Monday, September 20, 2021

Has the sports media been lying to us about Tua Tagovailoa’s playing ability?

Tua Tagovailoa was the most praised superstar quarterback during his college career at the University of Alabama. He broke and set college records. One of those records is being the career leader as the most efficient quarterback in college history with a 199.4 career rating.

He also was a two time Heisman candidate, won two conference championships, won a National Championship, was a National Champion MVP, an Orange Bowl MVP, was named the Sporting News College Football Player of the Year, won the Maxwell Award, won the Walter Camp Award, was the SEC Offensive Player of the year, and he was the first left-handed quarterback to play in the NFL in years, remaining the only left-handed quarterback in the NFL as of 2021. When he was drafted by the Miami Dolphins he went early, fifth overall.

Today, prior to the 2021 NFL season, without even taking an official snap for the upcoming season, Tua Tagovailoa is the most criticized quarterback in the NFL. That criticism is not to be confused with actionnetwork.com’s recent list of the most trolled NFL players on social media where Tom Brady was listed as number one.

The criticism of Tua is a criticism by fans and sports media personalities of his ability to be a successful quarterback in the NFL. Miami Dolphins fans have become divided on whether Tua is the right quarterback to take their team to the playoffs. Some of that fan-based criticism has come from what some fans considered to be a lackluster rookie season for Tua Tagovailoa.

TUA TAGOVAILOA IS BEING SLAMMED BY SPORTS MEDIA

However, most of the fan criticism towards Tua has come from listening to the personalities that dominate sports media. Unfortunately for professional athletes, sports media can be just as influential as a politician’s propaganda campaign during an election year. If a media personality can be convincing enough, whether it be for good or bad, sports fans just like voters, will most likely buy into it. In Tua Tagovailoa’s case, a lot of fans have bought into the bad.

In all fairness, with the exception of where his draft stock was, what Tua Tagovailoa accomplished in college has nothing to do with his current NFL career. Tua’s college career is over with and NFL analysts and fans don’t care about how good or bad he may have been in college. What is important now is what he can accomplish for the NFL team he leads as the quarterback, not what he did for a prior college team. That is where the criticism is focused on.

Fox Sports host, Colin Cowherd, initially praised Tua Tagovailoa before he was drafted. Cowherd said he would take Tua #1 overall before Joe Burrow in the NFL draft because he will be like Drew Brees. That praise was mainly based off of the performances Tua displayed in college. Now that the Miami Dolphins have played a full season with Tua starting as quarterback in half of those games, Colin Cowherd has a completely different opinion about Tua. Today, Cowherd is one of the most critical media personalities on Tua’s NFL playing ability. Colin Cowherd has went as far as suggesting that the Dolphins should have drafted Justin Fields prior to the 2021 draft.

According to Cowherd, he believes Tua will struggle the first eight weeks of the Miami Dolphins 2021 season because he said he will be smaller, have weaker arm strength, and look less athletic than the opposing quarterbacks he will be facing during a Tua bashing rant about those quarterbacks he read off in a list earlier this year. Cowherd later in the year went on to criticize Tua for not having a special playmaking ability like John Elway, Dan Marino, or Peyton Manning, criticizing his size, his athleticism, and his health.

In addition, he joined in on the Tua criticism of Tua’s lack of playbook knowledge and five interceptions during a minicamp practice. But the most relevant statement to this article made by Cowherd was a statement that referred to the last four times Tua was in the news was a list of negative things surrounding Tua. Those four negative things Tua was in the news for that Cowherd mentioned were all fueled by criticism from a sports media that continues the Tua train of off season criticism.

Two other critics of Tua Tagovailoa have been Mike Florio and Chris Simms, whom had a segment on a sports program earlier in the year that denounced Tua’s NFL playing ability, which basically suggested Tua was weaker than other quarterbacks. Mike Florio said that Dolphins general manager “Chris Grier screwed up because he should’ve taken Justin Herbert.” On the same program, Chris Simms said, “Justin Herbert is far more talented than Tua. The gap will never be closed.” When the Dolphins drafted Tua Tagovailoa and before he played a single game in the NFL, Chris Simms ranked Tua as the 40th quarterback in the NFL and asserted he was less talented than Patriots back up quarterback, Jarrett Stidham.

