It’s the biggest NFL injury news of the season. The unaffiliated neurotrauma consultant involved in clearing Dolphins QB Tua Tagovailoa during his Week 3 game against the Bills was fired. Another concussion on Thursday Night Football against the Bengals sent him to the hospital. The league and players’ union changed protocols in an effort to further protect players. Then after Week 16, Tua reported symptoms again and re-entered concussion protocol after he was not removed from the Packers game following his head harshly hitting the turf again.
Let’s go in-depth on everything surrounding Tua’s third concussion of the 2022 season that has him reportedly likely to miss Week 17.
Will Carroll has covered NFL injury news and injuries in sports for more than 20 years and has written four books, including the newly published “The Science of Football”. He also consults with several pro teams. Will is currently the Director of Bioanalytics for Northstarr, a sports science startup company.Editor’s Note
Latest NFL Injury News: Tua Tagovailoa Concussion Recovery
A third diagnosed concussion is certainly no joke. Given how Tua Tagovailoa was dealt with last time, actually creating change in the NFL’s concussion policy, I’m sure this one will be looked at again. I’m already seeing doctors say that there needs to be a “three strikes and you’re out” policy, but – while I’m not a doctor – I have a hard time saying that the team doctors who are actually dealing with the player, day in and day out, don’t know better.
If Tagovailoa decided to walk away, as other like Luke Kuechly have done, I wouldn’t blame him a bit, but that could have been after one, two, or zero concussions. It’s a brutal game with some devastating possible consequences.
In the short term, Tagovailoa is in the protocol and assuming no changes, he has a chance to move through the steps and be cleared before the weekend. Whether that happens or not, or whether the Dolphins slow things down, as they did before, is unknown. Concussions in the short term often resolve and players show no symptoms quickly, so it will be between Tua and his doctors – and an independent neurologist – as to whether and when he plays again.
For the Dolphins, this couldn’t have come at a worse time, with a chance to clinch a playoff berth.
ESPN reported Wednesday Tagovailoa is likely out. Teddy Bridgewater will take most of the reps in practice. Bridgewater showed he could run the offense, but can he do that and right the ship as the team heads into the final two weeks? The lack of stability is a problem, but it’s not like the Pats or Jets are models of consistency either these days. Even with Bridgewater in place, I like the Dolphins offense in Week 16, but it’s hard to ignore Miami is 0-3 without Tua.
What Did The NFL Do Before Tua’s Third Concussion?
The saga has been well documented elsewhere, leading to things like this story from Alex Smith and a full investigation into the process that led Tua Tagovailoa and the Dolphins to this place and time. If we can, let’s ignore all that and discuss everything else.
First, both the back injury excuse (Week 3) and neck (Week 4) checked out. The neck was checked with an MRI after the big hit. In both cases, the play and mechanism were similar. That whipping of the head to the turf is problematic, especially when combined with the initial direct hit to the head. There was a long period of time where the mechanism for brain injury wasn’t understood very well, and we’re still not all the way there.
Concussions are an invisible injury. When a leg breaks or a ligament tears, it’s visible, even if we need to use technology to see it. There’s very little available technology that allows us to see healing in the brain or the long term injuries that it carries.
Every team and coaching staff must trust in their medical staff, and ruling Tua out at the start of the week earlier this season went directly against that. Perhaps it was just an abundance of caution. I’m not saying Tagovailoa would have definitely passed through the concussion protocol, but deviating from the weekly protocols would go against the current system. The only thing that should cause that is a complete breakdown in the trust. There were no indications that this is the case, but one consultant was also fired.
Tagovailoa even testified in the probe into his Week 3 handling, which would certainly indicate that he’s doing well mentally. That went against the idea that he’s not progressing well from the concussion and should be going through steps of the protocol. I was all for caution, especially given the possibility that Tagovailoa had multiple concussions in a short period of time.
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Why Did Tua’s Fingers Lock Up After Getting Hit on TNF?
So why did Tua’s fingers freeze in such an awkward, scary position after suffering a concussion on Thursday Night Football against the Bengals? It’s called a fencing response. The brain and the spinal cord get short-circuited. What they do is protect the body by shooting out. The benefit, basically, is that you don’t fall on your face.
What you saw with his fingers was just the electrical signals going nuts. When it gets hit that hard, when the spinal column gets a shock, the spinal cord just shuts down for a little bit and, kind of, reboots.
The fencing response is a normal thing. We’ve seen it before, as scary as it may have looked for those that have never seen it before.