March 25, 2023

Miami Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa is attended by medical staff after being sacked by Cincinnati Bengals defensive tackle Josh Tupou on Thursday, Sept. 29, 2022, in Cincinnati,

Miami Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa is attended by medical staff after being sacked by Cincinnati Bengals defensive tackle Josh Tupou on Thursday, Sept. 29, 2022, in Cincinnati,
Image: Getty Images

For the second time this season, a Tua Tagovailoa head injury is being investigated by the NFL.

This one wasn’t nearly as obvious as the frightening one that he suffered against the Cincinnati Bengals, but the result is the same. Tagovailoa is spending his practice week in concussion protocol. On Wednesday the NFLPA announced that there will be a joint investigation with the NFL into how his most recent head injury was handled by the team and the independent medical professionals.

The current stint is technically only his second of the season, but if the protocol that began in Week 4 was applied in Week 3, this would be trip No. 3 to the concussion protocol list. It was against the Buffalo Bills when he first appeared to have lost his equilibrium after suffering a blow to the head. It was diagnosed as a back injury, but then the world saw the fencing response four days later.

With two games left in the regular season, Mike McDaniel’s revival of the Miami Dolphins appears to have gone as far as it can this season. They are clinging to a wild-card spot and it’s highly unlikely that they will be able to hold on without Tagovailoa behind center. Teddy Bridgewater will start on Sunday against the New England Patriots.

Even with a pallet-load of skill position talent, the Dolphins’ backup quarterbacks haven’t been able to sustain the offense in Tagovailoa’s absence. Also, Bridgewater suffered a head injury in Week 5.

As much harm as Tagovailoa’s injury does to the Dolphins’ playoff hopes, what is far more concerning is how Tagovailoa got hurt and how this head trauma can affect his career going forward.

There was no moment during that game in which he appeared dazed after a play. Maybe his subpar second-half performance was affected by the injury, but he never stumbled, or was face down on the ground for an extended period of time. There was a clip that went viral of the back of Tagovailoa’s head bouncing off of the turf at Hard Rock Stadium late in the second quarter of the Dolphins’ 26-20 loss to the Green Bay Packers. According to ESPN’s Marcel Louis-Jacques, Tagovailoa showed no concussion symptoms until the Monday following the game.

He’s considered day-to-day, but the Dolphins should keep him out for at least the remainder of this season, playoffs included. Following his previous injury he was sidelined from the moment he was carted off of the field that Thursday night against the Bengals, until 25 days later against the Pittsburgh Steelers.

If Tagovailoa could return to the field in 21 days, that would put him on the field for a wild card game if the Dolphins are able to clinch a spot, but at this point that would be unwise. Head trauma research has shown that suffering a concussion increases the likelihood of another. Whether this is concussion No. 2 or No. 3 this season, if symptoms didn’t reveal themselves until the day after the injury occurred, the risk is far too great to put him back on the field after the turn of the new year.

What if the Dolphins played in Green Bay last week and he flew on an airplane home from Wisconsin not knowing that he was concussed? On the plane back from Cincinnati he wore a neck brace home. What if his head slammed against the turf again in that game and he suffered a head injury with no one knowing about the first one?

The choice the Dolphins need to make for the rest of this season is to put Tagovailoa on the sidelines, but after his year of head trauma, it’s reasonable to worry about health through Sept. 2023 and beyond.

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