That picture of Tua Tagovailoa laying on the Paycor Stadium turf, his forearms flexed and fingers contorted following a vicious sack that left him with a concussion, will be a snapshot we all have difficulty wiping from our memory.
That scary, terrible moment will be the one we remember when someone complains the NFL has made protecting quarterbacks a sacrosanct project in order to give the game’s biggest stars an unfair advantage.
It will be the thing we warily recall when Tagovailoa, who was transported to a Cincinnati hospital and later released so he could fly home with the team, eventually pushes to return to the field because he feels fine enough to get tossed about like a rag doll again.
That shot will be the one we consider when examining Tagovailoa’s durability.
And this will become the lasting snapshot of what the NFL coming close to an on-field tragedy looks like, folks — with players from opposing teams united in the hope their worst fears aren’t unfolding before them.
McDaniels On Tua: ‘Wasn’t The Same Guy I’m Used To Seeing’
We know Dolphins coach Mike McDaniel isn’t likely to soon forget.
“I knew right away that this was at least a concussion,” he said, describing the moments he shared with his quarterback after the second-quarter hit. “What I was worried about was other things on top of that. Obviously, I was worried about his head but you want to make sure all things with relation to the spine and back and all that stuff is OK.
“But it was very clear to me from the onset that he had, I didn’t know the degree, but he had a concussion. He was asking for me. And then when he saw me I could just tell there wasn’t the same guy that I’m used to seeing, so.”
Look, we’ll soon enough forget the Cincinnati Bengals beat the Miami Dolphins 27-15 to even their record at 2-2 and knock Miami from its unbeaten perch.
But we’re not going to forget that fateful shot Amazon Prime streamed of Tagovailoa laying there as we wondered if he was conscious or not, paralyzed or not, or possibly worse or not.
“That was an emotional moment,” McDaniel said. “That is not part of the deal that anyone signs up for even though you know it’s a possibility in football … that you have to get taken off on a stretcher. All his teammates, myself, we were all very concerned.
“I know me personally, if I didn’t have a job to do for the organization and the rest of the players. If I didn’t have that obligation in my mind, I would have tapped out. It’s not something that is comfortable for anybody. It was not a situation you want for any of your players. It’s scary stuff. I’m just glad it worked out.”
We don’t know that it worked out. Not yet.
Second Scary Injury For Tua In Four Days
Because this is the second scary-looking injury Tagovailoa suffered in four days. It was also the second time in four days he left the game, ostensibly to be checked for symptoms of a concussion or perhaps a more serious head injury.
On Sunday, prior to halftime against Buffalo, Tua was pushed by linebacker Matt Milano and hit his head on the turf as he fell backward. When Tua stood up he took a couple of steps then reeled and had to be held on his feet by a couple of teammates until trainers arrived.
Tagovailoa returned to that game after being cleared by the unaffiliated neurological consultant (UNC) who tested him. The Dolphins reported a back and ankle injury but made no mention of a head injury. And Tagovailoa was not in the concussion protocol after the game.
That was all logical given that Tagovailoa seemed lucid in the second half in leading the Dolphins to a victory and then spoke on the subject with reporters afterward.
But Thursday night’s head injury immediately caused anyone with eyes to tie together the two moments.
So there are going to be uncomfortable questions probing the Dolphins’ handling of Tagovailoa prior to this game.
The club is pretty much in the clear for what happened Sunday, it seems. It’s not McDaniel or anyone else’s prerogative to put a player deemed concussed back in a game. It’s only when the player is cleared by the UNC that a coach can send him back.
NFLPA Will Investigate Potential Protocol Violation
But how the player was handled in the days leading up to this game, whether he was actually tested for a head injury after Sunday will be pored over by the NFL Players Association, which is conducting an investigation into the whole affair.
And, yes, the media will also ask whatever questions it can muster.
That’s the reason after McDaniel shared his feelings about seeing his quarterback laying prone on the field. McDaniel was peppered with multiple questions about his and the team’s handling of the concussion issue and the back issue that looked to the naked eye like a concussion issue.
The coach insisted there was nothing to see connected to having Tagovailoa cleared of a concussion.
“Yeah, otherwise we would have reported him having that head injury,” McDaniel said. “That’s why the NFL has these protocols. … Every single NFL game that’s played, there’s an independent specialist that specializes in the specialty of brain matter.
“For me as long as I’m coaching here, I’m not going to fudge that whole situation. If there’s any sort of inclination that someone has a concussion, they go into a concussion protocol and it’s very strict. People don’t vary or stray. We don’t mess with that. Never have.
“And as long as I’m the head coach, that will never be an issue that you guys have to worry about.”
Tua Released Quickly From Hospital
After the Dolphins were done speaking with reporters and most were dressed Thursday night, Tagovailoa was seen outside the team’s locker room wearing a neck brace, walking toward the team bus. He was smiling.
But, again, that picture we are not going to forget leads to some admittedly inexpert questions, such as:
- How is it Tagovailoa was taken to the hospital, examined and released so quickly rather than being kept overnight for observation?
- How can anyone be absolutely certain the hit he sustained Sunday didn’t make him more susceptible to Thursday night’s concussion?
Someone with first-hand knowledge of what has happened should provide answers. No one is suggesting the Dolphins are the folks with those answers although they’re likely to field plenty of them during the ongoing NFLPA investigation.
That’s another reason that ugly snapshot indelibly seared in our brain is not going to go away.
Follow on Twitter: @ArmandoSalguero