MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. — A clue here, a morsel there. We’re super sleuths today, trying to sort out what the Dolphins knew, when they knew it, and what nobody logically could be expected to know in the timeline of events that landed Tua Tagovailoa in concussion protocol.
Running back Raheem Mostert unintentionally focused a magnifying glass on the situation when he said that late in the Green Bay game, as the offense was discombobulating, he was wondering what was going on.
Thursday, offensive coordinator Frank Smith added another layer, saying, ‘There were some things that you’re going, ‘Huh?’ ‘
All of the questions Mostert and Smith and Mike McDaniel are asking themselves now are just that – within the framework of what we know now. It’s a critical distinction. All of us have experienced things that appeared senseless or insignificant in real time but made perfect sense or were critical in retrospect.
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When the clock hit 0:00 Sunday, did it make sense that a quarterback who had thrown five interceptions all season had suddenly thrown three in the fourth quarter against the Packers? Did it make sense that the NFL’s most accurate passer could not have hit defenders right between the numbers any better if he tried? Yes, it was the Dolphins’ fourth loss in a row, but at least the previous three, you could understand.
This one just didn’t add up.
‘I think the process really probably started on Monday morning,’ Dolphins assistant coach Darrell Bevell said.
Tua Tagovailoa did not appear confused on the sideline
Bevell coaches the quarterbacks, meaning if anybody was going to raise red flags Sunday afternoon, he’d be the guy.
‘I talked to Tua after every series,’ Bevell said. ‘We have a lot of conversations.’
Did Bevell see Tagovailoa incoherent? Drifting off into space? Confused?
‘There was nothing.’
Ditto for Smith, who also operates on the sideline.
‘For me, it’s Mike and I advising, trying to make sure that we’re putting ourselves in the right place for execution,’ Smith said. ‘So like for me, I was locked in on those moments. So I didn’t really have any knowledge at that point in what was going on.’
Between series, it’s a backup quarterback’s job to alert the starter to every bit of information he sees that may help. So Teddy Bridgewater and Tagovailoa had multiple conversations, too.
‘Throughout the course of the game, emotions are high, flaring,’ Bridgewater said. ‘Your competitive juices set in and you want to continue to fight through whatever you’re going through. So I didn’t notice anything.’
It wasn’t until Sunday night that Bevell, for one, began scratching his head while reviewing film.
‘You saw some things in the game,’ he said.
Situation becomes clearer Monday morning
Seeing, in this case, wasn’t enough to decipher what was wrong. It was only on Monday morning, when coaches were talking with Tagovailoa, that they began probing. The deeper they probed, the more Tagovailoa’s recollections and answers failed to add up. And the more suspicious they became.
‘Upon reviewing the film, we had some questions,’ McDaniel said. ‘Kind of feel like we had an idea that there was, ‘Hey, did something happen to this portion of the game?’ ‘
Bevell: ‘We thought it was important for him to be able to see the docs.’
Doctors diagnosed a concussion, one that almost certainly rules Tagovailoa out for Sunday’s game at New England. It might sideline him for the rest of the season. Nobody in the organization is willing to think that far ahead because everybody is concerned with Tagovailoa the person, not the player, getting better today and getting better than that tomorrow.
If that weren’t their priority, especially with a playoff berth at stake, they might have looked the other way Monday morning.
None of all this added up for Mostert when he reported for work Monday and learned he’d likely be playing alongside Bridgewater.
‘I was shocked,’ Mostert said. ‘I totally didn’t realize that Tua went through that. But it also kind of made sense towards the end of the game. You know, I was asking myself in the huddle, like, ‘What are we doing?’ Like, ‘What’s going on?’ Not specifically him, but the whole aura of the offense in the huddle.’
At the time, it was easy to rationalize. Bad breaks. Bad day. Hadn’t December been a bad month, anyway?
‘That’s just how ball goes, you would think,’ Mostert said. ‘But then to come to find out he did have a concussion, that kind of sucks.’
It kind of adds up, too. Did the concussions cause the three interceptions? Or at least contribute to them? To those on the outside, it’s easy to say yes.
‘It’s hard for me to make that speculation,’ Bevell said.
After a turbulent September in which he suffered two hard hits to the head and at least one concussion (some say two), Tagovailoa is the most-scrutinized player in the NFL when it comes to traumatic brain injury. The NFL and the NFL Players Union are looking into whether the Dolphins handled his health properly.
In the meantime, everyone has an opinion on what has already happened and what should happen.
Just wondering: How many of them had the word ‘concussion’ on the tip of their lips when the clock struck 0:00 Sunday?