Omar Kelly, a reporter for the South Florida Sun Sentinel, wrote in an article, “the odds are far greater that [Deshaun Watson] would lead Miami to its desired destination in the next three seasons than Tua can.”

Mike Bianchi, an Orlando Sentinel sports columnist, wrote that the Miami Dolphins should trade four first round picks for Aaron Rodgers. Yes, he actually wrote that.

Brad Gradkowski on Pro Football Focus ranked Tua Tagovailoa 29th among 32 starting NFL quarterbacks, stating that Tua was to conseravative.

Former NFL quarterback and NFL analyst Tim Hasselbeck was another sports media personality that joined in criticizing Tua for not knowing the playbook well. Hasselbeck’s statement almost appeared to be a misquote of Tua’s actual words when he said, “I don’t want to hear any [quarterback drafted in the first round] say they didn’t learn the playbook.”

Former NFL quarterback Ryan Leaf, in an almost sarcastic tone, claiming he was unlike Tua Tagovailoa compared Tagovailoa to a “checkdown charlie”, insinuating that Tua was very conservative and afraid to throw the ball downfield.

The former Miami Dolphins vice president of football operations, Mike Tannenbaum said that there was no way he would take Tua in the top 10 of an NFL draft due to his hip injury. He also said that he was not as athletic as Justin Herbert.

FS1’s Undisputed host, Skip Bayless said that “Tua will never ever be the answer.” He also called Tua a soft-armer.

Even though these are just a few of the critics of Tua, the list of those criticizing Tua in the media is almost endless. Ultimately, the more fans hear the negative criticisms, the more they become influenced and begin to buy into the whole Tua criticism. Despite the numerous criticisms of Tua, the criticisms still are just opinions and not necessarily facts. For various reasons, the sports media continues to spew out the negative opinions about Tua instead of the facts, despite that the sports media personalities actually know what the facts are.

TUA TAGOVAILOA: THE FACTS

Unlike the constant negative opinionated criticisms about Tua, here are the facts that the critical media personalities are not telling us about Tua Tagovailoa.

1. As far as the comment about Tua struggling the first eight weeks of the 2021 season, certain facts need to be considered. When Tua faces Cam Newton and the Patriots this year, Tua will indeed be the smaller quarterback. Cam Newton is 6’5″, weighing 245lbs. Tua is 6’1″, weighing 217. But Tua won’t necessarily look less athletic. The fact is that Tua has already played Cam Newton and the Patriots last season.

During that game, Tua rushed for two touchdowns, which was the difference in the Dolphins 22-12 win over the Patriots. Tagovailoa also did something against the Patriots that no other quarterback has done in over a decade. By sealing the Dolphins victory against the Patriots with his two rushing touchdowns, Tua Tagovailoa became the first quarterback that eliminated the New England Patriots from appearing in the playoffs since 2008.

Despite the fact that Tua and the Dolphins lost against the Bills last season, Tua passed for more yards than Josh Allen (361 yards to 224 yards comparison) and rushed for 28 yards compared to Allen’s 3 rushing yards. Some fans have argued that it is an unfair comparison since Josh Allen didn’t play the entire game. Yet, for their same argument, there is no admission that Tua didn’t have as many passing yards for the season due to the fact that he didn’t play all four quarters in the games he started as well. Tua also had a better completion percentage (64.1%) his rookie season than Josh Allen had his rookie season (52.8%). Tua won against Derek Carr and the Raiders last season, rushing for more yards than Carr during that game. Most fans would argue that if it were not for Fitzpatrick entering the game the Dolphins would have lost against the Raiders. The argument was for the incredible lucky pass to Mack Hollins where Fitzpatrick threw the ball on a prayer without being able to see because his head had been yanked away because of a facemask pull. However this is the same argument that was used when Jalen Hurts came in a college SEC Championship game against Georgia after Tua had to leave the game with a high ankle sprain. The point is that football is a team sport and without Tua tying the game with a touchdown pass and Sanders’ PAT, the Dolphins would not have won without that happening as well. At the end, as the Dolphins secured the victory, as the starter, Tua was officially recorded as the winning quarterback while Carr was officially recorded as the losing quarterback. With an improved and even better receiving corps, the so-called struggle against the Raiders this season may not be the struggle that Cowherd advertised.

