Stakes are high as Miami Dolphins ask Tua Tagovailoa to keep them in playoff hunt

MIAMI -- History shows the Miami Dolphins must beat at least two of their next three opponents to have any hope of making the playoffs. At 1-4 and on a four-game losing streak, anything less puts them in a predicament only one team in modern NFL history has recovered from.

Since 1990, 117 teams began their season 2-6 and only one made the playoffs -- Washington (7-9) in 2021. It's added pressure for the Dolphins, who face the Jacksonville Jaguars (0-5) in London on Sunday (9:30 a.m. ET, CBS), then return home in Week 7 to face the Atlanta Falcons (2-3). Week 8 brings a rematch against the Buffalo Bills (4-1), who beat the Dolphins 35-0 at Hard Rock Stadium in Week 2.

Now that you understand what's at stake, you know the situation Miami's Tua Tagovailoa is entering. The second-year quarterback has missed all but two series in the past four games with fractured ribs (he was injured on Miami's second series in Week 2) and spent the past three weeks on injured reserve. Miami designated him to return this week and coach Brian Flores said he expects Tagovailoa to be available for Sunday's game.

It's perhaps unreasonable to ask a QB with 11 NFL starts in his first year in a new offense to resuscitate what has been a woefully stagnant unit over the past three games. But a player drafted No. 5 overall, as Tagovailoa was in 2020, will be expected to breathe life into the offense.

Miami ranks 31st in total yards, 30th in passing yards, 31st in scoring, dead last in rushing yards, and has attempted the seventh-fewest passes of at least 15 air yards according to NFL Next Gen Stats. It's an area Tagovailoa worked on this offseason after attempting just 51 such passes in 2020 and completing 37%, which ranked 30th and 34th among qualified passers, respectively.

He showed signs of improvement in Week 1, attempting six passes of at least 15 air yards in a win at New England. He only completed two, but it seemed like he was taking to heart a piece of advice he received from Dolphins great and Pro Football Hall of Famer Dan Marino.

Tagovailoa said Marino told him to "pick a guy and let it fly."

Now Tagovailoa must try to pick up where he left off before the injury. Wide receiver Preston Williams said Tagovailoa has been a constant presence even while injured -- watching film, at practice and on the sideline during games.

The communication and relationships with his teammates were "starting to build," according to co-offensive coordinator George Godsey, who is eager to see his quarterback return to the form he showed before getting hurt. Godsey noted that Tagovailoa will have some hurdles to clear, even if he is able to play.

"Whenever there is a lapse of time like that ... it's getting back the confidence that really you developed all training camp," Godsey said. "For Tua, it will be getting back out there on the field, being decisive, getting back that silent alarm and really getting back to where he was building in training camp.

"We won't be able to find those things, honestly, until game time. But as far as certain throws, making sure he's able to rip a ball out to the sideline if he has to, show some touch over some linebackers, [avoiding pass-rushers] in the pocket, those are obviously things that are going to happen throughout the game that you'd like to get a look at in practice.

"We'll take it day-by-day this week and see if we can arrive at a place we feel comfortable with before the game."

Tagovailoa seems to have the trust of his teammates, including Williams, who said the Dolphins have continued to "rally around" their quarterback.

"Tua has always been a leader in my eyes. I used to watch him at Alabama, too," Williams said. "He's seemed like the right guy for the job always, in my opinion. ... We're glad that he's back."

Of course, it's not all up to Tagovailoa to bring the Dolphins back from their terrible start. Their defense was torched by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers last week and has largely struggled after leading the NFL in turnovers last season.

But Tagovailoa can go a long way toward proving his value in the upcoming weeks.

Everyone has seen what Miami's offense looks like without him. As he fights to show the world outside the Dolphins' facility why they were correct in drafting him over the likes of budding Los Angeles Chargers star Justin Herbert, winning two of the next three games is the next step toward keeping his critics quiet.

The Dolphins traded their 2022 first-round pick in their move up the 2021 draft board to select receiver Jaylen Waddle. That can be viewed as Miami betting next year's first-round pick on being a playoff team this season.

Jaguars. Falcons. Bills.

The Dolphins will have to beat at least two of those teams to make that gamble pay off. The stakes are high for Tagovailoa as well.