Tyreek Hill, Tua Tagovailoa lead dynamic offense in Dolphins' win

LOS ANGELES -- Tyreek Hill said this past offseason that he felt more comfortable within the Miami Dolphins' offense, and that he mainly got by on his athleticism during his career year in 2022.

For any evidence supporting his statement, look no further than the Dolphins' 36-34 win over the Los Angeles Chargers in Week 1.

Hill caught 11 passes for 215 yards and two touchdowns, his first 200-yard game with Miami and the third of his career. His performance was matched by quarterback Tua Tagovailoa, who completed 28 of 45 passes for 466 yards and three touchdowns in his first game since Dec. 25.

Dolphins coach Mike McDaniel said the duo's offseason work came to fruition Sunday.

"Those two guys are a great example of not focusing on anything but their craft," McDaniel said. "They were on the same page, for sure."

Tagovailoa peppered Hill with 15 targets, starting with his first pass attempt of the game -- which Hill took for 16 yards. He finished the first half with 104 receiving yards, but his most notable plays all came in the second half.

With just over two minutes remaining in the third quarter, the Dolphins began a drive on the Chargers' 35-yard line after a short punt. Hill beat cornerback J.C. Jackson on a go route, and Tagovailoa hit him in stride for a 35-yard touchdown.

On Miami's go-ahead drive, Tagovailoa climbed the pocket and found Hill for a 47-yard completion on third-and-10. They connected once again five plays later for the game-winning touchdown -- a 4-yard goal line fade with Chargers cornerback Michael Davis draped over Hill.

McDaniel said Hill's offensive enlightenment was clear on essentially every one of his 11 catches Sunday afternoon.

"He probably would've had half last year because 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. ... It would be very, very accurate to say we saw a better version of him today within the offense and I think that has a big part of his success."

Hill set career highs in his first season with the Dolphins, with 1,710 yards on 119 catches. Remarkably, he said he had only a basic grasp of McDaniel's offense and essentially used his speed to make up for it.

After two full offseasons with Miami, Hill could feel the difference a year makes.

"Everything was more fluid this year because last year, man, I was just banking on my speed and just outrunning guys," he said. "But this year, I was in my bag a little bit more on release moves, and just routes at the top and stuff like that. That's how I was able to get my first catch. 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 and stuff like that.

"So yeah, everything was different, man. I'm not counting on my speed -- obviously after the catch I am."

Tagovailoa's first regular-season game in 259 days got off to a sluggish start. Miami's first snap was botched, although the fumble was offset by a Chargers offsides penalty. He fumbled another snap five plays later from the Chargers' 2-yard line, however, for his first turnover of the game.

He also threw an interception in the end zone on a risky jump ball to slot receiver Braxton Berrios.

But even with the hiccups, Tagovailoa's performance was markedly better than last season's loss to the Chargers, in which he completed just 10 of 28 passes for 145 yards and a touchdown. The noteworthy difference came on in-breaking routes; he completed 17 of 23 attempts over the middle for 300 yards and a touchdown after connecting on just four of 13 such routes a season ago for 26 yards.

"I'm really proud of our guys overall offensively," Tagovailoa said. "There's a lot of things that didn't go right but no one blinked. Everyone came back into the huddle, everyone was laser-focused. Whatever we had called, those guys went out there and ran it, and I had to be point guard for them."

Tagovailoa finished 3 yards shy of his career high for passing yards. It came after an offseason of heavy speculation and scrutiny over his playing career and durability.

He missed five games last season with two documented concussions and briefly discussed retirement with his family before ultimately deciding against it. He spent the offseason transforming his body to withstand a 17-game season, a process that included jiu-jitsu break-fall training and adding eight pounds of muscle.

He was hardly touched Sunday afternoon, even without starting left tackle Terron Armstead; the Dolphins' offensive line didn't allow a sack against a Chargers pass rush that featured both Khalil Mack and Joey Bosa.

McDaniel's message to his team throughout the week was focus on each individual play and remain locked into each moment. Tagovailoa said he didn't feel too amped up despite not playing a full game in more than nine months.

He was just happy to be back.

"I was just really excited to be out there again. I don't think anything else relates to the adrenaline rush when you go out there," he said. "You've got the fans. Even when you're warming up, you can smell the popcorn. There's a lot of things that you just can't really emulate. Being able to go out there with the guys -- it was awesome. I was just very appreciative of the opportunity."