INGLEWOOD, Calif. – Tua Tagovailoa might have shocked some observers by putting up one of the best passing days in an opener in NFL history.
His coach wasn't surprised at all.
“It was validating for me, because I don’t feel crazy. That’s kind of what I expected to happen,” coach Mike McDaniel said after the Miami Dolphins rallied for a 36-34 victory over the Los Angeles Chargers on Sunday.
Tagovailoa threw for 466 yards, the fourth most in an opener, and three touchdowns. In a game that saw two ties and nine lead changes, his 4-yard throw to Tyreek Hill in the right corner of the end zone with 1:45 remaining put the Dolphins ahead to stay.
“I was super excited to be out there again,” said Tagovailoa, who completed 28 of 45 passes. “It’s the first game. You don’t necessarily know what to expect from their team. They give us their best shot. They ran almost everything that we’ve seen watching film. So it feels good.”
Hill, who said during training camp he wants to be the first receiver to reach 2,000 yards in a season, got off to a great start. He had 215 yards — the third-best total in Week 1 in league history — on 11 receptions and two touchdowns.
“I wanted to play fast and deliberate. I kind of went into a zone there,” said Hill, who had his third 200-yard receiving game. “Even during halftime, Tua was getting guys going. He leaned on me a little bit toward the end and that meant more targets.”
Hill had two receptions on the decisive 8-play, 75-yard drive. On third-and-10 from the Dolphins 25, he beat Ja'Sir Taylor on a go route and caught a 47-yard pass after Tagovailoa stepped up in the pocket and made a pinpoint throw.
“I’m glad that we started with this game," Hill said. "Last year, those guys did a great job of pressing us. So I feel like this year, like I’ve been saying, we had a chance to go back and get a full understanding of the offense. And you see that the results were different.”
Different would be an understatement. In last season's 23-17 win in Week 13, the Chargers held the Dolphins to 219 total yards, with 119 coming on two plays, and didn't allow Miami to get into the red zone.
Tagovailoa's 466 passing yards were the most ever allowed by the Chargers, and Miami's 536 yards of offense is the most the franchise has yielded in an opener.
“I don’t think that we played the right leverages in the secondary and I didn’t think that we rushed the quarterback effectively enough," coach Brandon Staley said. “It turned into a track meet in the passing game.”
Chargers edge rusher Khalil Mack blamed the defense for the loss, but also acknowledged the brilliance of Tagovailoa and Hill.
“I feel like it’s a rare occasion when you’ve got two guys like that on the field at the same time, blazing up and down the field,” Mack said. “We’ve just got to look at it and get better, make sure we get better on the back end and the front end.”
Miami had nine plays of at least 21 yards. Those included Hill's 35-yard score late in the third quarter to put the Dolphins up 27-24.
Raheem Mostert had 37 yards rushing, including a 2-yard TD in the first quarter. Jaylen Waddle had four receptions for 78 yards. Jason Sanders kicked three field goals.
After Hill's late TD, the Chargers turned it over on downs. Justin Herbert had an intentional grounding penalty and was sacked twice on the final series. He finished 23 for 33 for 228 yards with two touchdowns (one passing, one rushing).
Los Angeles rushed for 234 yards and three touchdowns, the fourth time since the team moved to Los Angeles in 2017 that it has exceeded 200 yards on the ground.
Austin Ekeler had 117 yards and a score, the fourth 100-yard game of his seven-year career. Joshua Kelley added 91 yards and had a 2-yard touchdown run a minute into the fourth quarter to make it 31-27.
“I think we got some explosions, some explosive runs. That always helps when you have guys running down the field like that, it opens up the pass game," Herbert said. "To be able to see the offensive line move the ball like that, I thought that was really good for us, offensively.”
Cameron Dicker kicked two field goals for the Chargers.
After Nick Williams recovered the Dolphins' botched snap at the LA 6, the Chargers went 14 plays, capped by Ekeler's 1-yard run off right tackle. It was the second time in the past three years, and fourth since 2000, that the Chargers have had a touchdown on their opening drive of the season.
The 94-yard series was tied for the second-longest TD drive to begin a season since 2000, and is the eighth of at least 90 yards.
It was Los Angeles' first fumble recovery on the opening defensive drive of the season in 11 years.
Chargers: WR Mike Williams left the game in the second quarter to be evaluated for a head injury. He returned in the second half.
Dolphins: At New England next Sunday night.
Chargers: At Tennessee next Sunday.
AP NFL: https://apnews.com/hub/nfl