MIAMI — Dolphins coach Mike McDaniel isn’t ignorant of the criticism surrounding how quarterback Tua Tagovailoa was handled following an apparent head injury against the Bills on Sept. 25; he’s aware of what people’s opinions are.
But he says he isn’t wasting thought on them.
Speaking to local media Wednesday, McDaniel said any skepticism about whether he or the Dolphins were negligent in allowing Tagovailoa to play against the Cincinnati Bengals, four days after suffering the apparent head injury against the Bills, would be “crumbling” if it were coming from the people he’s in service to. Anything outside the Dolphins’ building, he said, is also outside of his control.
“Everything’s reactionary anyway,” he said. “So if people want to [give their opinion], whatever. … If I’m spending time thinking about that, let’s say Monday night for five seconds — that’s five seconds that I’m not thinking about all the other things that relate to the team and the upcoming game.
“I fully have way too much respect for the game, for everyone involved, for everybody that’s counting on me that, I mean, I’m actually the anti-T.O. [Terrell Owens]. You know, ‘talk good about me, talk bad about me, just talk about me’ — I’d be cool if no one talked about anything. That’s how I’ve been operating in my whole career. But [I’m] fully expecting that they’re going to have all sorts of opinions because that’s the nature of the beast, that’s what happens when you watch it and are fan of it for your entire life. You see it happen over and over, and nothing I guess in that avenue would really surprise me.”
Tagovailoa was evaluated for a head injury during halftime of Miami’s win over the Bills in Week 5, after hitting his head on the ground and stumbling on his way back to the huddle. He cleared concussion protocol and returned to the game, with both he and the team stating that it was a back injury he has suffered earlier in the game which caused him to stumble.
He continued to pass concussion evaluation throughout the week leading up to Thursday’s game and was cleared to play in it, but he suffered a concussion shortly before halftime that required a brief hospitalization. Tagovailoa was discharged and allowed to return to Miami with the team early Friday morning.
The NFLPA exercised its right to initiate a review of the NFL’s concussion protocol following Tagovailoa’s quick return to the field and terminated the unaffiliated neurotrauma consultant who performed his initial evaluation after determining he made “several mistakes” in his evaluation, sources told ESPN.
Multiple sources told ESPN that the review of Tagovailoa’s handling could be completed as soon as Thursday.
The reaction to Tagovailoa’s injury and handling drew myriad responses on social media and even from fellow NFL coaches. Speaking the day after Tagovailoa suffered a concussion against the Bengals, Baltimore Ravens coach John Harbaugh said he was “astonished” by what he had seen the night before.
“I’ve been coaching for 40 years in college and the NFL. I’ve never seen anything like it before,” Harbaugh said. “I really appreciate our doctors, appreciate our owner, appreciate our general manager from the standpoint that there’s two things you have to keep in mind: One of them is, a lot of time players want to play. Sometimes, you just have to tell them no. No has got to be the answer.
“Sometimes, guys might be there physically where they’re sound, but they’re not confident yet, they’re not quite there yet — and we’ve had that this year. We’ve had both those situations this year. You don’t put them out there until they’re ready.”
New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick told radio station WEEI he had “definitely” ruled out players who appeared incapable of playing, despite them being cleared by medical personnel.
The Dolphins beat the Patriots and Ravens in their first two games of the 2022 season.
McDaniel has insisted that Tagovailoa was cleared by an independent neurologist and that he personally interacted with him throughout the week — and saw no signs of a head injury.
“I’m in steady communication with this guy day in and day out,” McDaniel said. “We’re talking about high-level football conversations about progressions and defenses and recalling stuff from two weeks previous and then him having to reiterate a 15-word play call. All things, absolutely no signs. There was no medical indication, from all resources, that there was anything regarding the head.
“Beyond an eyeball test, which I know for a fact you guys would not be very comfortable if I was just relying on that — I mean, it’s the reason why we have tests,” McDaniel added. “He did not have a head injury. So guys hit their heads all the time, and that’s why I was adamant [that] he was evaluated for having a head injury, and he did not have one. And when I tell you he was in complete mental concert, talking to us through it, and then he played the whole game and then he did a press conference and then he did media all week.”
The Dolphins ruled Tagovailoa out for their Week 5 game against the New York Jets, naming Teddy Bridgewater the starter until Tagovailoa is able to return. McDaniel said repeatedly that there is no timetable for Tagovailoa as he remains in concussion protocol.