It’s the biggest NFL injury of the season. The unaffiliated neurotrauma consultant involved in clearing Dolphins QB Tua Tagovailoa during his Week 3 game against the Bills has been fired. According to reports, that specialist made “several mistakes” in his evaluation.
Tua was ruled out at the beginning of Week 5. Does that show mistrust in the existing protocols, mistrust the Dolphins will follow the protocols or just an abundance of caution? The league and players’ union are also exploring new concussion protocols, including immediately ruling a player out if he demonstrates any instability. That rule could go into effect as early as Week 5.
Let’s go in-depth on everything surrounding Tua’s concussion.
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 News On Tua Tagovailoa Concussion Recovery And Investigation
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, including Tagovailoa’s availability and why this is important.
First, both the back injury excuse (Week 3) and neck (Week 4) have 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.
I’ve spoken with sources who told me that Tagovailoa is doing well, exhibiting very little in the way of symptomology, but even with the long week, the Dolphins ruled Tagovailoa out for Week 5.
Every team and coaching staff must trust in their medical staff, and ruling Tua out at the start of the week now goes directly against that. Perhaps it’s 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 have been no indications that this is the case, but one consultant has also already been fired.
Tagovailoa even testified on Tuesday afternoon in the probe into his Week 3 handling, which would certainly indicate that he’s doing well mentally. That goes against the idea that he’s not progressing well from the concussion and should be going through steps of the protocol. I am all for caution here, especially given the possibility that Tagovailoa had multiple concussions in a short period of time.
For the Dolphins, the answer is simple.
Without Tagovailoa, the team will go with Teddy Bridgewater, who is adequate and seems to have a good grasp of the new offense. There’s plenty of talent around him and given the claims this was a make-or-break year for Tagovailoa, there’s a good reason they had a transitional QB on hand.
Why Did Tua’s Fingers Lock Up After Getting Hit?
So why did Tua’s fingers freeze in such an awkward, scary position after suffering a concussion Thursday night? 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.
For more on Tua’s upcoming recovery from this (second?) concussion, watch TheLines Injury Podcast on YouTube: