Miami Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa was rushed to a Cincinnati trauma center after suffering what appeared to be a serious head injury in the first half of Thursday’s game against the Bengals.
However, after a brief hospitalization, Tagovailoa was discharged and able to travel home with the team on Thursday evening.
Shortly after the injury occurred, the Dolphins said Tagovailoa sustained head and back injuries. The team added at the time that he was taken to a local hospital and was conscious with movement in all of his extremities. No further details were immediately known. The initial optics, of course, were very, very frightening.
Tua Tagovailoa Temporarily Hospitalized with Head Injury
Tagovailoa, who was conscious after the hit according to the Amazon broadcast, was slammed to the ground by defensive tackle Josh Tupou, with his head bouncing off the turf.
Tagovailoa’s hands immediately seized up into a fencing pose, a sign that Amazon broadcasters said was “a neurological response to head trauma.”
Tagovailoa was carted off on a backboard and his head immobilized by headgear, and then immediately taken to UC Hospital, a Level 1 Trauma Center about five miles away from the stadium.
Amazon later reported that Dolphins coach Mike McDaniel spoke to Tagovailoa before he was taken away in the hospital and that Tua was actually asking about the play in question.
Teddy Bridgewater replaced him for the second straight game.
Tagovailoa left Sunday’s game against the Buffalo Bills after a similar hit — but despite staggering to keep his footing, he ultimately returned to the game. The Dolphins insisted he suffered a back injury, and an independent doctor at the game cleared him to return.
However, a second significant head impact on the turf in four days — and the disturbing way in which Tagovailoa involuntarily reacted — will raise serious questions about whether Tagovailoa should have been permitted to play.
Mike McDaniel Speaks Following the Game
McDaniel, facing the first real crisis as Dolphins boss, pushed back stridently against the insinuation that the team returned a player who had suffered a concussion to action.
“I have absolutely zero patience for [that] or ever would put a player in harm’s way,” McDaniel told reporters after the Dolphins’ 27-15 loss to the Bengals. “That’s not what I’m about at all.”
He also said that no outcome of a game would influence him “to be irresponsible” with a player’s health.
McDaniel went through the many benchmarks players suspected of suffering a concussion must clear to be OK’d to play. Tagovailoa met all the criteria, including an examination by an independent doctor last Sunday.
“For me, as long as I’m coaching here, I’m not going to fudge that whole situation,” McDaniel said. “If there’s any sort of inclination that someone has a concussion, they go into the concussion protocol. People don’t vary or stray.”
The NFLPA — the union responsible for the health and welfare of players — also weighed in on the situation.
“Player health and safety is at the core of the union’s mission,” the union tweeted during the game. “Our concern tonight is for Tua and we hope for a full and speedy recovery. Our investigation into the potential protocol violation is ongoing.”
NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith went a step further, texting Amazon Prime (which broadcast the game) the following: “We insisted on these rules to avoid exactly this scenario. We will pursue every legal option, including making referrals against the doctors to licensing agencies and the team that is obligated to keep our players safe.”
For more on Tagovailoa and the fallout from this situation, click to read our postgame column: NFL, Miami Dolphins owe players — including Tua Tagovailoa — and fans total transparency.
Friday’s Injury Update
On Friday morning, several new details were released.
Tagovailoa wore a neck brace on his return flight, but initial tests revealed no broken bones, as first reported by Josina Anderson of CBS Sports and confirmed by Pro Football Network. He will undergo an MRI on Friday to further evaluate his condition.
ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler adds that Tua is “now at his home in South Florida and was in ‘good spirits’ upon landing with the team, per source.”
Later in the day, McDaniel addressed Tua’s injury situation in a press conference, telling reporters the quarterback is currently dealing with headaches as he awaits his MRI results.
When asked whether the Dolphins should have done anything differently after Tagovailoa hit his head on the turf in Week 3, McDaniel reiterated that Tua was not diagnosed with a head injury.
“There was no medical indication from all resources,” McDaniel said. “If there would have been anything lingering with his head, I wouldn’t have been able to live with myself if I prematurely put someone out there in harm’s way.
“This is a relationship I have with this human being,” he added. “I take that seriously.”
McDaniel said Tua sat beside him on the plane back to Miami, and the two laughed together while watching the 2010 comedy MacGruber.
“He sat next to me on the flight,” McDaniel said. “We talked about the game. I was asking him questions about how he was feeling. He was just happy to be with his teammates. It was a scary, scary situation for all of us.”
McDaniel had no timetable for Tagovailoa’s return and noted the quarterback is still dealing with lingering back and ankle issues. He also confirmed Teddy Bridgewater would start against the New York Jets in Week 5 if Tua is unavailable.