Dolphins’ Tua Tagovailoa’s concussion is a concern well beyond this season

Miami Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa is treated by medical staff after being released by Cincinnati Bengals defensive end Josh Tupou on Thursday, September 29, 2022 in Cincinnati.

Miami Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa is treated by medical staff after being released by Cincinnati Bengals defensive tackle by Josh Tupou on Thursday, September 29, 2022 in Cincinnati Image: Getty Images

For the second time this season, Tua Tagovailoa’s head injury is under investigation by the NFL.

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

The current stint is technically only his second of the season, but if the protocol that started in week 4 was applied in week 3, it would be trip #3 on the concussion protocol list. It was against the Buffalo Bills when he first appeared to have lost his balance after suffering a blow to the head. A back injury was diagnosed, but four days later the world saw the fencing reaction.

With two games remaining in the regular season, Mike McDaniel’s Miami Dolphins revival seems to have gone as far as it can go this season. They’re clinging to a wildcard spot and it’s highly unlikely they can hold behind center without Tagovailoa. Teddy Bridgewater starts Sunday against the New England Patriots.

Even with an array of talented players in positional positions, the Dolphins backup quarterbacks couldn’t keep up the offense in Tagovailoa’s absence. Additionally, Bridgewater sustained a head injury in Week 5.

As much as Tagovailoa’s injury hurts the Dolphins’ playoff hopes, what is concerning is how Tagovailoa was injured and how this head trauma may impact his future career.

There wasn’t a moment during that game when he seemed dazed after a game. Perhaps his underperformance in the second half was marred by the injury, but he never stumbled or lay face down on the ground for any length of time. There was a viral clip of the back of Tagovailoa’s head bouncing off 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 symptoms of a concussion until Monday after the game.

He’s considered a daily player, but the Dolphins should at least keep him out for the rest of this season, including the playoffs. After his previous injury, he was sidelined from the moment he was carted off the field against the Bengals on Thursday night until 25 days later against the Pittsburgh Steelers.

If Tagovailoa could return to the field in 21 days it would put him on the field for a wildcard game if the Dolphins can snag a berth, but that would be unwise at this point. Research into head injuries has shown that suffering one concussion increases the likelihood of another. Whether concussion No. 2 or No. 3 this season, if the symptoms didn’t show up until the day after the injury, the risk of putting him back on the pitch after the turn of the year is far too great.

What if the Dolphins were playing Green Bay last week and he flew home on a plane from Wisconsin, not knowing he had a concussion? On the plane back from Cincinnati, he wore a neck brace home. What if his head hit the turf again in that game and he suffered a head injury that no one knew about?

The choice the Dolphins must make for the remainder of this season is to marginalize Tagovailoa, but following his year-long head trauma, it’s reasonable to be concerned about his health into September 2023 and beyond.