The football fate of Tua Tagovailoa always came with a second, shadow opponent beyond the front-and-center thinking and throwing necessary for him to become the Miami Dolphins’ franchise quarterback.
Or maybe health always was Tagovailoa’s first opponent.
Maybe him being drafted coming off of major hip surgery was a message. Maybe the video of him being knocked to the ground Sunday against the Green Bay Packers and slamming the back of his head on the turf either shows the any-given-Sunday danger to all NFL quarterbacks or the added layer of danger to a smaller, slower quarterback like Tagovailoa.
This is the third time Tagovailoa’s head has bounced off the ground this season, his second trip to concussion protocol and the prime thought as he’s pulled away from the season is for godspeed and good health.
Let’s start there. The concussion dangers are known and obvious in this era and the dangers go far beyond a Sunday scoreboard as Tagovailoa, doctors and the Dolphins well know. They’ll decide what this means for his future, both this season and beyond. There’s no need to debate that now.
But it’s not just Tagovailoa who has some thinking to do. The Dolphins must too. That starts in the short-term and the obvious decision for coach Mike McDaniel to start veteran Teddy Bridgewater on Sunday in New England. McDaniel said on Monday that Bridgewater would get the majority of the starting quarterback reps this week, but stopped short of officially saying he would start against the Patriots.
With the playoffs on the line, with the game on the road, Bridgewater is such the obvious pick it wouldn’t be worth any debate if McDaniel hadn’t picked rookie Skylar Thompson earlier this season. That was when Bridgewater couldn’t practice, though, as he was in concussion protocol the same time as Tagovailoa.
There’s a long-term question, too, and you might pass the aspirin all around while asking this question with no real answer: Can you trust Tagovailoa’s heath to become the player this team needs?
It was a common NFL play on Sunday that likely did in Tagovailoa, so common no one at the game noticed it. The video shows him slamming to the ground while passing near the end of the first half, his head bouncing off the turf, and no one paying any attention as he moved on to the next play.
Until Monday afternoon, that is.
“As much as I know, he’s displayed [concussion] symptoms and they enacted the protocol, which is all that needs to happen before you have to, by the player’s health, go through that whole process as they should,” McDaniel said. “So it’s a little early. Like I said, I only found out a couple hours ago.”
If there’s no clarity of where this goes, there’s a clear before-and-after look at Tagovailoa’s play on Sunday that could explain his foggy head.
First half: Nine completions in 12 attempts for 229 yards, a touchdown and a 144.4 passer rating.
Second half: Seven of 13 passes completed for 81 yards, three interceptions and a 33.3 rating.
Sunday’s problem could have been that simple for Tagovailoa — except it’s not simple. Not at all. Not when you consider how recovering from a concussion, if it’s diagnosed that, is trickier moving forward than recovering from a knee injury or shoulder problem. And a second concussion? Or more?
Where this leaves the Dolphins (8-7) is anyone’s guess. They have no first-round pick to take another quarterback in next year’s NFL draft. They have no money to go out and buy a starting one for next season. Bridgewater is as solid a backup plan as you can have, but that doesn’t answer the big question.
You know, the one about finding a franchise quarterback?
In November, Tagovailoa made progressive strides in five consecutive wins to be considered “The Man”. In December, he regressed in the four consecutive losses to the point all that feelgood was lost. And now he’s hurt.
Now the Dolphins go to New England (7-8) try to win with Bridgewater. That’s not a bad proposition. The tougher challenge will be moving on with Tagovailoa, knowing he’s just another common NFL hit away from suffering another head injury.
Look, it happens. Dan Marino was concussed in the Dolphins’ playoff game at Seattle in 1999 to the point he doesn’t remember leading the winning drive. Troy Aikman played a near-perfect game for Dallas in the 1994 NFC Championship game despite suffering a concussion to the point he doesn’t remember the game.
That’s the NFL. Or it can be. It’s time to worry about Tagovailoa’s health. It’s time to wonder, too, about the Dolphins’ franchise quarterback. How the two stay together, or come together, or just work together, is the worry for everyone moving ahead.
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