Miami Dolphins defensive tackle Christian Wilkins usually notes there’s a “24-hour rule” after NFL games — win or lose — before the emotions of one result must shift into preparation for the next opponent.
But even that’s too long when the Dolphins only have three days between Sunday’s thrilling 21-19 win over the AFC East Goliath Buffalo Bills and a Thursday night game at the Cincinnati Bengals.
“It’s the 12-hour rule,” said Wilkins at the news conference podium postgame, meaning the expiration time was around 4:30 a.m. Monday morning. “We just get [Sunday night], and [Monday] we’re already getting ready for the next opponent so we can turn the page and get ready for Thursday night.”
Those 72 hours between game days will be under a microscope, especially quarterback Tua Tagovailoa’s availability in Cincinnati on the quick turnaround after fighting through what is officially going down as a back injury.
“He’s feeling sore,” was Dolphins coach Mike McDaniel’s update on Monday afternoon. “As far as everything else, we’re just acquiring information right now.
“It wasn’t out of the extreme norm of bumps and bruises after a game, but as far as me being able to access my crystal ball, it’s broke right now.”
McDaniel also said Tagovailoa’s ankle is sore from what he called “inter-trench warfare.”
Tagovailoa was initially said to have suffered a head injury when he exited at the first half’s two-minute warning after getting pushed by Bills linebacker Matt Milano, causing Tagovailoa to fall back and hit the back of his head on the turf. Tagovailoa appeared woozy and stumbled upon getting up from the hit before being escorted by trainers into the locker room.
He was cleared in concussion protocol and returned for the second half, finishing 13 of 18 for 186 yards and a touchdown pass. Tagovailoa and McDaniel both said postgame it was actually a back injury Tagovailoa was dealing with, as the roughing-the-passer play exacerbated earlier discomfort Tagovailoa experienced in his lower back from a quarterback sneak.
The NFL Players Association on Sunday afternoon initiated an investigation of the handling of Tagovailoa’s concussion check.
“We’re happy to comply and feel fine about that whole process, really,” McDaniel said Monday. “This is the exact reason there are protocols in place. I was very much with a lot of people, I think. When you saw it, you assumed one thing, but that’s why there’s also an independent neurologist that clears him. We have to clear him.”
McDaniel added he’s emotional and sensitive to player health.
“I don’t mess around with that — at all,” he said, also confirming Monday Tagovailoa is not in concussion protocol.
In a second half where the Bills continued their dominance in time of possession, limiting how much Tagovailoa and the Dolphins offense were on the field, the quarterback made a stellar 45-yard throw deep over the middle to Jaylen Waddle on third-and-22 that set up a go-ahead score.
“It was uncomfortable going in,” said Tagovailoa of his second half. “I guess you could say it was the adrenaline that was keeping me going with the throwing.”
Of his back, Tagovailoa added postgame Sunday: “It’s tight. It was sore when it first happened.”
McDaniel noted Monday that Tagovailoa boosted the level of respect he has inside Miami’s locker room.
“He got to show a hunger and a yearning to be with his brothers,” McDaniel said. “That’s something that sits with you.”
Before his injury, Tagovailoa was 8 of 10 for 76 yards and an 11-yard touchdown pass to River Cracraft where he fit the ball into a tight window and tough read of the defense.
“I would put that up against any play that he’s made this year,” McDaniel said. “It was more than just a bang-bang. He had to see the coverage right and really, really hung the ball in there because it was a tight window in that low red area.”
Said Cracraft Monday: “That was a dart, man. Tua’s a dangerous man back there.”
This story will be updated.