As far as Tua facing Carson Wentz and the Colts and being the lesser quarterback, there should be no reminder that Wentz only had a 3-8-1 record, led the NFL with 15 interceptions despite only playing 12 games, only completed 57.4% of his passes compared to Tua’s 64.1% and only had a 72.8 rating compared to Tua’s 87.1 rating. Probably the toughest challenge Tua will face will be when he plays Tom Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in week 5. Trevor Lawrence has never played a single down in the NFL for Jacksonville. Despite blowing out Tua and his Alabama team to win the National Championship by 28 points, Lawrence’s play dropped off significantly his last season at Clemson.

Fortunately for Tua, part of that Clemson defense that held Alabama to only 16 points in the National Championship game is now part of the Miami Dolphins in Christian Wilkins, whom sacked Jalen Hurts late in that game. Matt Ryan may have once been a NFL MVP, but the Falcons have been notorious for blowing leads in the fourth quarter for the past 5 years.

This year, Ryan doesn’t have his star receiver, Julio Jones, and most of the Falcons that were star players on the team last year. The entire 2020 Falcons running back depth chart is gone. That means no more Todd Gurley, Ito Smith, or Brian Hill. Ryan no longer has his pro bowler center, Alex Mack, and is without his left guard James Carpenter.

The Falcons no longer have defensive end Allen Bailey, cornerbacks Darqueze Dennard and Blidi-Wreh Wilson, safeties Damonte Kazee, Keanu Neal, and Ricardo Allen. So the struggle that Tua may have against a poor Atlanta team that is projected to finish last in their division again is a bad take all the way around. As far as athletic ability, Tua had more rushing yards and rushing touchdowns than Ryan had last year.

2. As far as the criticism about Tua not having the same special abilities as John Elway, Dan Marino, or Peyton Manning, here are the facts. Let’s begin with John Elway. Tua Tagovailoa has only played one NFL season, his rookie year in 2020, starting 9 games. In the 10 games John Elway started his rookie season, Elway was unable to complete half of his passes. He only completed 47% of them. Tua completed 64% of his. In 10 games that Elway started his rookie season he only had 1,663 passing yards.

In only 9 games Tua started, he had 1,814 passing yards. Elway only threw seven touchdowns but threw a horrendous 14 interceptions his rookie season, while Tua threw 11 touchdowns and only 5 interceptions. Elway’s rating was 54.9 while Tua’s was 87.1. So the Elway comparison is awful. John Elway went on to be a NFL MVP, win two Super Bowls, and be inducted into the Hall of Fame. John Elway’s win/loss record his rookie season was 4-6. Tua’s rookie win/loss record was 6-3.

Tua Tagovailoa had a much better rookie season than John Elway and in a “are you for real?” gesture, media personalities are saying Tua isn’t the answer in Miami while some fans and sports writers have called for Tua to be traded for another quarterback. Do some of those fans not want Tua because he didn’t take Miami to the Super Bowl his rookie season the way he won a National Championship in college his first year? Or is it because fans are being influenced by all the negative press and not getting all of the facts?

Let’s move on to Dan Marino. It is indeed a fact that Tua Tagovailoa played better in his rookie season than John Elway did in his rookie season. As far as being compared to Dan Marino’s rookie season, it is a fact that Tua’s rookie season was almost identical to Marino’s. Like Elway, Dan Marino’s rookie season was in 1983 as well. Both Marino and Tua started 9 games.

While Marino had 2,210 passing yards and Tua had 1,810 yards, Marino played 11 games, Tua played 10 games, and Marino played at least half of one of the games he didn’t start. Tua threw only 2 passes late in the fourth quarter the game he didn’t start, which was part of the difference in passing yards.

For Marino’s first game of his NFL career, he completed 11 passes for 90 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions. For Tua’s first start of his NFL career, he completed 12 passes for 93 yards with one touchdown and no interceptions. Marino’s longest pass in his first NFL game was 11 yards and Tua’s longest pass his first NFL start was 15 yards. Dan Marino threw the ball 296 times his rookie season.

Tua threw the ball 290 times his rookie season. Marino completed 173 of those passes while Tua completed 186 of his, given Tua a better completion percentage (64.1%) than Marino’s (58.4%) during their rookie seasons. The game that had people doubting Tua as being the answer for Miami’s new franchise quarterback was the last game of Tua’s rookie season against the Buffalo Bills.

Tagovailoa threw three interceptions that game. Out of those three interceptions, two of them may have not fallen on Tua. The first interception in that game was because DeVante Parker fell when the ball was thrown directly at him, resulting the ball to land in the defender’s hands while the second interception was a result of a tipped pass by Lynn Bowden, Jr.

However, fans and sports media focused more on Tua’s three interceptions and one sack than anything he did good in that game. Fans and sports personalities were blasting Tua for throwing three interceptions during that game, yet never did they focus on the fact that Bret Favre, Peyton Manning, and even Tua’s predecessor, Ryan Fitzpatrick once threw 6 interceptions in a game before. Dan Marino had that Buffalo game his rookie season as well. While Tua had three interceptions and one sack against Buffalo his rookie season, Dan Marino threw two interceptions and took three sacks his rookie season against Buffalo.

Against Buffalo his rookie season, Marino threw for a season high of 322 yards, while Tua threw for a season high of 361 yards. Marino’s longest pass in that game was for 35 yards while Tua’s was for 31 yards. Tua also rushed for 28 yards giving him almost 400 yards of total offense while Marino’s rushing totals were in the negative. Even though Marino had 9 more touchdowns than Tua did, Tua had less interceptions his rookie season than Marino. Marino had 6 interceptions while Tua had 5 interceptions. Marino’s win/loss rookie record was 7-2 while Tua’s was as mentioned earlier, 6-3.

Let’s look at Peyton Manning. Peyton started all 16 games his rookie season in 1998. As far as athletic ability, Tua rushed for more yards (109) with more rushing touchdowns (3) his rookie season in 10 games than Manning had in 16 games (62 yards, 0 touchdowns). Unlike Tua, because Manning started every game of his NFL rookie season, he was able to lead the league with 575 passing attempts.

Those 575 attempts gave Manning 285 more passes than Tua had to gain over 3,700 yards passing his rookie year. However, he only completed around 57% of his passes and led the entire NFL with 28 interceptions thrown that year, a record for a rookie quarterback. Peyton Manning’s 72.1 rating his rookie year was below Tua Tagovailoa’s 87.1 rating. Peyton Manning lost 13 of 16 games his rookie season with a 3-13 record.

3. For anyone that wonders about how Tua’s athletic ability to run with the ball compared to Drew Brees ability his rookie year, Tua did better. Brees only rushed for 21 more yards than Tua did his rookie season, but that was with two more rushes than Tua had. Tua’s longest rush was 17 yards while Brees’ longest rush was for 15 yards. Tua had three rushing touchdowns while Drew Brees had only one rushing touchdown his rookie season.

4. As far as the comments by Chris Simms and Mike Florio that Justin Herbert is more talented than Tua Tagovailoa, here are the facts. Justin Herbert started and played 15 games where Tua only started 9 games. Since Herbert had the opportunity to pass for almost 600 attempts, his passing yards are insignificant to Tua’s. It would be impossible for Tua to attain the 4,336 passing yards Herbert had when Herbert threw the ball 305 more times, averaging around 40 times per game.

