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Tua Tagovailoa acknowledges cold-weather woes as Dolphins seek strong finish

MIAMI -- In Week 17, the Miami Dolphins looked like a team from south Florida -- ineffective in poor weather conditions during a 34-3 loss against the Tennessee Titans.

The temperature was in the 30s Sunday in Nashville, Tennessee. It rained. The field and football were both slick. Still, only one team turned the ball over twice -- the one that spent Christmas in 80-degree temperatures.

With annual games in cold-weather environments like Buffalo, Boston and New York, the Dolphins must be better in those conditions; it's something quarterback Tua Tagovailoa said he will prioritize this offseason.

"We do look at the mistakes that we've made after every game that we've played and see what we can fix to help us become successful so we don't make those same mistakes," he said Wednesday. "I think for me, it's being able to simulate the cold-weather scenario and trying to throw a ball while it's wet at the same time in cold weather. A lot of the good teams are cold-weather teams.

"I think that is something to take into consideration this offseason for myself. I'll probably go visit my brother or take a trip somewhere that's cold and kind of get the feel of that."

Any offseason trips to visit his brother, Taulia, in Maryland will have to wait until at least next week, as the Dolphins' season isn't over. They are mathematically eliminated from playoff contention but have the opportunity to finish with their second straight winning season under coach Brian Flores when they host the New England Patriots (10-6) on Sunday (4:25 p.m. ET, CBS).

It would be something to celebrate -- Miami (8-8) hasn't recorded consecutive winning seasons since 2003, the last in a streak of 15 straight seasons without a losing record for the franchise.

Still, it feels like a forced silver lining after entering the season with so much optimism. Miami started 1-7 before rattling off a seven-game winning streak that ended last weekend. That streak-ending loss was a microcosm of the issues Miami faced throughout the season, including a slow start.

"I think for us it starts with consistency," Tagovailoa said. "In order for us to get things going, we've got to do the things that we do really well. If we’re not doing those good, we can't really jump shifts. We can't go from gear three to gear four to gear five if we're making mistakes on one and two."

Their characteristically slow starts must become a thing of the past next season if the Dolphins hope to end a five-year playoff drought. In three seasons under Flores, they have started 1-7 twice -- a record that was excusable in 2019 but not so much in 2021.

This coming offseason is critical for Miami, which is projected to have more than $70 million in salary-cap space. That's more than enough to bolster an offensive line that ranks last in pass block win rate, or add playmakers to an offense that is clearly lacking them behind rookie receiver Jaylen Waddle.

It also represents a fork in the road for Tagovailoa, who the team must make a decision on following the 2022 season. Can he make the necessary adjustments to develop into a player worthy of having his fifth-year option picked up? He seems ready to learn from his mistakes, which is a trait Flores has seen from him throughout their two years together.

"We move on. We move on to the next play, we take it one play at a time, one day at a time," Flores said. "That's the case for [Tagovailoa] and every player. That would be my message to anyone that dealt with a little adversity."

A win Sunday would feel like a moral victory after the possibility of playoff football shined brightly in south Florida before disappearing like a shooting star against the Titans. But back-to-back winning records would also be a positive takeaway from a season the Dolphins can stand to learn from.

"I really haven't thought about that too much. I'm just really kind of focused on this team, this week," Flores said. "It's a tough opponent ... It's going to take a great effort by us, a great week of preparation to get the result we’re looking for."