It certainly sounds like the Dolphins are expecting to be down their best offensive player for Sunday’s AFC East rematch with the Patriots at Hard Rock Stadium.

All-Pro wide receiver Tyreek Hill did not participate in Miami’s first Week 8 practice. The team announced he is dealing with a hip injury, and post-practice comments from quarterback Tua Tagovailoa suggested Hill might be looking at an extended layoff.

“It was a little weird not having someone like Tyreek out there,” Tagovailoa told reporters in Miami. “His leadership, his aura. But it calls for other guys to step up in his room. … A lot of guys had really good practices today, especially being a Wednesday. Not having a guy like Tyreek is hard, but that calls for other guys to step up.”

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Asked how the Dolphins would replace Hill if he was unable to play, Tagovailoa praised standout No. 2 receiver Jaylen Waddle but said no one can replicate Hill’s skill set.

“I don’t think anyone can emulate what Tyreek does on the field,” the QB told reporters. “His speed, his cuts in and out of breaks — I don’t think there’s anyone that can emulate him. He’s in his own league. He’s one of a kind. But needless to say, I think people forget about the things that Jaylen Waddle can do, the things that he already has done for our team since his rookie year, and there’s a lot of other guys I think that you can’t sleep on.

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“If we couldn’t have Tyreek, that would be tough, but the show goes on. You’ve got to continue to play. Somewhere down the line, we’re going to get Tyreek back, and it has to be one of those things where you never lift your foot off the gas and you don’t lose that rhythm as a team or as a unit.”

Saying Hill will be back “somewhere down the line” was an ominous comment. That certainly isn’t something you’d usually hear about a player who was expected to play this week, unless the Dolphins are playing mind games with a divisional opponent.

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Losing Hill obviously would be a massive blow to the Dolphins’ offense, which enters Week 8 ranked first in the league in points per game and nearly every yardage metric (total, passing, rushing, per play, etc.).

The Patriots kept the former Kansas City Chiefs star in check during Miami’s Week 2 win at Gillette Stadium (nine targets, five catches, 40 yards, one touchdown), but he’s topped 150 receiving yards four times this season, including an 11-catch, 215-yard, two-touchdown bonanza against current Pats cornerback J.C. Jackson and the Los Angeles Chargers in Week 1.

Hill has nearly 100 more receiving yards than any other NFL pass-catcher through seven weeks (902; Philadelphia’s A.J. Brown is second with 809). He also ranks first in touchdown catches (seven) and third in receptions (53), trailing only Puka Nacua and Stefon Diggs.

The Patriots, who scored an upset win over the Buffalo Bills last week, badly need another against the heavily favored Dolphins to remain at all relevant in the AFC playoff race. A win would improve them to 3-5 on the season, keeping them very much alive in the competitive AFC East with a string of winnable games ahead (vs. Washington, vs. Indianapolis in Germany, a bye week and then at the New York Giants). Fall to 2-6, though, and they could look to sell off pieces ahead of the Oct. 31 trade deadline.

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New England has not won in Miami since 2019 and has yet to beat Tagovailoa, who is 5-0 against the Patriots in his career. Facing a Miami team sans Hill would make doing so a whole lot less daunting.

Featured image via David Butler II/USA TODAY Sports Images