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Miami Dolphins prove ‘adversity is our opportunity’ in NFL Week 1 comeback

Watching week one of the NFL season reminds me of the years when I was 8 or 9 or 10 and I went through a phase of telling my mother—when she asked what I wanted for Christmas—“Surprise me.” You think she’s going to get you Stratego or Monopoly, or the 1967 Ford Mustang model that takes a day to build. And what shows up? The Carl Yastrzemski-model bat and a new ping pong paddle. Cool, and I had no clue.

(Move along, old man.)

This was an engaging week one, with the usual surprises. The Browns, those pesky little elves, totally embarrassed the richest man in NFL history in a rivalry rout of the Bengals and the 49ers, after an offseason of torment, looked like the Montana-to-Rice Niners in a 10 a.m. body-clock game in Pittsburgh and the Rams (projected to win, what, three games this year?) unveiled two receivers available in 100 percent of every fantasy league in a beatdown at Seattle … and Jordan Love out-Rodgersed Rodgers, putting up 38 to beat the hated Bears at Soldier Field and my goodness, Dallas totally undressed the Giants and Tua Tagovailoa, under the microscope for months, played damn near a perfect game, finishing it off with a Picasso of a pass.

The Dolphins putting up 36 points and 536 yards wasn’t the most amazing thing about this day. But what impressed me so much about Miami was this: Week one’s usually an adjustment week, a stop-and-start week after prime-time players skipped the preseason games and haven’t played hard in eight months. But this was one of Tua’s best games at any level, ever. That was impressive. This game just felt so significant, even giving up so much ground to the Chargers in a 36-34 win at SoFi Stadium, because Tagovailoa has been such a lightning rod and no one knows if he can stay healthy for 17 weeks. Here, Tagovailoa wasn’t sacked, wasn’t abused, threw for 466 yards and three touchdowns. He was in command. You could just see it.

An hour after the game, Miami coach Mike McDaniel was on the team bus to the airport for the long trip home. He had five minutes.

“What’d you say to Tua after the game?” I wondered.

I was sure McDaniel would praise him to the heavens. His answer, to me, showed he doesn’t have to do that. Tagovailoa is self-assured enough that he doesn’t need pump-up words from his coach, and a win over a defensively shaky team in week one is not a January win. Or a February win.

“I told him, ‘This is gonna be a fun season. Let’s learn from our mistakes. Let’s keep pressing forward.’ You know? That’s really it. Just because he’s in such a good spot. The best thing in the world for a guy like that is to take control over things in his life and that’s all he’s done since last offseason.

“People were scoffing at him about jiu jitsu. He understood the value of it and really, really put a lot of time into that. (Jiu jitsu study helped Tagovailoa learn how to fall and do less damage to himself.) He put time into his body. He knew exactly what he wanted and he’s taken control. He’s in a spot where he’s not vulnerable to too much success and having a big head. I’m telling you, this is the most mentally-tough dude that I’ve ever been around. And the most coachable. It’s gonna be fun to watch him play, them play, and see what they’re able to do with this season.”

McDaniel was almost done.

“‘Adversity is an opportunity’ is like our mantra,” he said. “This was a good day to prove that.”

Read more in Peter King’s full Football Morning in America column.