MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. (AP) — Drake? Allen Iverson?
No, just a new-look Tua Tagovailoa.
The Miami Dolphins quarterback emerged from the bye week wearing his curly hair in cornrows.
When asked about his new appearance on Wednesday, he smirked.
“The hair?” Tagovailoa said, “Oh, yeah, got them done last week. My hair was outrageous, so I thought if I didn’t braid it, or if it wasn’t long enough, then I’d just cut it. So I just thought I’d get it braided."
Tagovailoa didn’t go as far to say that his new hairstyle — combined with a new tattoo sleeve on his right arm that he revealed in training camp — was a reflection of a newfound self-expression. But it could be, as teammates have praised his renewed confidence in games, in practices and on the sideline, all season.
And the fact that social media was already ablaze Wednesday afternoon with comments about Tagovailoa's hair — some users comparing him to the hip-hop star Drake — is a reflection of just how newsworthy Tagovailoa has been since he entered the league in 2020.
“I love it,” said edge rusher Bradley Chubb. “He told me he was going to do it, but I didn’t believe him. Then he came in the next day with the cornrows. The ‘uce’ is loose.”
Tagovailoa has been an especially popular talking point in the past two seasons as he’s shown dramatic improvement in his output on the field.
He has led the Dolphins to a 6-3 record and top spot in the AFC East at the midway point of the season and is tied with Josh Allen for an NFL-best 19 passing touchdowns. He is second in passer rating (106.4) after leading the NFL in that category last season, third in yards passing (2,609) and is averaging 8.5 yards per attempt. He is also the NFL's highest-rated passer on third down since 2022, with a 113.6 rating during that span.
Tagovailoa is in some MVP conversations for the second straight season, which he insists doesn't mean much to him.
“I just want to help our team win the Super Bowl,” he said. "I think that would be the greatest deal. When everything is said and done, no one can take that away from you.”
That's the goal for the Dolphins as they begin the second half of their season Sunday at home against the Las Vegas Raiders.
They have the top-ranked overall offense and have scored at a historic pace even during a season in which scoring is down across the league. Miami has 3,918 total yards, which is the 10th most through the first nine games of a season since the AFL-NFL merger in 1970. If the Dolphins keep up with their current pace, that would give them 7,400 yards by the end of the season — 74 shy of the single-season record of 7,474 set by the New Orleans Saints in 16 regular-season games in 2011.
“The bye week, I just wanted us to pick up where we left off and not lose sight of the journey that we are right in the middle of,” said coach Mike McDaniel. “ ... What was important to me is that we take advantage of the rest, but we build upon everything that we’ve really built in these first nine games, which has been unbelievable for this team.”
The Dolphins have also made significant strides on defense, which was an area of concern earlier this season.
One game into the Vic Fangio era, the growing pains of learning a new defensive scheme were painfully evident to Phillips, Miami’s standout third-year linebacker.
“I felt like we were really sloppy in technique and with our run fits and things like that,” Phillips said. “To see that compared to how we played ... really the last couple weeks, it’s almost night and day honestly.”
Phillips pointed to the Dolphins’ defensive performance against the defending champion Kansas City Chiefs in Germany as an example of their growth.
The Dolphins limited Kansas City to 267 yards — its lowest output in a regular-season game since Nov. 7, 2021 — and pitched a shutout in the second half. Two-time NFL MVP Patrick Mahomes passed for just 185 yards, his lowest regular-season total in nearly two years.
Miami was ranked in the bottom third among NFL teams in passing, rushing and scoring defense through the first four games of the season. The Dolphins now have the 12th-best total defense, are 13th against the pass and the run and have 28 sacks, which ranks No. 9.
Part of that is because they're getting healthy. The return of All-Pro cornerback Jalen Ramsey provided a spark against New England a few weeks ago.
Another reason is the resurgence of Phillips, who dealt with injuries earlier in the season but has had three sacks, three quarterback hits and two tackles for loss in the past three games, as well as Chubb, who leads the team with four forced fumbles and has added four sacks in the past three games.
Tagovailoa lauded Miami's defensive players for holding themselves accountable and improving communication.
“Sometimes the communication wasn’t right and sometimes the conversations between defensive guys is not always pretty,” he said. “To be able to see how hard they’ve worked through training camp and whatnot, to see everything starting to come together for those guys is I think a really, really empowering thing to see for us offensively and as a whole.”
NOTES: Running back De'Von Achane practiced for the second straight day as he works his way back from a knee injury. He was listed on Miami's injury report as a limited practice participant. McDaniel was not ready to say Wednesday whether Achane will play Sunday, but he said the rookie has “checked all the boxes on air of doing ball handling, and he didn’t forget his assignments.”
AP NFL: https://apnews.com/hub/NFL
Alanis Thames, The Associated Press