinsworth said. “Because I know what he’s been through and he’s putting his head down and fighting for every inch. If he slides in that situation, he has no chance of getting the first down. He just can’t help himself. Yes, he’s coming off the concussions. He’s still playing the way he always played — whether it’s right or not.”

Tua is not another Josh Allen or Lamar Jackson

If you’re John Elway in the Super Bowl, within sniffing distance of the goal line, with three Packers defenders in your way, it’s right. If you’re Josh Allen — linebacker-sized Josh Allen — it’s right. And if you’re Lamar Jackson — as elusive as any QB anywhere — it’s right.

But Tagovailoa isn’t as powerful as Elway or Allen, isn’t the moving target Jackson is and isn’t as durable as any of them.

At least on Tagovailoa’s two other scrambles against the Steelers, the risk wasn’t as bad. On a second-and-5 play, he ran 4 yards before sliding in front of ex-Dolphin Minkah Fitzpatrick. On a second-and-9 red-zone play, he gained 5 yards before being met by linebacker Devin Bush, but at least Bush simply wrestled him down. Both plays led to field goals.

“I’m probably going to advise him to slide every time, but when push comes to shove and a guy has the ball in his hands, it’s going to be tough to get him to completely turn it down, although I will try,” coach Mike McDaniel said.

It must be noted that in his first game back from concussion protocol, Tagovailoa didn’t allow the Steelers to take target practice on him in the pocket. He unloaded passes in an average of just 2.38 seconds, the fifth-quickest release of his career, according to the NFL’s Next Gen Stats. His pressure rate was 8.6%, lowest in his career, as he completed 21-of-35 for 261 yards and a touchdown.

“It was great,” Tagovailoa said of his offensive line’s protection. “I think Mike schemed it up really well too because we were getting the ball out quick and it was kind of hard, I think, for their D-line to get a feel with their rush patterns and then also get a feel of where the spot was for the quarterback.”

Sunday night, the Dolphins took a step forward regarding their quarterback in the pocket. It’s when he wanders out that things begin to get cloudy.

“I’m going to tell you, you know, I’ve got to slide,” Tagovailoa said. “I’ve got to do all of that. But instinctively, it’s just — I don’t know. It’s weird.

“It’s like a weird, competitive thing.”

Hal Habib covers the Dolphins for The Post. Help support our journalism. Subscribe today.

This article originally appeared on Palm Beach Post: Dolphins QB Tua Tagovailoa ‘gets' that he needs to slide — but will he?