The time will eventually come for Tua Tagovailoa to be the primary reason his team wins games. The Dolphins might even have to put more on his plate as soon as the postseason should they qualify.
But for the past two months, the rookie has been passing a critical test in the eyes of a famous fellow southpaw, despite modest production through the air: Tagovailoa isn't turning the ball over.
"With a rookie, it's don't go out and lose the game," FOX NFL analyst Michael Vick said on the latest episode of the Huddle & Flow podcast with NFL Network's Steve Wyche and Jim Trotter. "… Just for a young guy like Tua, don't turn it over. I hate to say don't turn it over, but obviously that's the first thing you're going to tell the man is, look, don't go out there and throw interceptions."
Tagovailoa, as you might know, tied an NFL record by not getting picked off in his first five career starts. Through seven starts, he's thrown nine touchdowns to just two interceptions with one fumble. Miami has won five of those games, including a pair by a single score.
Possessions could be at a premium Saturday night when the Dolphins take on the high-scoring Raiders, as both teams are among the top 10 in time of possession. They're also both looking to end three-year playoff droughts, with the Dolphins (9-5) grasping onto the AFC's seventh and final playoff seed.
Vick, the NFL's last full-time left-handed quarterback, believes Tagovailoa has landed in an ideal situation in Miami, backed by "a great head coach" in Brian Flores and "a great defense." The Dolphins have figured things out from there. While they aren't an efficient rushing outfit, averaging just 3.9 yards per attempt, they attack on the ground on 43.6% of their plays, which is the 12th most in the league.
Their makeup reminds the former Falcons and Eagles star of the Patriots teams that won Super Bowls in three of Vick's first four seasons in the league. So it makes sense to him that the 22-year-old Tagovailoa is being asked to serve more as a facilitator than playmaker in Year 1.
"As he has progressed and been able to protect the football and lead drives when needed and change field position at times, he's been able to get the defense the opportunities to create turnovers and get stops -- and then they get the running game going, you got a little ball control game," Vick said. "They kind of look like the New England Patriots."
Perhaps fittingly, Miami eliminated the Pats from playoff contention this past Sunday, marking the first time they won't qualify since 2008. That was Flores' first of 11 seasons in New England. He knows the winning formula.
The Miami Dolphins and Las Vegas Raiders kick off from Allegiant Stadium on Saturday at 8:15 p.m. ET, airing exclusively on NFL Network.