MIAMI GARDENS - Mike McDaniel has noticed the change in Tua Tagovailoa: His jovial nature on the Miami Dolphins' sideline during games. His air of determination in practices and even walkthroughs. His elevated confidence when speaking with his teammates.
All of it plays a role in the fourth-year quarterback's output on game days, McDaniel said Wednesday, adding that much of Tagovailoa's growth on the field has started with internal work each week.
"He's starting to see the power that he holds at that position," McDaniel said, "when you are in charge of giving the play and executing each and every play with ball-handling and assignments. But what it can do for teammates ... You have a group of people that, 'Wow, how I work and then what my talents are, those combined have residual effects on a lot of people's journeys.' So I think he's very much leaning into and enjoying that more."
Tagovailoa is leading an offense that ranks first in the league in nearly every important category, including points (43.3), total yards (550.3), yards rushing (188.3) and yards passing per game (362.0).
As the Dolphins (3-0) head to Buffalo to face the division rival Bills on Sunday, Tagovailoa isn't treating it like just another game.
"We've gotta beat these guys," he said. "That's how I see it. I don't think there's any other way to look at it. They're the next team up, and that's how all our guys see it. We're not worried about anyone else this week except for the Bills."
The Dolphins split the regular-season series with the Bills in 2022. Tagovailoa missed Miami's loss to Buffalo in the wild-card round of the playoffs after he sustained his second known concussion of the season in a Christmas Day game against Green Bay.
He said it was tough to watch the game from home.
"I couldn't help but watch it and be a fan," Tagovailoa said. "I knew the game plan that we went into the game with. I had the ranges of things that they'd worked on. I was able to be a fan but also get a gist of plays they were going to run as well. It's always tough for any competitor to have to sit and watch their team go out there and play."
In Week 3 last year, Tagovailoa briefly left a 21-19 win over Buffalo when he appeared to be disoriented by what the team originally said was a back injury after taking a hard hit from Bills linebacker Matt Milano late in the first half. He missed three snaps and returned after halftime, a decision that prompted a joint review by the NFL and the NFL Players Association.
After he was stretchered off the field the next week against Cincinnati, the NFL changed its concussion protocol to mandate that any player who shows possible concussion symptoms - including a lack of balance or stability - sit out the remainder of a game.
Tagovailoa is second in the NFL with 1,024 yards passing - the most yards in any three-game span of his career - and leads the league in yards per pass (10.1) and passer rating (121.9). He has also only been hit five times and sacked once on 105 dropbacks.
Tagovailoa has started 3-0 in consecutive seasons for the first time in his career, but that's not what drives him.
"I don't think anyone around the league cares who's 3-0 or who's 4-0, who's 0-3," Tagovailoa said. "There's a lot of football left to be played, and that's how we're looking at this as a team."
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