The Miami Dolphins lost their Thursday night game against the Cincinnati Bengals, 27-15, but of greater concern was their loss of quarterback Tua Tagovailoa to head and neck injuries.
Tagovailoa was taken off the field in a stretcher in the second quarter at Paycor Stadium. The third-year quarterback was quickly ruled out for the remainder of the game with head and neck injuries.
“Tua Tagovailoa has been taken to a local hospital for further evaluation,” the Dolphins said in a statement. “He is conscious and has movement in all his extremities.”
The Amazon Prime Video broadcast reported that Tagovailoa was taken to University of Cincinnati medical facilities. Toward the conclusion of the game, Amazon also reported that Tagovailoa was to be discharged from the hospital and travel back to South Florida with the team, both which Dolphins coach Mike McDaniel confirmed postgame.
Tagovailoa, who was already playing through back and ankle injuries, was spun down and driven to the turf on a sack by Bengals nose tackle Josh Tupou.
Tagovailoa landed on his bad back on the violent takedown, and the back of his head hit the ground hard from the whiplash. Tagovailoa appeared to lie motionless as he was attended to on the field for several minutes before being taken away on the stretcher. He laid on the ground with his hands up and his left index finger was stuck in an awkward inward-pointing position.
“It was a scary moment,” McDaniel said. “That was an emotional moment that was not part of the deal that anyone signs up for, even though you know it’s a possibility in football to have something that you have to get taken off in a stretcher.
“All of his teammates, myself, we were all very concerned. The best news that we can get is that everything is checked out, that he didn’t have anything more serious than a concussion.”
Said backup quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, who relieved Tagovailoa after his departure: “Initially, it was complete silence because our first concern is Tua. … [Hearing that he was able to travel back], it was a good feeling. You could see guys’ spirits lifted, and that was some great news.”
Added center Connor Williams: “He’s our heart. There’s a lot of emotions inside just going through it and rallying together and playing for him at the end of the day.”
The broadcast turned more to coverage of Tagovailoa’s injury than the game itself, which saw the Dolphins battle behind Bridgewater but snap their three-game winning streak to start the season.
“We all played a lot of football, but that’s one of the toughest things I’ve ever seen,” said Amazon analyst Ryan Fitzpatrick, who was Tagovailoa’s teammate for his 2020 rookie season in Miami. Fitzpatrick added he spoke with Tagovailoa Wednesday night, and it was the happiest he had seen him.
Tagovailoa entered Thursday questionable after dealing with the back and ankle injuries he suffered in Sunday’s win over the Buffalo Bills that caused him to leave and re-enter that game at Hard Rock Stadium. He was also thought to initially have suffered a head injury against Buffalo before it was clarified he sustained back and ankle ailments.
The NFL Players Association, which is investigating the procedures that allowed Tagovailoa to return for the second half against the Bills, released a statement on Thursday night: “Player health and safety is at the core of the union’s mission. Our concern tonight is for Tua and we hope for a full and speedy recovery. Our investigation into the potential protocol violation is ongoing.”
After the game, McDaniel defended the team’s decision to play Tagovailoa on Thursday.
Tagovailoa was 8 of 14 for 110 yards and had an interception at the time of the injury. He was looking sharp on multiple throws over the middle to open receivers Tyreek Hill and Jaylen Waddle. He had another good-looking throw to tight end Mike Gesicki between four defenders in a zone. Tagovailoa’s interception came on an underthrown deep ball intended for Hill.
Bridgewater, who ironically suffered a concussion against Cincinnati in December of last season while with the Denver Broncos, finished 14 of 23 for 193 yards, a touchdown and an interception. Hill had 160 receiving yards for Miami on 10 receptions.
Cincinnati quarterback Joe Burrow was 20 of 31 for 287 yards and two touchdowns.
The Bengals took a fourth-quarter lead back from Miami after a 43-yard pass from Burrow to Tyler Boyd got them inside the Miami 10-yard line. They settled for 3 and the lead after a third-down stuff of running back Joe Mixon at the 1-yard line by Andrew Van Ginkel. A 57-yard field goal from Evan McPherson with just more than six minutes remaining extended the Bengal lead, 20-15.
Driving in Cincinnati territory, Bridgewater was intercepted by Bengals safety Vonn Bell, who came up with his second pick of the night after Bridgewater missed Gesicki high. Cincinnati put the score out of reach on a 2-yard touchdown pass from Burrow to tight end Hayden Hurst.
“It was a hot situation. I just tried to get the ball out to beat the defender,” Bridgewater said. “It just sailed a little bit.”
Bridgewater earlier hit Hill for a 64-yard pass deep over the top of the Bengals defense in the third quarter that led to a short field goal with 2:40 remaining in the period. Miami held a 15-14 lead entering the fourth.
Bridgewater was 6 of 7 for 71 yards and a touchdown finishing out the first half. He led a nine-play, 75-yard drive that was capped by a short shovel pass that running back Chase Edmonds took for a 7-yard score after breaking multiple tackles. The extra point that followed missed off the upright.
It brought the Dolphins closer to the Bengals, at 14-12, after earlier surrendering a 59-yard touchdown pass from Burrow to receiver Tee Higgins, who beat Miami cornerback Xavien Howard on the play. Higgins led Cincinnati with 124 receiving yards.
The night started with the Dolphins allowing the Bengals to score swiftly on a nine-play, 75-yard drive capped by a 5-yard Mixon run where multiple Cincinnati offensive linemen got behind him to push him across the goal line after he was stood up beyond the yard to gain for a first down. Cornerback Keion Crossen, who got his first start with the Dolphins Thursday, had a critical unnecessary roughness penalty on the series that got the Bengals into the red zone.
Miami, meanwhile, drove the length of the field but settled for a short field goal on its opening drive after Edmonds dropped what would’ve been a touchdown in the back of the end zone. Tagovailoa was 4 of 6 for 64 yards on the opening series, looking sharp early with his first two throws going to Hill and Waddle open over the middle for gains of 26 and 20 yards.
Tagovailoa, dealing for much of the first quarter, made a mistake when he underthrew Hill against two defenders deep as Hill had a step on them. Bell intercepted the throw that ended up short and was made late. Tagovailoa had just come off his impressive throw to Gesicki for 21 yards in between four defenders in a zone.
The Dolphins came away unscathed from the turnover, though, as safety Eric Rowe made a big fourth-down run stop against Mixon as Bengals coach Zac Taylor opted to go for it on fourth-and-1, a pitch to the short side of the field the Dolphins sniffed out. Miami got a field goal after turning Cincinnati over on downs to chip away at its early deficit in the middle of the second quarter, 7-6.
After playing on Thursday, the Dolphins get the weekend off, serving as a mini-bye week. They come back for Week 5, at the New York Jets, on Oct. 9.