Dolphins’ McDaniel and NFL address Tua Tagovailoa’s health situation after concussion

David Santiago/dsantiago@miamiherald.com

Dolphins coach Mike McDaniel said Friday that quarterback Tua Tagovailoa is dealing with a headache but is in good spirits after sustaining a concussion and a neck injury Thursday night against Cincinnati.

He also said Teddy Bridgewater would start at the Jets on Oct. 9 if Tagovailoa cannot play. When asked if there is a chance that Tagovailoa might not play again this season, McDaniel said there is no timetable for Tagovailoa’s return; he is in the NFL’s concussion protocol system and would need to pass a series of benchmarks before he is cleared to play.

“Talking to Tua this morning, he’s still feeling some of those headaches,” McDaniel said. “I’m really, really, really glad that I can hear normal Tua in his voice.”

Tagovailoa returned to South Florida with the team Thursday night after sustaining head and neck injuries. Test results revealed no broken bones or fractures, according to two league sources.

Tagovailoa, who sustained a concussion in the game after he was thrown to the ground by a Bengals defender, wore a neck brace after the game and was scheduled to undergo an MRI on Friday afternoon as a precaution, McDaniel said.

“He is doing well,” Tagovailoa’s trainer, Nick Hicks, said on Twitter on Friday. “Negative X-rays. No internal bleeding. Will get MRI and second opinion, but all things look good at the moment.”

Tagovailoa offered an encouraging on Twitter late Friday afternoon: “I want to thank everyone for all of their prayers and support since the game last night. It was difficult not to be able to finish the game and be there with my teammates, but I am grateful for the support and care I’ve received from the Dolphins, my friends and family and all the people that have reached out. I am feeling much better and focused on recovering so I can get back out on the field with my teammates.”

McDaniel said he and Tagovailoa spoke about the game for 20 minutes on the team plane, and Tagovailoa “then pulled out his phone and watched a movie, ‘MacGruber’... and was laughing with me. He was happy to be with his teammates. All of his teammates were so elated.”

McDaniel said there “is no timetable” for when Tagovailoa plays again: “I have zero idea.”

On Friday morning, Tagovailoa mentioned to McDaniel about not wanting to miss “X, Y, Z game.”

McDaniel said he told him: “Tua, don’t even think about a game. Let’s do everything the right way and worry about you and your head and worry about being a healthy human being and then we will worry about playing football later. I didn’t want to give him that option. You do have to do that to protect people against themselves.”

McDaniel said Tagovailoa’s back and ankle issues also are lingering.

During the second quarter of Thursday’s 27-15 loss to the Bengals, Tagovailoa was sacked by defensive tackle Josh Tupou and lay motionless for several minutes after hitting his head on the turf before being carted off on a stretcher.

The Dolphins quickly ruled him out for the remainder of the game with a head and neck injury but said he was conscious and had movement in all his extremities. He was taken to the University of Cincinnati Medical Center and released after two hours.

Time can vary considerably for when a player is cleared to return after a concussion. Some players need only a week; others take considerably longer.

“I’m not thinking about timetables [I’m thinking] about Tua the player,” McDaniel said when asked if Tagovailoa would be placed on short-term injured reserve, which would sideline him four games.

“I’m thinking about Tua the person. He’s someone I’ve grown very, very close to. I’m worried about him getting healthy and getting all the testing done he needs to get done.”

The Dolphins’ next four games are at the Jets, home to Minnesota and Pittsburgh and at Detroit.

The Dolphins have one other player in concussion protocol — tight end Cethan Carter — and he has missed three games so far.

Meanwhile, McDaniel and the NFL again addressed a swirling controversy about whether Tagovailoa should have been cleared by team doctors and an independent neurologist to return to last Sunday’s game against Buffalo.

After initially announcing that Tagovailoa had sustained a head injury against Buffalo, the Dolphins retracted that, clarifying he had a back injury and asserting that he did not sustain a concussion against the Bills. The NFL and players union are investigating the matter.

In a Friday afternoon interview on NFL Network, NFL chief medical officer Dr. Allen Sills said Tagovailoa was checked for concussion symptoms every day since Sunday and showed no signs of a concussion before sustaining one against the Bengals.

Sills noted that an independent neurological expert had to clear him to play against Buffalo.

And Sills said that the league’s review of the matter will be released publicly when it concludes: “We want to be as transparent as possible.”

Asked if he was 100 percent sure that Tagovailoa didn’t sustain a head injury against Buffalo, McDaniel said Thursday night that he was.

And asked if he would have done anything differently with Tagovailoa in retrospect, McDaniel said Thursday night: “Absolutely not. If I would have, that would be irresponsible in the first place, and I shouldn’t be in this position.

McDaniel was asked the same question Friday and offered a similar answer:

“The whole process of what happens in the Bills game is he was evaluated for the head injury immediately,” McDaniel said. “That’s what we brought him inside for and cleared by several layers of medical professionals. I don’t pretend to be one.

“The collection of them cleared him of any head injury whatsoever. He had a back and ankle issue. In terms of deciding whether or not to play a guy on a Thursday night game, I’m concerned about his lower back and ankle and putting it in harm’s way. I have 100 percent conviction in our process.

“The only thing that would keep me from playing him would be going against medical advice. I had no worries whatsoever. I’m in steady communication with this guy. There were absolutely no signs [of a head injury after the Buffalo game]. He had no head injury symptoms whatsoever.

“There was no medical indication from all resources that there was anything regarding the head. If there would have been anything lingering with his head, of course 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. I take that seriously.”

Asked again Friday about Tagovailoa hitting his head on the field during the Bills game, McDaniel said: “I get the optics. Guys hit their heads all the time. He did not have a head injury. If I go against medical opinion and decide not to play a guy, then when would I play him again?”

In other news, McDaniel has no update on cornerback Xavien Howard’s groin injury (he left the Bengals game in the third quarter) or whether cornerback Byron Jones is ready to come off the physically unable to perform list.

Jones is now eligible to return after March surgery in his ankle/Achilles area.

“Byron is working his tail off,” McDaniel said. “We will re-evaluate that at the beginning of the week.”