What is an “elite” quarterback?
The term gets thrown around plenty in football, but the interpretation of how to classify “elite” quarterbacks and identifying who they are is a little more complex.
But the one thing that’s easy to quantify is that elite quarterbacking is more than stats. Plenty of quarterbacks have stats, but do those stats transition to clutch performances?
In my opinion, that’s what separates the elites from the ordinary.
Elite status is evident in the level of fear an opponent has if they give [insert name of quarterback] the ball back to the opposing offense in the game’s final two minutes while in possession of a three-point lead and there are zero timeouts?
THE ELITE QBS IN THE NFL
Give that scenario to a team led by Patrick Mahomes, Josh Allen, Lamar Jackson and maybe Joe Burrow and a healthy Aaron Rodgers and every opposing defense is cowering.
Unfortunately, Tua Tagovailoa isn’t that player.
Or, better yet, he hasn’t consistently proven he deserves to be feared in those save-my-team situations this season.
While Tagovailoa, who has statistically been one of the top-rated quarterbacks the past two seasons, has pulled off come-from-behind fourth-quarter wins against the Los Angeles Chargers and Dallas Cowboys this season, he’s also dropped the ball — figuratively and sometimes literally — in four instances Miami needed him to be clutch this season.
“Every game is different,” coach Mike McDaniel said, trying to justify the late-game failures from Tagovailoa this week. “It’s a constant development. One thing I do know is as much, if not more than any player I’ve been around, this guy has, in front of our very eyes, learned and continued to grow.”
Grown enough to end the late-game failures that have spoiled Miami’s promising season?
THE DOLPHINS’ FOURTH-QUARTER FAILURES
In Miami’s 31-17 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles, while his team was trailing 24-17 Tagovailoa was picked off inside the red zone with a little over 11 minutes left in the game, and then on the ensuing possession he was sacked on two straight plays to squander Miami’s final opportunity to close the deficit.
In Miami’s 21-14 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs back on Nov. 5, Tagovailoa missed two wide open receivers on the Dolphins’ final fourth-quarter possession, and then fumbled a fourth-and-10 snap at Kansas City’s 31-yard line, squandering Miami’s opportunity to tie the game in the contest’s final minute.
In Miami’s 28-27 loss to the Tennessee Titans on Dec. 11, Tagovailoa was given 1:45 to get Miami’s offense into field goal territory, and on fourth-and-2 from Miami’s 45-yard line he was sacked for a 3-yard loss, ending the game after the offense had moved all of 19 yards in six plays.
And in last Sunday’s 21-14 loss to the Bills, which cost Miami the AFC East division title and the home playoff game that came with it, Tagovailoa and Miami’s offense gained possession with 1:53 after a heroic defensive stand.
Miami needed a touchdown to tie the game. But Tagovailoa’s second-and-10 pass to Chase Claypool from Buffalo’s 40-yard line ended up being intercepted. Claypool clearly ran a horrible route, but Tagovailoa threw the pass into double coverage.
That’s four opportunities Tagovailoa had to carry the Dolphins to a win, or tie the game in critical moments of losses, and failed to do so.
BIG TEST COMING UP IN KANSAS CITY
At this time, he’s merely proven he’s a good system quarterback who is only as good as his team’s operation and game-planning.
“Regardless of how much weight is on his shoulders, or how much noise is out there, he continues to find a way to improve,” 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.”
For the Dolphins season to have meaning, ending the franchise’s 23-year run without having a playoff win, it’s safe to conclude Miami will need a big game from Tagovailoa and that will likely require some fourth-quarter heroics.
“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,” Tagovailoa said when asked about his late-game failures following the Bills loss. “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.
“I mean you just got to find a way,” Tagovailoa continued. “Any which way you can help your team win, whether it’s a field goal or scoring.”
We can blame Tagovailoa’s late-game struggles on the play-calling, the offensive line’s protection, the route’s receivers run, or the passes thrown. But we can’t excuse them.
Elite quarterbacks don’t need excuses.
They merely need opportunity.