MIAMI — Speaking Wednesday for the first time since sustaining a concussion on Sept. 29, Miami Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa said he remembers most of that night but lost consciousness after a hit that sent him to a local hospital.
He was concussed in Miami’s loss to the Cincinnati Bengals in Week 4 when he hit his head on the ground while trying to extend a play, and was briefly hospitalized before being discharged and returning to Florida with the team after the game.
Tagovailoa said he doesn’t remember what happened immediately after hitting his head on the ground and losing consciousness, but does remember being driven to the University of Cincinnati Medical Center via ambulance, as well as his trip back to Miami with his teammates early the next morning.
“I wouldn’t say it was scary for me at the time because there was a point where I was unconscious, so I couldn’t really tell what was going on,” he said. “When I did come to and kind of realized what was going on and what was happening, I didn’t think of anything long term or short term. I was just wondering what happened.”
Dolphins coach Mike McDaniel said Monday that it’s in the quarterback’s competitive nature to try to extend plays — but he spoke with Tagovailoa about recognizing when it’s time to concede in any given play and throw the ball away.
Tagovailoa admitted that although it’s always been his mindset to make something happen when he’s on the field, he will have to learn when to accept that a play is dead.
“Throwing the ball away hasn’t been something that I’ve done in the past really well,” he said. “Because I’m trying to make plays and so just learning from that — if it’s not there, it’s OK to throw it away. It’s the longevity of me just being able to be the quarterback for this team and not try to make something out of nothing.
“Plays will come to us and that’s kind of what our mantra for our offense is.”
Tagovailoa said the support he received following the concussion stands out most to him about the events of the past few weeks.
Beyond the messages and tweets from fellow players around the league, Tagovailoa said his neighbors brought over home-baked goods, candies and notes and artwork from their kids — all of which, he said, made he and his family feel the support from his community.
What made his nearly two weeks away from football difficult, however, was having to stand by idly as the Dolphins skidded to a three-game losing streak in his absence. Tagovailoa was present throughout the facility while in concussion protocol and sought to help however he could. But it was frustrating not being able to help out on the field.
“There’s things you can do in the locker room to keep the guys encouraged, to keep the guys going motivated,” he said. “But it sucks. As a competitor, I want to be out there with the guys. I want to be able to go out there and help our guys win games. And that’s a terrible feeling that I could only watch from the sidelines.”
Tagovailoa cleared concussion protocol Saturday, although he was not active for the Dolphins’ game against the Minnesota Vikings in Week 6. He is preparing as the team’s starter this week for Sunday night’s game against the Pittsburgh Steelers.
The NFL’s leader in QBR at the time of his injury in Week 4, Tagovailoa said the process of his return to the field was “pretty stressful,” including his interviews with the NFL and NFLPA as part of its joint investigation into how he was handled.
The Dolphins have seen a sharp decline in their offensive efficiency without Tagovailoa on the field. Through the first three weeks of the season, they ranked first and second in the league in points per drive and offensive expected points added, respectively. In the time since, they’ve fallen to 28th in offensive EPA and 29th in points per drive.
It’s a similar situation as Tagovailoa faced last season, when he returned from a rib injury to a team on a four-game losing streak. He said that experience taught him not to press upon his return and that he is not solely responsible for the Dolphins’ success.
“I just gotta be myself — I’m not the savior of this team,” he said. “I don’t just come in and we start winning games. It’s a team deal. The defense gets us stops, the offense goes and puts points on the board and the defense can help put points on the board as well as special teams. So for me, I just look at it as coming into this week and just be myself. Don’t try to force anything. Don’t try to make plays that aren’t there — just give our playmakers the ball and let them go to work.”