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Schad: Tua Tagovailoa, Dolphins need more weapons to take next step

Joe Schad
Palm Beach Post
Miami Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa (1) takes the field for warm-ups before the game against the Kansas City Chiefs at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens, December 6, 2020.

MIAMI GARDENS — On the first series, Tua Tagovailoa threw a third-down pass to Jakeem Grant. And he dropped it. 

This is not to suggest this is exclusively a Jakeem Grant problem.

In the second quarter, Tagovailoa threw a long pass over the middle for Grant. Perhaps the throw could have been a bit longer. But it went off Grant's hands, into the air and was snagged for the first interception of the rookie quarterback's career.

Again, this is not to suggest this is all on Jakeem Grant.

What the Dolphins have is a playmaker problem. They need more of them. And in order to take a leap forward into the stratosphere of a championship team like the Chiefs, Miami must address this in the offseason.

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The Dolphins fell to defending Super Bowl champion Kansas City, 33-27, at Hard Rock Stadium on Sunday. The Dolphins fell into a 30-10 hole but made things interesting in the final quarter.

"We have a resilient team," Dolphins coach Brian Flores said. "They don't quit. But we didn't make enough plays to win the game. This is a good team. They made more plays than we did."

Dolphins rookie Tua Tagovailoa (1) walks away after scoring a touchdown on a quarterback sneak as he tried to rally Miami late in the fourth quarter of Sunday's loss to the Chiefs.

Miami lost even though its impressive defense forced Patrick Mahomes into three interceptions and sacked him three times, too.

The Dolphins lost because they allowed a long touchdown on a run by Tyreek Hill and a long touchdown catch by Hill, too. Miami also allowed a long punt return by Mecole Hardman.

Hill and Hardman are two of the fastest players in the NFL. Miami needs more players like them. And yes, Grant is one of the fastest players in the NFL, too.

But Grant is a dynamic punt returner, one of the best in the league. He has not yet proven he can be a consistent receiver in the league.

Chiefs linebacker Andrew Soroh (31) and defensive tackle Tershawn Wharton (98) sack Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa for a safety as center Ted Karras looks on during the third quarter of Sunday's game.

It is true that Miami entered this game without its top three running backs. Myles Gaskin (COVID-19 list), Matt Breida (COVID-19 list) and Salvon Ahmed (shoulder) did not dress.

But none of those players are as dangerous as Chiefs rookie running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire. Miami passed on Edwards-Helaire with the 30th pick of the first round in April. If cornerback Noah Igbinoghene becomes a top-notch starter in the league, they might not regret that decision.

Miami tried to sign Jets backup Le'Veon Bell, but he chose to play in Kansas City, because they are in a position to compete for a Super Bowl, which Miami isn't — yet.

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There is no shame in what Miami did on Sunday. The Dolphins jumped out to a 10-0 lead on the strength of an interception by Byron Jones, an interception by Eric Rowe and an impressive series by Tagovailoa.

On that drive, Miami moved quickly, as Tua completed two third-down passes. And he threw a red zone touchdown pass to Mike Gesicki, who is a solution for the Dolphins at the tight end position.

Gesicki left with a shoulder injury in the fourth quarter, and this is of grave concern.

It is true that Miami began this game without injured receiver Preston Williams (foot) and that in the second quarter, the Dolphins lost DeVante Parker (leg). Grant (leg) was injured as well.

That Tagovailoa moved Miami on drives in the fourth quarter, with receivers Malcolm Perry, Mack Hollins, Lynn Bowden and Antonio Callaway as top targets, was encouraging. Tua led two late scoring drives that created some interest both in Miami Gardens and at Las Vegas sports books.

Tagovailoa plays without fear. He is showing good anticipation and accuracy and decision-making.

"I'm very confident with whatever guys I'm playing with," Tagovailoa said. "I get a lot of reps with a lot of the guys. Those guys did a good job of stepping up. But it's never a good feeling when you lose, no matter who is in there."

Tua is not perfect. He is a rookie. He took an ill-advised sack at the end of the first half. He took a safety in the third quarter, when perhaps he could have thrown the ball away.

"I had some rookie mistakes," Tagaovailoa conceded.

Tua did post a career-high 316 passing yards on Sunday. He is flashing great promise. He also needs some help.

"The weapons matter," CBS' Tony Romo said Sunday, lamenting Tua's plight.

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The Dolphins had 11 players catch a pass. And four rushed, too.

That's great. Miami has numerous players capable of contributing. What Miami needs to add is more Pro Bowl-potential gamebreakers. And it doesn't matter if they're currently playing for Alabama, LSU, Clemson or Coastal Carolina.

The Chiefs are 12-1 because they have dangerous players in every position group meeting room on the team. The Dolphins are 8-5 because they are young, developing and not-yet-formed.

If the Dolphins beat the Patriots and Raiders in their next two games, they will be well-positioned to make the playoffs. That does not mean, of course, that they are ready to contend for an AFC or Super Bowl championship.

General manager Chris Grier and coach Brian Flores have smartly focused on rebuilding the team with a quarterback, offensive and defensive linemen, and cornerbacks.

It is understandable that running backs and receivers are in the next phase of the plan. And that phase must be executed in the spring.

When this game was on the line, on a fourth down with less than three minutes to play, Mahomes found Hill, the speedy receiver. Of course he did. Hill is a player he can trust to make a big play with the game on the line.

Miami needs to add players who will help Tua look even better than his does, early in his promising rookie season.

Perhaps the best news Miami fans received during the loss to Kansas City was this: the Texans were routed at Chicago, and fell to 4-9.

The Dolphins have Houston's first- and second-round picks in the next NFL Draft, a result of the trade of Laremy Tunsil. Miami must draft a dynamic receiver and an explosive running back with two of their four picks in the first two rounds.

Miami has a championship-level defense. With some fine turning, this defense is talented enough and well-coached enough to win it all.

Miami just isn't there on offense. And it isn't just about who was out and injured. It's about who's not on the roster yet.