The 2022 Dolphins have made the NFL playoffs, an accomplishment the franchise hadn’t achieved since the 2016 season.
Whether the 7-seed Dolphins can upend the 2-seed Bills — advancing past the wild-card round for the first time since the 2000 season in the process — remains to be seen, but Miami’s hopes of winning its rubber match vs. Buffalo took a serious hit when it was announced that starting quarterback Tua Tagovailoa would not play after not clearing concussion protocol.
The third-year quarterback has suffered a string of frightening injuries this year, the last of which prompted Miami to prioritize his long-term health just days ahead of a playoff game. Tagovailoa has had two confirmed concussions and one suspected concussion in 2022; those injuries will have caused him to miss six-plus games.
The first injury occurred in the Dolphins’ Week 3 game vs. Buffalo, a 21-19 victory in Miami. THe team’s response to it prompted rule changes by the NFL and placed a greater emphasis on players’ health as it relates to blows to the head.
The Sporting News revisits the Week 3 incident — and Tagovailoa’s ensuing concussions — ahead of the teams’ playoff meeting Sunday.
Tua Tagovailoa concussion history
Week 3 vs. Bills
The first of Tagovailoa’s three suspected/confirmed concussions this season came Sept. 25 at Miami’s Hard Rock Stadium.
Tagovailoa appeared to be concussed on the Dolphins’ final offensive drive of the first half. Bills linebacker Matt Milano was called for roughing the passer after he pushed Tagovailoa down, causing the back of Tagovailoa’s to hit the turf:
Tua Tagovailoa is headed to the locker room after this hit by Matt Milano
Prayers up 🙏pic.twitter.com/u3cSEQpeKq
— ClutchPoints (@ClutchPointsApp) September 25, 2022
Tagovailoa appeared to demonstrate ataxia — poor muscle control — as a result of the hit. That prompted the Dolphins to remove him from the game.
— Diandra Loux (@Diandra_loux) September 25, 2022
Tagovailoa later claimed the lack of muscle control was the result of back spasms caused by hitting the turf.
Regardless, Miami allowed Tagovailoa to reenter the game in the second half. After the game, the NFL Players Association said it would review whether Miami followed concussion protocol in allowing Tagovailoa to come back.
The NFL suggested at the time that Miami had properly followed protocol.
Week 4 vs. Bengals
Tagovailoa was listed as questionable for the following game at Cincinnati, which took place on a short week for “Thursday Night Football,” with back and ankle injuries.The quarterback ultimately got the start, even with the NFLPA still investigating Miami’s adherence to league protocol.
The issue came to a head after Bengals defensive lineman Josh Tupou slammed Tagovailoa to the field at Paycor Stadium. Tagovailoa lay on the field and demonstrated a fencing response, a neurological reaction in which someone’s arms — and in Tagovailoa’s case, fingers — go unnaturally rigid.
Warning: Video of the incident may be disturbing.
Tagovailoa’s concussion — which occurred just four days after the NFLPA and league entered a joint review of Miami’s adherence to concussion protocol — produced outrage from NFL fans. Many claimed Taqovailoa should never have been allowed to play, with still more claiming the NFL needed to revamp its protocol to keep players from competing after suffering a concussion.
Following the game, first-year coach Mike McDaniel said the Dolphins determined Tagovailoa hadn’t suffered a concussion vs. the Bills, a conclusion they came to by following the league’s protocol.
“Yeah, otherwise we would have reported him having a head injury,” McDaniel said. “That’s why the NFL has these protocols.
“That is not part of the deal that anyone signs up for, even though you know it’s a possibility in football,” McDaniel added. “To have something (happen) that you have to get taken off on a stretcher is, you know — all of his teammates, myself. We were all very, very concerned.”
McDaniel reiterated the next day that the Dolphins followed protocol in the aftermath of the Bills game and leading up to the trip to Cincinnati.
“I wouldn’t have been able to live with myself if I prematurely put someone out there and in harm’s way,” McDaniel said.
“I get the optics. I get exactly what it looks like. I get people’s concern. One thing I can exude with 100 percent conviction is that everyone in this building had the correct process and diligence.”
Tagovailoa’s concussion vs. the Bengals would keep him sidelined for three games. The NFL ultimately found that the Dolphins had followed protocol, but it also determined that the protocol needed to be strengthened to prevent similar incidents in the future.
Indeed, Tagovailoa’s concussion resulted in a wave of players being removed from games in Week 4 even if they weren’t obviously concussed. The NFL and NFLPA also confirmed their jointly agreed-upon protocol included a flaw that allowed Tagovailoa to return to play.
The league and the players association quickly added an amendment to the concussion protocol for Week 5, calling it the “Tua Rule.” The update added ataxia to the list of “no-go” concussion symptoms that would prompt a player’s immediate removal from a game.
Moreover, the NFLPA fired the unaffiliated neurotrauma consultant who allowed Tagovailoa to reenter the game vs. the Bills, citing “several mistakes” and a hostile interview with the association in the aftermath of the incident.
Week 16 vs. Packers
The Dolphins and the NFL again came under fire for their handling of Tagovailoa’s health after the team’s Christmas Day game vs. the Packers. In that game, the back of Tagovailoa’s head hit the turf shortly before halftime.
This would seem to be the play on which Dolphins’ QB Tua Tagovailoa was injured, when his head bangs the ground. pic.twitter.com/zCQXadHm2r
— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) December 26, 2022
Tagovailoa was never removed from the game and proceeded to throw three second-half interceptions. A few days later, McDaniel confirmed Tagovailoa was once again in the protocol. The concussion went unnoticed by both the Dolphins’ medical staff and NFL spotters whose job it is to spot potential concussions.
“I’ll do what the medical experts advise me to and I’m quite certain they’re not going to advise me in the wrong direction when it comes to (Tagovailoa’s) health,” McDaniel said at the time.
Tagovailoa’s latest concussion prompted commentator and former NFL quarterback Robert Griffin III to suggest that Tagovailoa no longer play this season. Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers went a step further, saying Tagovailoa should consider calling it a career.
“It’s probably time to maybe consider shutting it down,” Rodgers said the following Tuesday during his weekly appearance on “The Pat McAfee Show.”
“I don’t know if that’s going to be in the thought process. As a competitor that’s the last thing you want. But at some point you do start thinking about your cognitive function later in life, and the after effects you might be dealing with,” Rodgers said.
Regardless of what Tagovailoa chooses to do, one thing is certain: He will not play Sunday vs. the Bills. It remains to be seen whether he will play again this season if the Dolphins are able to win without him in Buffalo.