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Tua Tagovailoa has no issue putting his body on the line. But it's hard to watch for now | Opinion

MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. — Tua Tagovailoa just cannot help himself.

Not once, but twice did Tagovailoa attempt to lower his shoulder – and his head – in attempt to bulldoze an opposing defender to gain extra yards in his first game back from a concussion for the Miami Dolphins on Sunday.

Any other quarterback in the NFL would be applauded for playing with the tenacity Tagovailoa showed in the Dolphins’ 16-10 win over the Pittsburgh Steelers on "Sunday Night Football."

But Tagovailoa has a different microscope lens hovering over him since his ugly concussion suffered during a primetime, "Thursday Night Football" game in Cincinnati on Sept. 29.

“I wasn’t trying to be Superman or a superhero out there,” Tagovailoa said after the game in response to the nitpicking at his tenacious play.

Tagovailoa gained four yards on second and 9 after a scramble to his right where he was met by a linebacker and wrestled to the ground in the first quarter. Two plays later, the Dolphins kicked a field goal.

“Immediately the next series after the first time he did it, he was like, ‘Coach, I’m sorry. I needed that,’” Dolphins coach Mike McDaniel said of Tagovailoa. “I was like, ‘alright.’”

The other saw Tagovailoa lower his shoulder into a defender on a 7-yard run that ended one yard short of a first down. The Dolphins were forced to punt.

“Obviously, I came to the sideline after those plays. Those things that happened are things I shouldn’t be doing,” Tagovailoa said during his postgame interview on NBC.

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Tua Tagovailoa runs with the ball against the Steelers.
Tua Tagovailoa runs with the ball against the Steelers.

Tagovailoa has not allowed the ugliest scene of his NFL career to affect him – even in his first game back. And while that’s a positive for him, it’s a personal problem we’ll have to cope with in due time.

It’s going to take some time for football audiences to get used to Tagovailoa playing like he’s always played, with a penchant of always feeling like he must make a play to help his team.

Seeing Tagovailoa in the open field might have brought an uncomfortable feeling for some.

The sick-in-your-stomach type of pain that makes you clutch your side as Tagovailoa is making his move. The anticipation to see what’s going to happen as soon as Tagovailoa is met by an unforgiving defender. Watching his body’s momentum stop and reach a resting point.

And the relief that ensues once you see Tagovailoa get up again.

Tagovailoa proved if he can make a play for his team, he will try to do so.

And it’s an attitude his teammates love seeing from their starting quarterback – despite the uneasiness it caused them during the game, too.

“Man, in my head I was like, ‘Get down, boy. Get down,’” star Dolphins receiver Tyreek Hill said of Tagovailoa.

“But it shows the amount of pride he has in this game. Just him coming back from that scary injury he had, him diving head first, going against a linebacker. That was crazy. I was like, let’s go.”

And this candid response from tight end Durham Smythe:

“I definitely came off the sideline after the first time he did it and I was like, ‘Someone has to tell that [expletive] to stop doing that,’” Smythe said.

“But like, at the same time, you see how the sideline reacts when he does that. Everyone gets really excited. And obviously, you have to be smart because he’s a very important part to this team and this offense. But every now and then when he puts that shoulder down, we all get riled up and the boys rally behind him.”

Tagovailoa has been in this position before with all eyes on him ever since he made his Dolphins debut in 2020 in his first action since sustaining his gruesome hip injury at Alabama.

It took some time, perhaps Tagovailoa’s first season, for his hip to become an afterthought in the grand scheme of things.

However, there are still some adjustments that must be made after Tagovailoa’s first game back from the concussion.

Like getting rid of the ball quickly to receivers such as Hill and Jaylen Waddle.

Like throwing the football away or into the ground (while avoiding intentional grounding).

Like taking a sack, and living to see another down.

And sliding when it’s a better last-second decision than lowering his shoulder.

Especially for football fans and viewers, who don’t wish to see another ugly episode like Tagovailoa getting escorted off the field on stretcher like he was in Cincinnati.

“He’s got that component to his game where he’s a competitor and he’s trying to get a first down for his team,” McDaniel said of Tagovailoa.

“I’m never going to totally encourage that at all. 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.”

It’s going to take Tagovailoa some considerable time to incorporate how to play football in safer ways.

That is, of course, if he truly wishes to make those adjustments.

Or, if those thoughts are going to fly out the window when there’s an extra yard, a first down, or a touchdown to be scored.

“To me, there were close calls,” Tagovailoa said. “Maybe, if I do put my shoulder down, hopefully I could get forward progress with this. But that all it was.”

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Dolphins QB Tua Tagovailoa put body on the line in win vs. Steelers