Out of those passes, Herbert threw 10 interceptions. Unlike Tua, whom was playing at only a 60% healthy capacity, (which has been verified by Tagovailoa’s trainer), Herbert started his NFL career 100% healthy and played the entire season without injury. So in all fairness, the only true comparison would be to compare how Tua Tagovailoa would compete against Justin Herbert in a game and he did just that. To begin with, Tua wasn’t necessarily surrounded by superstar caliber athletes to help the way Herbert was. Herbert had key talents that helped pad his stats such as Keenan Allen, Mike Williams, Hunter Henry, and Austin Ekeler.

In the game that Tua faced Herbert in, Herbert had only 18 more passing yards than Tua, but he threw the ball seven more times than Tua did. Both Tagovailoa and Herbert threw two touchdowns but Herbert threw one interception where Tua threw none. Herbert’s longest pass in the game was for 28 yards while Tua’s longest pass in the game was 23 yards. Herbert finished the game with a 86.3 rating, 2 sacks, and a loss while Tua finished the game with no sacks, a 106.9 rating, and a win.

5. What is not being talked about is the fact of what Tua Tagovailoa did in the 2020 NFL football season was beyond incredible. When Tua made his NFL debut against the New York Jets, he had not fully recovered from a college career ending hip injury, with it still being less than a year of his injury. The type of injury Tagovailoa suffered in college is the type of injury that almost always ends a player’s football career. We saw that happen with Bo Jackson, Dennis Pitta, and even former Miami Dolphin Lamar Thomas. However, Tua just didn’t suffer the lone dislocated hip injury in November 2019 against Mississippi State.

During the game that ended Tua Tagovailoa’s college football career, Tua suffered four excruciating painful injuries on the same play. When Tua went down during the play, Tua suffered a concussion, a broken nose, a dislocated hip, and a fracture to his posterior wall. That was a result of two Mississippi State defenders of a combined weight of over 500 pounds collapsing on top of Tagovailoa during an attempted sack with only around 3 minutes left before halftime. What makes Tua’s rookie season so incredible is that many didn’t expect him to play football ever again with an anticipation that he would announce his retirement from the game altogether.

The hip fracture alone is so much of a dangerous injury that theconversation.com reported that research suggested that 1 out of 3 people aged 50 and older die within 12 months of a hip fracture. Because of limited mobility after a hip fracture, chances for internal bleeding, infections, stroke, heart failure, and pneumonia are increased. Tua Tagoavailoa had to do more than just remain immobile while recovering. He had to make sure that his immobility would not onset pneumonia during a Covid-19 pandemic era, which Covid-19 is a disease that can potentially cause life-threatening pneumonia.

The fortunate thing for Tua, because of his young age and being in great athletic shape, the chances of him contracting pneumonia due to his immobility were possible but very slim. Despite the fact that Tua passed his pre-draft physical, because of the severities of the injuries Tua sustained on that college career ending play, his recovery time to being back at 100% health could have easily been well over more than just a year.

Now, just this year, Tua’s trainer, Nick Hickes, reportedly said that he believed Tua was only playing at 60% healthy his rookie season. If that was true, most people and even some medical doctors would probably say that Tua Tagovailoa should have never taken a single snap on a professional NFL football field during the 2020 season.

But the fact that Tua did get on a NFL field in 2020 less than a year from being injured, not fully recovered from the hip injury, playing only at 60%, and playing at a level so good that he had a better rookie season than John Elway, a similar rookie season to Dan Marino, and did some things better than Drew Brees, Josh Allen, Justin Herbert, and Peyton Manning did their rookie seasons should be the incredible story that sports writers and sports personalities should be talking about.

Unfortunately, sports writers and analysts have put a spin on Tua’s rookie season, suggesting that he was not as good or not as mobile as other quarterbacks in the league. In all fairness to Tua, recovering from a dislocated and fractured hip will definitely make him less mobile. But the sports media ignoring the great comeback story Tua had in 2020 and spinning the story into a negative thing about all the things Tua did wrong is what most fans have been hearing and are picking up on.

So why isn’t the sports media focusing on all of the things that Tua did right that were mentioned in the above facts? Why have they spun an incredible comeback story into a detrimental Tua bashing campaign?

