MIAMI GARDENS – Miami Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa fell backward. His head bounced off the football field. He stumbled while trying to jog to the line of scrimmage before two of his teammates stopped him from moving further.
Tagovailoa was shaken up, and not in a good way – all for America’s eyes to see during the CBS broadcast of the game.
He was able to walk under his own power to the locker room. He was evaluated for a concussion in the final two minutes of the first half and during halftime. He was ruled questionable to return with a head injury, per the Dolphins.
And when the second half begin, Tagovailoa was on the field for the Dolphins at Hard Rock Stadium.
NFL NEWSLETTER: Sign up now for exclusive content sent to your inbox
Why was Tagovailoa allowed to play again? Tagovailoa’s return in Sunday’s 21-19 win over the Buffalo Bills has prompted the NFL Players Association to seek an investigation of the Dolphins' handling of Tagovailoa’s concussion protocol proceedings, according to a representative from the NFLPA.
After the game, Tagovailoa confirmed he cleared concussion protocol during halftime.
The injury he’s feeling more pain from, Tagovailoa said, is to his lower back, which he received X-rays on before speaking with the media postgame.
“Yeah, I did. I did,” Tagovailoa said when asked to confirm whether his head hit the pavement on the play in question.
“But I really hit my back first, because that’s what I felt first.”
According to the league's protocol, a player is to be removed from the game and evaluated if he exhibits concussion signs. The process includes six steps, and if any steps are positive or inconclusive, the player is sent to the locker room for an evaluation with the team physician and an unaffiliated neurological consultant. The player can only return to play if the player passes this exam.
Here’s what we know
Tagovailoa was trying to move his offense up the field just before the two-minute warning in the first half, hoping to give the Dolphins an edge in a 14-all tie.
Tagovailoa completed an 8-yard pass to receiver Jaylen Waddle before Milano made contact.
“I was kind of with everyone else. When he hit his head on the ground, I assumed it was a head injury,” Dolphins coach Mike McDaniel said of Tagovailoa.
Added Tagovailoa: “I hit my back. I got up and that’s why I stumbled – my back kinda locked up on me.”
When Tagovailoa got up again to continue jogging before the next play began, two of his offensive linemen, veteran Terron Armstead and second-year pro Liam Eichenberg, stopped him from moving further.
McDaniel said Tagovailoa described his back as feeling wobbly, completely loose, and like the flexible, clay-animated character Gumby.
“Any competitor that would never want to come out would do the same thing,” Tagovailoa said. “I was trying my hardest to get back up and get the next play in and run it.”
Tagovailoa walked off the field before the next play, and he walked on his own with Dolphins trainers back to the locker room.
Backup Teddy Bridgewater replaced Tagovailoa as both teams played the final two minutes of the first half.
The Dolphins announced Tagovailoa’s ailment was a head injury, and he was questionable to return.
“For the most part, I’m good. I passed whatever concussion protocol they had,” Tagovailoa said. “And I’m good.”
And when the second half started, Tagovailoa was on the field and completed his first pass to star receiver Tyreek Hill.
Tagovailoa said the play was the second time during the game he injured his back.
Earlier in the first quarter, Tagovailoa was stuffed by the Bills' defense during a quarterback sneak near the goal line.
“On the QB sneak, I got my legs under someone and they tried to push back. It felt like I hyperextended my back,” Tagovailoa said.
Added McDaniel: “He kind of got bent back pretty significantly on a quarterback sneak earlier.”
Going back in the game
After clearing concussion protocol and despite the back injury, Tagovailoa wanted to continue playing.
A year after the Bills knocked Tagovailoa out for several games with a ribs injury, and the Dolphins riding a seven-game losing streak in the series, Tagovailoa gutted out the limited opportunities he had on offense in the second half.
“It was uncomfortable going in,” Tagovailoa said. “I guess you could say it was the adrenaline keeping me going.”
Tagovailoa's best play came during the fourth quarter when he found Waddle wide open over the middle of the field for a 45-yard completion that put Miami at the 7-yard line.
Three plays later, the Dolphins scored the go-ahead touchdown.
“He’s tough, but I already knew that,” Waddle said of Tagovailoa. “I figured he was going to come back and suck it up.”
Tagovailoa will have three days to toughen up before his next game.
The Dolphins are on a short week and hit the road to face the Cincinnati Bengals on Thursday night to start Week 4.
Tagovailoa said he will undergo further tests and prepare for his next game against Joe Burrow, the quarterback taken four picks ahead of him in the 2020 NFL draft.
“Right now, it’s tight. I mean, it was sore when it did happen,” Tagovailoa said of his back.
“We’ll have to see.”
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: NFLPA seeks probe into Dolphins' handling of Tua Tagovailoa's injury