MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. (AP) — Tyreek Hill was at a Miami bar during the preseason when Hall of Famer Dan Marino walked in.
“Hey, Reek, man, you've been doing a great job,” Hill recalled the former Dolphins quarterback saying. “You guys need to start meeting together. I used to do that with all my guys back in the day.”
Since then, Miami's receivers have been getting together after practices to work on being in the right spots for quarterback Tua Tagovailoa. The Dolphins' performance in Sunday's opener suggests that extra work is paying off.
Hill had 215 yards on 11 receptions with a pair of touchdowns in a 36-34 win over the Los Angeles Chargers. Tagovailoa passed for 466 yards and three TDs. Seven Dolphins players had at least two catches.
“Those two guys are a great example of not focusing on anything but their craft,” coach Mike McDaniel said of Tagovailoa and Hill. “That’s the ultimate hope as a coach — all that time invested and those high standards that you’re holding yourself to — that's rewarded. ... They were on the same page for sure.”
Hill is coming off a 2022 season in which he set career highs in receptions (119) and yards (1,710) while acknowledging he hadn't fully grasped McDaniel's offense. He said he was mostly relying on athleticism and speed.
Now, after a full season in the Dolphins' system and a strong training camp, he can feel the difference.
“Everything is more fluid this year,” Hill said. “I was in my bag a little bit more on release moves and just routes at the top. That’s how I was able to get my first catch, I had a dagger. Last year we ran the same exact route, and I wasn’t open. But this year it’s a whole lot different because I know how to run it, and I know exactly how many steps I need to be at.”
McDaniel said all of Hill's catches Sunday would have probably gone for half as much yardage a year ago.
“Understanding how to beat coverage is not something that we needed to teach him,” McDaniel said, “but understanding when to separate and how to get the ball, that’s what he’s really majored in this year.”
That was a huge help for Hill's connection with Tagovailoa, who targeted him 15 times.
Tagovailoa played in his first regular-season game since Week 16 last year. He missed Miami's final three games because of a concussion, his second of 2022.
He made huge plays late to seal the win, including a clutch throw on third-and-10 when he hit Hill on a go route for a 47-yard completion. Tagovailoa found Hill in the end zone five plays later on a ball that he dropped into a tightly covered Hill's hands for the decisive score.
Miami's offense was formidable last year when Tagovailoa was healthy and connecting with his receivers on those kinds of plays. That connection alone could carry the Dolphins far in 2023.
McDaniel's play-calling and game management put his team in position to answer every score by the Chargers. The coach decided to go for it on fourth and 7 at the Chargers 42, leading to a touchdown. He took a timeout with 14 seconds left in the first half before a Los Angeles field goal, and Miami used that time to make a kick of its own before halftime.
Despite a couple mishaps on the snap exchange between center Connor Williams and Tagovailoa, Miami's offensive line, which was without star left tackle Terron Armstead, didn't give up a sack against Joey Bosa, Khalil Mack and the Chargers' defensive front.
WHAT NEEDS HELP
The defense allowed the Chargers to convert 60% of their third downs and gave up 234 yards on the ground. The last time Miami gave up that many rushing yards was in Week 9 last year when the Bears ran for 252.
Tagovailoa. The fourth-year quarterback has been compared to Justin Herbert since they entered the league in 2020. Herbert was selected one pick after Tagovailoa and secured a mega-deal this offseason, but Tagovailoa bested him Sunday. Only three players have passed for more yards in an opener than Tagovailoa's 466, and it was the second time in the past two seasons that Tagovailoa passed for more than 450 yards and at least three touchdowns.
Williams had a few issues snapping the ball in the preseason, and it happened early in the opener. Problems with the quarterback-center exchange caused two fumbles on Miami's opening drive. The latter happened on first-and-goal and gave the Chargers the ball at the 6. Williams was also flagged for holding, which wiped out a third-down conversion.
The Dolphins didn't report any injuries after the game.
3-0 — Tagovailoa's record in Week 1 starts.
The Dolphins play another road game, at division rival New England on Sunday night.
AP NFL: https://apnews.com/hub/nfl
Alanis Thames, The Associated Press