Sports writers and sports show hosts are not stupid. They are intelligent people. They have an entire team of researchers at their sports network that can gather the same factual information about Tua as well as anyone. They already know the facts. They already know what Tua accomplished his rookie season. So why aren’t they praising Tua instead of criticizing Tua? Why do they choose to ignore and hide the factual information given in this article from their audience or their readers? Why have they chosen to take on their own narrative about Tua? There are a few simple reasons why this is being done.

1. Controversy sells. Whether it is truth or not, opinion or fact, if sports media thinks a topic can be debatable, then they know the controversy it produces will draw attention. And the more attention it grabs the bigger the audience grows. But why has the sports media built their controversy around Tua Tagovailoa? They could have easily built it around Joe Burrow, Justin Herbert, Trey Lance, Justin Fields, Mac Jones, Zach Wilson, or Trevor Lawrence.

Former Heisman winner Johnny Manziel wasn’t as near as good as Tua was in college, but we are annually reminded of Skip Bayless’ tweet that Johnny Manziel would one day be bigger in Cleveland than Lebron James ever was. Yet, Bayless constantly has criticized Tua and the Dolphins, saying Tua is not the answer.

2. For some, Tua set the bar to high for himself in college. Because Tua did things in college that no other college quarterback has done before him, sports analysts and fans alike have expected him to do the same exact thing in the NFL. Someone has even titled a YouTube Video, “Tua Tagovailoa Highlights: Greatest Player in College Football.” When he didn’t come in and set the record books on fire his rookie season, then he was criticized for not doing so.

3. Another reason that Tua is being criticized is simply because of the college Tua played for and who his head coach was in college. Only Alabama fans love their Alabama college football team. Those that aren’t Alabama fans, love to hate Alabama and any player or coach they have. Because former Miami Dolphins head coach, Nick Saban, has won 7 college national championships, 6 at Alabama, college football fans that aren’t Alabama fans are tired of it. We even see that attitude with Tua’s former Alabama teammate Mac Jones. Most sports analysts had Jones ranked the worst quarterback in the 2021 draft, although he was a Heisman finalist and the best quarterback in college his last season. Fans don’t want a former Alabama quarterback to better than their quarterback. Fans are passionate about their favorite football team so they will do everything they can to promote their team’s quarterback as being better, whether in college or the NFL. For some fans and even sports analysts, whether believable or not, it does indeed spew over into the NFL. Once on ESPN’s “Get Up!”, Ryan Clark jokingly said that he hated Tua referring to Tua’s playmaking ability to beat his former college team, LSU as he did in 2018.

4. Whether true or not, maybe not for the sports writers and sports personalities mentioned in this article, but maybe for some, the reason could very well be politically motivated. Tua is a firm believer in his Christian faith and sometimes associates himself with those of strong conservative views off the field. For those that know Tua, they know he is humble and kind enough that he would make friends with anyone that needs a friend, and even be a friend to the friendless.

For those that don’t like that, it becomes a personal issue with them, despite it being his right to do so or not or even how good of a person Tua may be to them or anyone else. And for that scenario, just like the people that hate Alabama, it’s not that they are expecting Tua to fail. Rather it’s that they may want Tua to fail, hoping to bring as many fans to their side of the Tua criticizing arguments that they can.

For the average fan that only hears the negative about Tua, they will tend to believe the negative and that becomes very divisive. A lot of the negative criticism about Tua are opinions. Some of the negative could be true and some of the negative could be false. But when the sports media is constantly saying all of the negative things about Tua but ignoring all the good things and selling it as factual, then the whole story is not being told.

Yes, Tua has made some mistakes on the football field. But there are more good than bad that he did during his rookie season. Most of that good is an incredible comeback story from a horrible college career ending injury. And that is the story that is not being told. And it is left up to anyone to decide if the whole story is being ignored intentionally or not.

As for Tua Tagovailoa, his story continues this fall when he takes on the New England Patriots in week one. Hopefully for Tua, being fully recovered and 100% healthy this season, his sequel will be better than the first time around during season one.

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